L.A. Zine Fest 2014 by Andy Garcia: Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?

Mar 24, 2014

I walked into L.A. Zine Fest thinking I knew what was up.

A bunch of zines and a bunch of people. A zine fest, right?

It took five minutes to realize I should’ve packed a bigger lunch and brought a bigger bag.

I had my work cut out for me.

L.A. Zine fest 2014 was held at Helms Bakery in beautiful Culver City, CA on Sunday, February 16, 2014. I stepped into Helms Bakery— which basically looks like two connected airplane hangars—and was completely awestruck. It was rife with activity. Everybody was doing something. There was a constant swell of people moving about the two gigantic hangars and in and out of the Zine Library and the panel stage.

I must’ve stood there for an entire minute, trying to map out my trek. I saw a sign that read “Zine Library” pointing to the left. I figured that was a good place to start as any.

The Zine Library was located in a gallery next door and consisted of zines, comics, and other DIY publications that were donated by some of the exhibitors, as well as people who came down and donated some of their work. There was a small red tent, whose walls were made up of string hanging across like clotheslines from corner to corner. The zines hung on there like fresh fruit, ripe for the picking. It was well organized and the selection, which grew throughout the day, was unreal. I forced myself to put down a copy of The Awkward Quarterly and went into the panel stage to check out the Black Hill Press panel.

The Black Hill Press panel “From Zine to Publishing” was an all-star panel of knowledgeable zinesters such as Yumi Sakugawa, author of Your Guide to Becoming One with the Universe, Tomas Moniz, author of the multiple award-winning zine Rad Dad Black Hill Press co-founder Kevin Staniec, and Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson, authors of Whatcha mean, what’s a zine?

Whatcha mean, what’s a zine holds a very special place in my heart ever since I stumbled upon it at work just by chance right after a few friends and I started to work on our first zine. The book introduced all the ins and outs of zine-making in a sweet zine format—it taught you by example, and each page was riddled with them.

The group shared how they all got started publishing and some of the details involved in getting published, like business plans and schedules.

“I definitely do not have a business plan or an editorial calendar, everything just came together…very organically” Sakugawa said.

“Something is happening in our culture right now where zines—obviously you walk around here and you see how many people are here, and it’s just one location on one day.” Staniec said. “This is happening all over the world.”

Their advice for those thinking about self-publishing? Keep creating, be your own network, and don’t over think your process.

“Be nice to yourself” Pearl said. “Just go ahead and finish it, don’t worry about it being too perfect, or it’s not ready yet, or you’re not good enough yet.”

I caught up with Watson after the panel and asked her something that I’ve always wondered: What is the difference between a zine and a magazine?

“I think if it looks very slick and polished, then it’s a magazine” Watson said. “If people are asking ‘what the hell is this’, it’s probably a zine”.

The panel was very informative and I left knowing a little about some of the more practical facets of zine making and independent publishing.

Now, it was time to explore a little more.

Walking around, you can see exhibitors were all smiles. The entire event had a very welcoming flavor; I was told by just about every table to feel free to flip through their zines.

There were all sorts of zines with different formats and different themes. You like non-sequiturs? Then Miiles by Miles Winter is for you (“Sometimes one Pilate is enough”). R. Crumb fan? Joseph Remnant’s, Blindspot, is a hilarious, introspective look at being a cartoonist that engages the reader not only by style and substance, but by directly addressing him/her.

I saw a bright purple zine with what looked like a gorilla on the cover out of the corner of my eye as I was heading back to the panel area; the zine was called Apezilla. I flipped through it and noticed that the zine was made up of what looked like heavily pixilated screen-shots from old horror movies. I loved it. Then I found out that’s exactly what I was looking at: actual screen grabs from old horror movie VHS tapes that were run through multiple VCRs.

I bought one of everything on that table.

After Apezilla, I went in search of this Indie Arcade I read about, it seemed like the logical thing to do next.

The indie arcade was a comfy thin slice of your living room—complete with a couch straight out of the 1970’s. It was all smiles at The Glitch City L.A. Indie Arcade—well, smiles accented with exclamations of “fuck,” “shit,” and “damn yous.” Glitch City L.A is a collective of independent artists and game developers based out of Culver City, and they shared some of their creations for the people to enjoy. Perfect Stride is a pretty fun first-person skateboarding game where you sweep the mouse from side to side to build momentum and hit one of the ramps on a Lawnmower Man-esque stage.

I then noticed a small crowd huddled around one of the TVs. So, I took out my notepad and feigned taking notes. One of the guys looked at me and asked if I wanted to play. I thought he’d never ask. Samurai Gunn is a retro 8-bit Bushido slash ‘em up that can support up to four players. The game plays like a frantic version of The Legend of Kage on the NES; quick reflexes are a must. I got the chance to play with three other people; and, man, that game was ridiculously fun. The frantic game play raised my blood pressure a bit and I felt like if I had downed a 5-Hour energy drink every hour for the past five hours. I was juiced and ready to keep going

I headed back into the panel stage and managed to catch the last presenter of the Underage Reader Series. Sierra Morris read a piece called “Untitled,” an intense poem about broken homes. Morris projected her voice assertively, which made the material that much more poignant. Morris read the piece with authority, not letting any words simply float off. Each sentence carried a weight with it. “And I’ve come to realize opposites attract until they have nowhere to grow but apart,” Morris read. Towards the end, her voice increased in volume and fortitude: “This is a call to all the lonely girls and boys with broken homes and broken bones from trying to lift pieces that were simply too heavy.” Her reading really added an emotional punch to the day for me, a great juxtaposition to all the other speakers and activities of the day.

The number of people drifting from table to table had grown in just a few hours. What made me enjoy the fest even more was that the sun was shining throughout the giant archways that lead into the fest; the sun was rejuvenative. I decided to take a small break and read my copy of Thomas Moniz’s The Body Is a Wild Wild Thing.

Have you ever read something and felt an immediate rapport with it? Yeah, that’s what Moniz’s zine had with me. Its thirty poems about thirty different parts of the body, each with their own story. This tiny zine packs a huge punch.

Next up: the POC Zine panel.

POC Zine Project founder Daniela Capistrano curated the panel “Cultivating Culture & Community: Strategies for Overcoming the Bullshit.” The panel was comprised of five women of color from different backgrounds and trades; Nyky Gomez (Brown Recluse Zine Distro Seattle, WA), Dail Chambers (Yeyo Arts Collective, St Louis, MO),Tracey Brown (Community Organizer in New Orleans, LA),Cihuatl Ce(Founder, Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade in L.A., CA), and Ara Christina Jo (Rock Paper Scissors Collective in Oakland, CA). They discussed some of the difficulties that come up when organizing, and how to deal those issues.

They addressed the importance of building communities on an idea, but also working with a community to address that community’s specific needs. “I think it’s very important to respect commonalities and differences that get forgotten a lot in the idea of ‘One in many’,” Brown said. “Many does not mean that you’re all homogenous, you’re all the same, or you have the same background.”

It was interesting to hear them talk about motherhood in the context of community organizing and activism. “We have to be responsible and clear-minded enough to make decisions not only for ourselves, but literally for the generation in front of us asking for a snack—and that’s real,” Chambers said.

People often forget that those who are active in the community have a personal life, and balancing the two is challenging. The more people take into account the individual and their circumstance, the more progressive an organization will become.

I headed to the right-wing of the Helms Bakery to check out The Pop-Hop Zine Zone.

The Pop-Hop is a bookshop, print studio, and community space based out of Highland Park, CA. The Zine Zone featured drop-in activities like zine and button-making. Tables were equipped with stacks of zines and furnished with zine-making essentials; paper, scissors, and glue. The patrons provided the imagination. Art was not only being presented at LAZF, but it was being made there as well. The entire right wing of the LAZF was bustling with creations in process.

I passed by a small table with brightly colored drapery and adored with miscellaneous crafts as I walked towards Marl Todd’s and Esther Pearl Watson’s Zine Hut. Thirteen-year-old Lili and Claire were crouched on the floor working energetically on some fresh drawings. On the table there was a small zine that immediately caught my eye. On light-blue paper there was a mug shot of a dog—think of a Boston terrier/French bulldog—with these scribbles on its mug. The zine was called Stuff on My Dog’s Lips. It was probably my favorite zine of the fest. It’s a six page account of some of the different things that Lili’s dog, Mr. Pickles, has gotten his mug into. From cat litter, cat fur, to dust. Mr. Pickles’ expression is static through every page, and it’s hilarious. It’s the face you’d see after asking, “Mr. Pickles, what are you doing?” Each page asks the question: “How did he get that stuff on its lips?” This wasn’t answered; there is no dialogue. That’s why I enjoyed it so much: it makes me wonder.

Earlier in the day, I walked by Fantagraphics table and saw a large, colorful, hardcover book that caught my eye. It was Ron Rege Jr’s Cartoon Utopia.

I had seen some of his previous work, but had absolutely no idea the extent to which Rege immersed himself in his work. Cartoon Utopia is filled with arcane and esoteric philosophical themes like alchemy, magic, and other occult thought, like the ancient Tibetan concept of thought projection. Rege became interested in these ancient forms of thought and different facets of consciousness after attending a lecture on Alchemical Relationships.

Cartoon Utopia is filled with these flowery images that represent these heavy philosophical ideas and draws a parallel between the secretive culture of alchemy and underground zine culture—the way both were on the margins of popular culture, the way information was disseminated in a more secretive manner: there were those who knew and those who didn’t, but they were not exclusive. Rege’s comics are based on philosophical searching and the yearning to discover what life is. His work reflects that and puts the whole idea into the context of zine culture.

Each page in someone’s zine is a reflection not only of ideas, but also their ideals.

For some, it’s all about what we think is funny. For others it’s a way to vent our frustrations. But for everybody, it’s a way to discover ourselves and the world around us. We project our outlook on life. Rege took heavy philosophical ideas and condensed them through his work, making them accessible to the reader.

I stayed in my seat and flipped through my fresh copy of Cartoon Utopia while I waited for the next speakers.

A real treat for the day was to see David Markey (of seminal punk rag We Got Power) read some excerpts that highlighted the fun and sense of humor that went into WGP. My favorite piece was the police raid reviews from WGP # 5. They didn’t rate the bands or gigs or anything like that, that would be too easy. On a scale of five stars—where a five-star rating is deemed “brilliant”, three-stars got them a rating of “OK, could have used more imagination,” and for a one-star rating they were simply said to be “inept”—they rated the police’s performances of coming in and shutting a gig down. A Channel 3 and Red Kross show got a 1-star rating because the police “came too late, the place was trashed; they could’ve made some good arrests.” I’m sure then-LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates would not have appreciated the unanimous laughter from the crowd.

Gene Sculatti, who’s had his work published in Rolling Stone, L.A. Times, and hosted one of the earliest punk radio shows in L.A. in the late ‘70s (Unprovoked Attack, KPFK-FM, 1979-80) read his review of the Ramones first album from 1976 from Creem magazine.

Kim Cooper read her piece from Scram # 5, “The Wonderful Wee World of Rodent Rock,” a festive scholarly look into the underbelly of this rock subgenre. Why Rodent Rock? Well, “In the interests of fairness and willful perversity, we at Scram are delighted to bring you this guide to the great and unjustly neglected genre of Rodent Rock,” said Cooper. I was all ears. I own a copy of the elusive Chipmunk Punk cassette tape from 1980 (in which they cover The Cars, Blondie, and Queen) so I was hanging onto every word she was saying. The tongue-in-cheek article was hilarious but very informational as well. For example, did you know that Alvin, Simon, and Theodore were not the chipmunk’s original names? Ross Bagdasarian Sr, a record producer at Liberty Records, “in a shameless bid for corporate approval” renamed the ‘munks after Liberty Records executives. “The Chipmunks’ true names have been lost to time.”

I was running on fumes at this point in the evening. I was actually running on mineral water and baked pea snacks. I had to refuel, so I unfortunately missed Allison Wolfe’s presentation.

LAZF officially ended around five o’clock, and some of the crowd poured out of Helms Bakery into the street, while a good chunk poured into the panel area to see the keynote speaker of the evening, Jaime Hernandez (co-creator of Love and Rockets).

The place was so full that extra chairs had to be brought in, and people sat or stood wherever they could. This was a fun presentation because the crowd was engaging with Hernandez, asking the “what’s, why’s, and what if’s” fans wanted to know about. He touched on his approach at drawing. What surprised me the most was to learn that he does not carry a sketchbook. “I’m the worst sketchbook person,” Hernandez said. It’s Hernandez’s memory that holds just about everything we see on the page. “I try to keep it in my head and try to make you believe it,” Hernandez said.

As much as I admire Hernandez for his deep characters and story telling, what first attracted me to Love and Rockets was the fantastic art style on every page. So it was a real treat for me that he spoke about his creative process. As a fan, I came out of there more appreciative of his craft and process. It’s a testament to the fact that not all that is on paper ends up on there the same way—how when he’s thinking about the drawing the comic book he doesn’t picture lines on paper, but things. He simply translates his thoughts.

Even as an accomplished artist and story teller, Hernandez still faces some difficulties when writing younger characters, like Tonta.

“I found out when I started doing her how hard it is, because I’m not young anymore,” said Hernandez. “It sounds corny but, dang, I don’t know what these kids are doing these days.”

Hernandez spoke about how his Latino culture contributed to his storytelling. He translated stories that were passed down to him by his elders, showing his appreciation for the mythos of the old country.

One of my favorite sequences of Love and Rockets is the flashback sequence in “Ghost of Hoppers” involving a young, drunk Maggie and a menacing black dog. This sequence gave me the willies when I first saw it; the story that inspired the sequence is just as creepy.

About ten years ago Hernandez was in Oxnard, having some beers with a few friends when one of them pointed to a kid playing in his yard. According to his friend, the young kid had just had a terrifying experience a few nights before.

“He said he was walking and saw a wounded dog on someone’s lawn,” Hernandez said. “He said the dog looked at him, got up on his hind legs, and hopped away.”

The kid obviously freaked out and Hernandez did his best kid impression when he went, “Oh, dios mio.”

To Hernandez, it’s not a question of whether the story is real or fake: “Just having that magic around our lives, whether it’s real or not real, or whatever, just adds to the culture and just makes the story richer and just our whole lives richer.”

However you define it, LAZF 2014 was a success. No write up on LAZF could fully represent the boundless creativity there was. It’s not hyperbole when I say there was something there for everybody. There was no excuse to have felt bored—not even for a second. The organizers and volunteers did a fantastic job making sure everything ran smoothly. I was there eight hours straight, took several laps around the establishment trying to soak in as much as I could, and I feel that there was much more to see, more people to talk to, and new friends to meet. I left with unfinished business, not because there was something lacking—there wasn’t—but because there just wasn’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

Andy Garcia has lived his whole life in Los Angeles, California. Artistically and instrumentally challenged his whole life, he’ll be starting librarian school this fall. Why? Because it was the punk thing to do.

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