If anyone asks Rhea Tepp, co-founder and organizer of the L.A. Zine Fest, an annual showcase for hundreds of independently published writers, artists and illustrators, there’s a lot more to a zine than words and pictures.
“Often when you ask someone what a zine is, and they don’t know, that immediately launches you into a really interesting conversation,” Tepp said. “Technically, [a zine is] a handmade, often cheaply-produced publication about anything you want. The object itself is an act of self-expression, but what surrounds that is a community that’s going to support those who have voices that exist outside of the mainstream.”
This Sunday will be the L.A. Zine Fest’s fifth year open to the public, featuring, in addition to tables of zinesters, hands-on workshops hosted by students at Otis College of Art and Design and several panel discussions and readings taking place in four locations within two blocks of The Majestic Downtown.
In addition, Tepp stated that planning the event is a bit like planning a wedding.
“We joke that we’re like these really weird wedding planners because of all the things we’ve had to learn how to organize,” Tepp said. “We use programs for wedding planners, and we definitely aren’t them, but I love being able to create this incredible event where everyone thinks it’s the most special day of the year.”
For many participants in the event, like illustrator Ellen Marie Bae, L.A. Zine Fest is a very special day.
“There’s definitely a lot of excitement in the air just being surrounded by so many creative and passionate people who are all there for the same reason,” Bae said. “As an attendee, the tangible aspect of being able to pick up a zine, read and fall in love with it is the best part. As a tabler, I love meeting and sharing my work with people. It’s all very rewarding and humbling at the same time.”
Bae said that among the many things that inspire her — including Javier Bardem’s nose, vintage ad posters and burritos — the event is huge. Her work, like a fanzine about Ricky from Trailer Park Boys and a project called “Telephone Zine” will be on display at the Fest, the latter being a huge collaborative project based off the games Telephone and Pictionary with 30 contributors.
For Third Press’ Jess Castillo, an L.A.-based multimedia artist, the Fest is a way of sharing her experimentation with tactility and interactivity in print. Her work focuses on personal narratives, which means she looks at family histories that have experienced diaspora, analyzes how their identities move forward and then translates into zines.
“I write about family histories, cultural histories, identity, agriculture and the way in which we understand and claim our spaces,” Castillo said.
An L.A. native, Castillo was raised in a dual relationship between what her family was bringing from Mexico, which was focused on understanding agriculture, and what she was experiencing in the city, where grocery stores are on every corner.
“That’s where all the ideas are coming from, and I make things that get closer and closer to expressing that,” Castillo said. “I’m so excited to go see the zine community and bond together over the weird ideas and things we make.”
At the fest, Castillo will be promoting her new “Learning to Love Myself” zine series and looking for women of color collaborators to help with the series.
Collaboration is huge in the zine community, with entire businesses like the L.A.-based Plots by Clots, a group of creatives that work on zines together, coming out to attend the festival.
“We’re a collaborative group of about a dozen people with all different types of backgrounds,” said Stephanie Kuga, co-founder of Plots by Clots. “We’re writers, designers, animators. We have a couple of engineers who work at SpaceX. It’s really fun.”
The group takes zines and expands them to more than their print medium, getting together weekly to create stories in written form, as well as in video, short film and photography.
“We’re really just all about different kinds of storytelling and experimenting and exploring different mediums,” Kuga said. “[At the Fest], we’ll have five issues of print magazines, and we’ve created officially two short films. We’re hoping to have some sort of video loop and screen so we can talk about them.”
Selfish, a mostly-memoir magazine run by women and featuring female-identified artists and writers, is another major collaborative effort.
“We work in memoir, but as an experimental publication, we enjoy playing around with the fluidity of truth through different mediums,” said Taylor Yates, editor-in-chief. “We’ve published video stills, comics, cross-stitch — anything that can be printed on page, we want to work with.”
Yates said to be on the lookout for their third issue, “Good Girl,” at the Zine Fest.
In addition to the above-mentioned exhibits, there will be hundreds of other tables showcasing the works of creators like Dave Van Patten, who uses dark humor and absurdism in his new zine called “Psychedelic Elevator Music”; Michele Rosenthal, a freelance illustrator and graphic designer whose latest two comics feature alien astronauts and the electronic band Kraftwerk; Juan Carlos Beaz, who runs the self-publishing outlet Transitory Existence and will be releasing a coloring zine; Amy Burek, whose zines that she categorizes as “internet humor” act as a tiny shrine to the wonders, horrors and absurdities of the internet (look out for her new zine, “Lists of Lists of Lists of Wikipedia,” at the Fest); and Wasted Ink Zine Distro’s Marna Kay and Charissa Lucille, who will be promoting their own effort at a zine festival in Phoenix, Arizona.
Several small presses will be in attendance, too, like the Pioneers Press — a publishing house and small-press distro focused on gender, sexuality, social justice and literary works by up-and-coming authors — that will be promoting Adam Gnade’s book Locust House: A Novella, about “love and death and wildness and catharsis.”
The Vice Versa Press, a traveling press that works with letters, screen printing and photocopy printing processes, will also be there showcasing owner Julia Arredondo’s cultural satire zines like “Guide To Dating Gangsters Vol. 1 and 2” and relationship-based material like “Baltimore Breakups: A Pop-Up Memoir.”
As for other artists to look out for, Johnny Herber, also known as Lobster Johnny, is newer to the zine scene.
“When I started making [zines], at the time, I was really interested in philosophy and shoju manga and different aspects of religion and culture,” Herber said. “My book Escargoteric relates a little to Native American culture — the religious aspects. [It’s] a snail-heavy fantasy comic.”
Herber said he will be doing free drawings for those who stop by his table and will also have the original pages of a new books he’s working on about a guy who looks like a troll doll and suffers from social anxiety.
Vivian Shih, an illustrator and surface designer who makes zines about how people feel about the places they live and, more recently, about rural homes all across the world, says coming to any zine festival is an incredible experience.
“Zine Fest is a place where everyone can enjoy something if they’re into anything creative,” Shih said. “The writing, the photography, the art — it’s a great way to explore everything.”
L.A. Zine Fest will be open to the public between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday.