It took 17 hours to drive to Portland, Ore., but only five minutes of walking around the Peter W. Stott Center to realize that print media is not dead — it’s just hiding.
For two days this past weekend, Portland State University in Downtown Portland hosted the 10th annual Portland Zine Symposium, a free conference dedicated to all things independent publishing, small press and provocative thought.
With newspapers scaling back staff writers, magazines pandering to their advertisers and independent weeklies shutting down city-wide, today’s zine community is giving hope to the printed word by creating niche-based publications for open-minded leftists, reminding us that if you want something to get done, you’re going to have to do it yourself.
First thing’s first: What is a “zine?”
“Zine” is short for “magazine” and was first used in reference to the multitude of small-run fan magazines (aka fanzines) that emerged with the first science fiction films in the 1940s. National magazines had no interest in the still-underground alien-and-monster market, so sci-fi lovers began self-producing their own as a way to distribute news and fan-fictions.
The spirit of handmade, limited-run, photocopied sci-fi fanzines was soon appropriated by other ignored-by-the-mainstream groups looking for ways to share their information, but the subversive concept also has roots in art manifestos, revolutionary literature and beat poetry chapbooks. A surge in independent publishing came with the underground press of the 1960s and continued through the ’70s and ’80s with punk zines created as a way to both localize the genre and to open it up to those outside of the immediate area.
This nurturing power of independent press has been used by all types of underground communities from early gay rights group Mattachine Society to feminist punks as part of the 1990s’ Riot Grrrl movement.
Traditionally half-letter size and spine-stapled straight out of a black-and-white photocopy machine, zines were originally made to be cheap and portable — essentials for maximum message dissemination. Today, however, zines are a catch-all term used to describe a variety of low-circulation, special-interest periodicals produced independently of major publishing houses. Self-publishing comes in handy for everyone from political radicals to cutesy cartoonists, and with the expansion of equally-as-indie distribution services (aka distros), the medium has seen a resurgence in recent years. Final products can range in size from matchbook to folio, and with a range of crafty accents — such as specialty paper, unique printing methods and hand-sewn bindings — many now blur the line between artwork and publication.
Every possible variance on the empowerment medium was on display at Portland’s Zine Symposium, an annual festival that showcases not only zinesters (as people who make zines call themselves), but also the city of Portland, itself an epicenter of the zine subculture.
To say that Portland is supportive of zine-makers is an understatement. In addition to hosting the longest-running zine festival in the world, Portland is known for its zine-specific bookstores, zine libraries (the largest of which is part of the Multnomah County public library system), and — most importantly — the Independent Publishing Resource Center.
The IPRC is unlike anything else in the country. A nonprofit, it spearheads the organization of the Portland Zine Symposium but is best known for its invaluable community space located in a modest office building in Portland’s Silverlake-esque Pearl District. Full of resources for artists and writers interested in making their own publications, the IPRC is thanked in the liner notes for many of Portland’s hometown zines. With a Mac-filled computer lab, a photocopy machine, a letterpress studio, a craft room, a bookbinding machine and its own expansive zine library, the IPRC is a collaborative environment that accepts anyone who walks through the door.
Free of judgment or elitist attitudes — and with a calendar stacked full of workshops, classes, contests and engaging events — the IPRC fosters organic creativity within the city’s self-publishers and could serve as a model for other towns looking to embrace their potential zinesters.
Like Los Angeles, for instance.
In a city so consumed with marketable media, it’s only logical that the zine scene would be lacking. But when the only other three people brave enough to trek from Los Angeles to the PZS didn’t even know of each other’s existence, the community factor clearly needs help.
No person should be on a self-publishing island, especially in Los Angeles, which has a burgeoning DIY music and art scene of its own, yet two of the other three in attendance didn’t even know there were independent bookstores that would buy their stuff.
Though Los Angeles did have a citywide zine fest once upon a time (2003’s appropriately-titled L.A. Zine Fiesta), it was a combination craft fair and the zine community has since subsisted on super*MARKET, a small-yet-flourishing swap meet-type concert-event held at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood.
The future of zines in Los Angeles is bright, however — we have all the ingredients for a flourishing community. First, we have plenty of zines. There are enough artists, writers and DIY people in this city to stock its own zine library. Plus, there are independent bookstores such as Stories in Echo Park, Meltdown Comics in Hollywood and Ooga Booga in Chinatown that offer brick and mortar outlets for small-press publications and local distros. Websites Only For the Open Minded and False Start already sell many art and comic zines online.
Taking cues from Portland, though, Los Angeles could use some glue, a large-scale annual event or a neighborhood center such as IPRC to bind together and motivate all of the city’s disparate creatives. Even though there are 19 people registered on Los Angeles’ “We Make Zines” Ning.com account, a consistent, in-person gathering for social networking should be established where zine-making veterans can share knowledge through panel discussions and first-time self-publishers can attend workshops and learn hands-on skills.
It was sad to hear, but from Venice to Hollywood to Long Beach, the zinesters that showed up at the PZS all said they felt disconnected from resources for their craft.
True, isolation is a common complaint in this city, but it still shouldn’t have taken us a 1,000-mile drive to find each other.
Sarah Bennett is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “Fake Bad Taste,” runs Wednesdays.