The London Zine Symposium, held last week at the Rag Factory, was full to the bustle with a variety of cheery people, all sharing in the spirit of DIY; flicking and chatting, perusing and purchasing. Every struggle past skinny jeans and plaid shirts to arrive at each table was well worth the few minutes spent avoiding elbows and backpacks, as each stall held an array of crafty delights; carefully screen-printed A2 fold-out works of typography, pretty necklaces, vegan lemon cupcakes and, of course, the zines. Some full of doodles, some full of words, most an arrangement of both. Hundreds of thousands of words caught up in photocopied pages bound with staples and thread, heaped on the rickety wooden tables just waiting to be flicked through and absorbed; their art appreciated and ideas assimilated.
I bumbled in and dropped my last pennies into the ‘£2 Suggested Donations’ pot, thankfully leaving me bereft of coin and therefore not prone to the madness of trying to choose between all the amazing zines on offer.
Beginning with a leisurely stroll around the halls before the Creating Our Own Culture discussion, I checked out the monstrous creations and was suitably scared then hung out at the Zineswap table for a little while, having to turn down the offer to buy one of their freshly screen-printed canvas bags, and shuffled through their archives. Zineswap are aiming to be a resource through which people can swap their zines (bit of a clue in the name), as well as becoming an archive of contemporary zine publishing. They also happen to be jolly decent chaps, helping find the girl whose zine I was admiring but which was not in their swap box. Not actually being able to buy it, however, I glanced over her stall of zines about solidarity camps and living in trees, made a mental note to come back with cash, and scampered to the workshop space to hear Melanie (Colouring Outside the Lines), Em (The World’s a Mess and You’re the Only Cure), Patrick (Ricochet! Ricochet!) and Debi (Self-Publishing and Empowerment) chat about the subversive measures it takes to sidestep mainstream media, engage with like-minded people, form communities and get out there – even if you’re not sure where ‘there’ is.
The main themes which permeated the discussion were connection and visibility. Em started The World’s a Mess and You’re the Only Cure with a view to thanking empowering people, and also made fliers searching for anyone interested in making things happen, which she put around Sheffield. A few people got in touch (which makes me both despair at general apathy and be glad that there are those out there who do want to get involved!) and they then began setting up gig nights, organising little known bands from across the country to come and plays. She gets emails from all over about her zine, full of grateful and excited words, and says that once you put a zine out there, you don’t know how far it’s going to go, or who it might reach. Debi encouraged being visible; making your talents known to the wider world and skill sharing at every opportunity. The cover of her book was designed in return for guitar lessons. Finding mentors and creating networks can help no end and she recommends doing what you’re not supposed to do and going where you’re not supposed to go, and perhaps finding other people already there! The story of Patrick’s gallery is a great example of lodging where you already are and engaging in community. They found the space because he walked past it everyday on his way to work, and attended the local Resident’s Alliance meetings to promote their events and to find people to borrow ladders from.
Diy culture isn’t all share and share alike, kittens and roses though. Em mentioned that she sometimes pays the excess of gig costs from her own pocket and Patrick emphasised his lack of social life and the possibility of burn out if taking on too much. They both work a variety of part-time jobs to scrape the cash together for their ventures, but were very clear on that fact that they’re happy to do so because their diy projects are the best possible reason to go hungry or poor. (Patrick also steals stationary from his paid work. Handy!) The overall message of the discussion was ‘Get Out There!’ Connect with people via whatever means available and don’t be afraid to start something, offer something, ask for something. There are others out there who want to build communities, publish books, create art spaces and take back media; the trick is to find them.
Feeling thus empowered, I took another circuit around the stalls and introduced myself properly to Miss Tukuru who runs Vampire Sushi distro with Mr Carl, and from whom I had ordered a satisfying pile of zines earlier in the month. They stock mostly perzines of a feminist and/or queer slant, dealing with depression, sexual awakenings (or not) and just, getting along in the world. We talked briefly about my kodame tattoo and the Moomins before she whirled off to take a turn about the room. After browsing the Active Distribution stall, I had to run to a cash point. Apparently I can’t deny myself a good anarchist zine, so I bought three, as well as ‘zine and the politics of alternative culture’, a book exploring the history and theory of zines and how effective they really are in rebelling against the consumer society which tends to appropriate and recycle all forms of culture jamming and subversive media back into advertising (a form of recycling I’m against!). The friendly anarchist presiding over the stall loaded me up with flyers for the infoshop 56a and Pogo Café, a social centre in Hackney, currently looking for summer volunteers.
Having already spent more money that I really had, I decided to leave before getting sucked into the screen-printed beauty of the TBA table, the full colour photos and tales of adventure in Girl Photographer, the cute pony necklaces and the hundred and one other beautiful bits and pieces of display.
I’ll leave the last words to Em who reminded us all that ‘Zines offer an amazing opportunity to get your feelings out. You can put anything you want in a zine. Anyone can do it, in their bedroom. Zines create links with people all over the world, and bring a community to you, instead of looking to others.’
So check out all the links above to start making connections with a world of opportunity and a pool of skills for you to add to and draw from. Head to the Woman’s Library Zine Fest on the 12th June, check out Brighton Zine Fest and Leeds Zine Fest and GET INVOLVED!
http://www.eleanorjane.co.uk/ (Girl Photographer)
http://www.myspace.com/zinefest (Woman’s Library zinefest)
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