Sixth Annual Zine Fest gives voice to independent publishers


Courtesy of Chicago Zine Fest

The Sixth Annual Chicago Zine Fest will celebrate zines from across the country in a two-day event on May 8–9.

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Following the recent festivities brought to Chicago by C2E2 and the NFL Draft, the Sixth Annual Chicago Zine Fest will come to the city May 8–9.

The annual event celebrates independent zines produced throughout the city and will give independent publishers a place to showcase the work of their zine makers, who range from elementary school children to social activists.

Liz Mason, manager at Quimby’s Bookstore, 1854 W. North Ave., said it is important for zine lovers to get proper recognition for an art form that is often overlooked.

“[Zines] are compelling reading and represent a different viewpoint that maybe is underrepresented in mainstream culture,” Mason said. “It comes from a more idiosyncratic level of writing. Since they’re not funded by major corporations, they have a different approach to whatever perspective they’re representing.”

The two-day event—which includes a panel discussion on what qualifies as a zine, a youth reading from Chicago-native children and tables featuring more than 250 zines—enables those involved with zines to meet and collaborate, said John Wawrzaszek, organizer at Zine Fest and sustainability manager in Columbia’s Office of Campus Environment.

“There are people from across the country that come [to Zine Fest],” Wawrzaszek said. “They end up forming friendships and relationships. Whether that’s because of Zine Fest or not, we just want to provide a place for people to get together and hang out.”

Angee Lennard, founder and executive director at Spudnik Press, a Chicago zine publisher, said the festival gives a lot of underground publishers a platform that they might not have otherwise.

“Zine Fest does a really good job of giving everyone more exposure and paying homage to the fact that it’s OK to have a really small thing,” Lennard said. “You do not have to have someone publish it for you.”

One thing that sets independent zines apart from mainstream publications is the lack of censorship zines receive, Lennard said. The publishers are more willing to take risks with their content because zines are independent and do not rely on funding like major magazines do, Lennard said. 

Zines have seen a resurgence in popularity throughout the last several years. Wawrzaszek said one of the reasons people are getting passionate about creating original zines is the simplicity and art that goes into making one.

“Anyone can do it,” Wawrzaszek said. “You don’t have to have an academic degree. You don’t have to have special equipment. It’s literally just, ‘I have an idea—I wrote it, I drew it, I put it on paper, I copied it, I stapled it—I’m done.’ The great part about that is that it ranges from grammar school kids using it to tell stories or adults using it to make chat books. There’s a huge scope there for anyone who can do it.”

Lennard said she thinks zine culture is making a comeback in rebellion toward the recyclability of online blogs and websites.

“There is a really good energy and buzz around zines right now,” Lennard said. “I think it’s people pushing back against the fast-paced and [disposability] of online culture.”

Fans and creators from across the country can view each other’s work during Zine Fest’s table session. Wawrzaszek said the tables help portray the artistic process involved in creating each zine and give fans something physical rather than viewing it on a screen.

“People just wanted something that they can hold,” Wawrzaszek said. “It’s the same thing with vinyl. Everyone wants the tangible something. It shows the work the artist put into it. You’re getting a glimpse into their process and creativity. With a blog, there are specific things you can’t work outside of. With a zine or a comic that’s self-published, there is a lot more flexibility.”

Wawrzaszek, who has helped organize Zine Fest for the last five years, said zines give people the freedom to express themselves rather than being frequently censored by a publisher.

“It’s up to the artist who’s making it,” Wawrzaszek said. “If the artist is like, ‘I really want to get down and dirty and talk about things that are happening in Baltimore, but I want to talk about them locally,’ you could do that online and throw a hashtag on there, but not many people are reading that because they’re so inundated with the same thing. If you put out something smaller, more direct and more focused, you’re hitting up that niche.”

Zine Fest takes place May 8 at Access Living, 115 W. Chicago Ave., and May 9 at Plumber’s Union Hall, 1340 W. Washington Blvd.