Zine Fest Is Like All of Pop Culture History Happening at Once

Zine Fest can best be summed up by the $20 bill I brought with me as my allowance. I simply assumed that a gathering dedicated to selling printed pieces of paper often hand-stapled together would not be capable of running credit cards and would demand cash. In every case, vendors eyed me with slight annoyance about the bother of making change since they all had Square credit card readers on their smartphones.

That to me is Zine Fest and the community that attends it. It’s this weird hybrid of the pre-Internet tactile era and all the conveniences and wonders of a post-iPhone revolution world. It’s all very cybernetic, the wholly organic melded with apps and Wi-Fi. The idea alone is strange. Why would I stop by Jason Poland’s table when I could look at Robbie and Bobby online? What’s the point of a web comic in paper form anyway in 2015?

The reason is that I get to meet Jason Poland. I get to put a face and a handshake behind one of my favorite web artists and maybe help him keep making a few more comics by buying a hard copy. It’s getting autographs because you still can’t frame a tweet or sign an eBook in a meaningful way. 

When I did drop by Poland’s table, I got to learn about the Art Palz, his local community of like-minded content creators. One of the purchases that came out of my allowance was the Art Palz comics and activity zine. Not only did I get a solid collection of strips and one-shots, but the zine was actually full of links to small online games. I’ve tried a few so far, like Hall and Oates Oracle and Too Big Pig, but the one I can’t wait to find the time to delve into is Gangland, an old-school text adventure.

That’s how incongruent and wonderful stuff like this is. I’m learning about a local game only made possible by how accessible game technology has become to the independent developer now through a paper magazine as if it’s the ‘80s and I just got my latest issue of Nintendo Power. It’s mental. It’s magnificent.

Zine Place is also the sort of place you learn about art forms you didn’t even know existed. Chris Nicholas of the Staple Expo in Austin was there promoting the event, but he was also selling zines of his own. One of them was Dinner Date, a picture movie that used photography to essentially create a silent horror film. I had no idea you could even make things like that. Another local artist, Sasha Blaschka, introduced me to the process of wool sculpting. I was drawn to her table because I had never seen anyone make a resin sculpture of Serendipity before, but stayed to learn about the slow process of turning raw wool into solid, representative constructs. She has a small Totoro and a Shaun the Sheep, and was weaving a turbo creepy doll at the time.

On the traditional zine front, I found some real awesomeness. Geoff Sebesta from Austin handed me a copy of Busta Lovecraft, which features Busta Rhymes and his crew going back in time to face H.P. Lovecraft before he can unleash cosmic horrors designed to rid New York of “the negro.” I’m eager to read his follow-up, which he describes as the anti-Captain Planet starring rabid water conservationists.

Locally my favorite finds came from Isaiah Broussard and Sara Cress. Broussard’s political web comic Crackers and White Wine is easily one of the best things in Houston. His cutting take on politics, especially racial politics, has earned him a fair amount of heat from the reactionary racist Internet mobs and even from upset Bernie Sanders fans. As far as I’m concerned, his zine copies should be handed out like Chick Tracts and maybe we might get a few fewer empty-headed bigots in the world.

Also emotionally cutting and equally wonderful were Sara Cress’s two new books of poetry. Cress is a former Chronicle journalist who began working for private industry after being laid off. Her work still had her reading headlines every day, and she began penning sonnets related to those headlines during her downtime. Her first volume of Breaking Poems is largely about feminism, with poems dedicated to the Bill Cosby rape accusations, body-shaming, Caitlyn Jenner and Malala Yousafzai, among others. It’s lovingly illustrated by some great local artists – I spotted Julai Whipple and Kelly Switzer’s work – and speaks with a bald pain about the hurts the world is currently in the process of inflicting on women.

She was also hawking a nice collection dedicated to the many, many folks running for president in 2016, summing each of them up with a short poem. It’s kind of a weird cultural artifact from this very specific and weird point in American presidential politics, but it’s still a great example of the wry and poignant way Cress has of taking the crawl of headlines and making them into something you can consume on a more personal level.

All these weird wonders are always out there in the real world waiting to be discovered. Heck, most of the stuff I’ve mentioned can be found online completely free. Zine Fest, though, gathers the odd and the off-the-beaten-path of the underground and gets it all together in one place to be displayed. The Internet’s strength is that anyone can be anything anywhere, but Zine Fest is one of those venues that connect that mass of content with the human element behind it. I can’t wait to go back next year. 

Jef has a collection of stories about vampires and drive-through churches, The Rook Circle, out now. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner