This weekend was big for me. I have grades due on Tuesday, so I spent the last two weeks grading essays every night, doing data entry between classes, chasing down missing work. I posted my grades on Thursday (four days early!) and was able to attend a staff development meeting where I learned how to use imovie, google for grading (Flubaroo), and podcasting via ipad. It’s so rare and wonderful to feel caught up on work and to be paid to be trained on new technology. It set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
On Saturday I read for the L.A. Zine Fest. We got a sitter because we knew no matter the venue, my son would be running around the whole time, so my husband wouldn’t be able to enjoy the event. My dad met us there with his little Lakeshire terrier in tow. In my mind, I had this image of a well-lit bookstore with hardwood floors and folding chair seats, kind of like a westside version of The Last Bookstore, but instead we were at Beyond Baroque, Venice’s former city hall building, where we read in a little theater, complete with raised seating, black painted walls, a blinding spotlight, and a microphone.
I’m used to being half-pleased, half-annoyed at zine events, but everything keeps getting better and better, I’ve found. The diversity (forgive the over-abused word) is amazing in L.A. Everyone has a different story to tell and a different way of telling it– the schoolteacher who read about sarcastic students, the waitress on the graveyard shift who read the voiceover on her comics on a laptop connected to a large tv, the funny & poignant wails of a woman in a mid-life crisis, the women from Memphis who wrote about making friends and adapting to a new city. Everyone was engaging and on-point, and yes, most of them were from out-of-town so maybe it’s unfair for me to attribute my enthusiasm to how cool L.A. is but I can’t help but notice either the zine scene in general has improved dramatically since the late 90s or L.A. draws in a crowd that is more down-to-earth, hilarious, and talented than other cities I’ve been to. Perhaps it’s both.
The announcer mentioned Kurt Cobain was Lactose Intolerant… with such excitement that I decided to read from that first. I read the manifesto, and my favorite piece about his eating habits. I got a few titters, but it wasn’t like the last reading I did where people were laughing joyfully at the lyrical analysis of “Scentless Apprentice.” I decided to close the door on that one. It’s run its course. That joke isn’t funny anymore, and although I’m proud of the zine, it’s 15 years old now and maybe it’s time to devote myself solely to my new work.
I read “Call Me Mommy” because I knew it was indicative of my new style– self-referential, tongue-in-cheek, ecstatic and in love but lonely and confused. It got more laughs (which is how I gauge effectiveness– I never read the sad stuff because I can’t imagine looking up into the spotlight, pretending to make eye contact to a silent and pensive crowd) and I figured to leave it off there.
When I first came to the mike I pointed out my dad & said, “Now do you know why I got so much mail from strangers when I lived at home? Here are all the strangers!” When I sat down I asked him if he understood me better and he just chuckled.
I couldn’t sleep the night before the fest. I kept waking up in annoyance then I’d calm myself down by thinking of people I was looking forward to seeing. It sounds weird but I’d think, “Oh yeah! Her too. I wonder what she looks like…” and I’d drift off to sleep.
The day of was a bunch of choices– take the car or take the train; jeans or a dress; hair up or down; sell zine at cost or make a profit, etc. I decided on the car because even though it’s Jamzilla weekend (the freeway from my house to the fest was going to be intermittently shut down), riding the train would mean I was at the mercy of the train. At least in my car, I could pull over, stop for a coffee, take a different route, and I didn’t know if my huge box of zines was going to be any smaller by the day’s end (spoiler: it wasn’t. I traded so much that the box I took home was just as heavy & full of zines, just 1/2 of them weren’t mine). I decided on work pants because my jeans were all wet in the dryer and I was nervous that it’s be too cold for a dress. I kept my hair down because with work pants and my comfortable work shoes on, I felt like I was already too close to looking like I was in my “teacher gear.” I decided to attempt to make a small profit because I’ve been doing zines for a long time and I deserve a buck for my efforts. This may or may not be why I only made enough to pay for my table–just like last year. The first year I fested, I had a lot of $1 zines because I was trying to get rid of old stock that I thought was useless (who really cares about 20 Bus anymore?), and I made three times as much. Last year, I brought only my heart-felt expensive zines, so this year I purposefully printed a simple zine at a more affordable price but I still think $2 is too much for a cold read. I may just make a special $1 one-shot to test the waters next time.
But money doesn’t matter, I do these things to keep my feet wet– to feel like I’m still part of the independent publishing community, to meet cool people, to connect with folks I never ever would encounter otherwise, and that I accomplished. The venue was a huge indoor parking lot with 3 rooms– an art gallery/ reading space, the front & the back. We were in the very back along a wall of the most colorful and interesting writers in the room. You could just scroll our back row & get enough entertainment & reading material for a year. We were next to two friends who wore pompom headbands and we noticed that trend of friends & lovers wearing matching outfits (including black cowboy shirts, 80s workout gear, silver space-age suits). We saw a guy come up to our table with a RUSH shirt on, and ready to make conversation, I read the bottom of his shirt which said “Sigma Nu,” and then we all freaked & everybody dared everyone else to ask him if he was only here for extra-credit for class.
There were babies and dogs– strollers and korgies and arm-held chihuahuas. My tablemate’s husband and son strolled up early and her two-year-old son pretended like he read my zine while I snapped photos. We ate a ton of hummus and I chugged my homemade kombucha as we caught up on our lives– having been friends for probably 18 years now– but being too busy to hang out since we both became moms. Ex-boyfriends visited our table, as she had healthy, grown-up conversations with hers, while I will always be bitter with mine because our relationship ended in the stupidest way possible. Despite all of the personalities and the history in the room, the awkwardest part is when someone walks up to your table and you smile, and they keep walking. I don’t know if my extrovertedness or my training to always smile at people being a teacher, but that always freaked people out. I think they wanted me to be knitting with knitted brows or reading someone else’s zine or swiping on my smartphone. Making eye contact and making conversation still weirds people out, but I can’t help it. Even weirder is when you’re people-watching (& people-watching is primo at a busy zine fest– hey, is that guy wearing a dog suit? Is that guy selling comics out of a hot dog vendor’s box?), and you catch someone’s eye and you smile to be polite and they look away and pretty much dart in the opposite direction of you. Or when someone is fingering your zine for 5 minutes, so you try to talk to them about it & they immediately put it down, nod and split. It was so nice to have a tablemate, so when we would talk, someone would hand you money, and you’d be like, “Oh, thanks!” with no “hard sell” or weird feelings. It was also nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, and to work the room when I was getting bored.
The highlight of my day was a woman who picked up my newest zine immediately then pulled on her friend’s sleeve to read the description. Turns out her friend’s son had just been diagnosed with autism and she was feeling what we all felt those months right after the diagnosis. I gave her the zine and talked to her about services, encouraging her to email me, and realizing that this is exactly why I wrote this issue. Maybe I’ll be written off as a bougie breeder from the suburbs, but for parents who are hurting or are confused, they can use my zine as a means of trying to make their way through this new chapter in their lives. Not that I have any answers but that I’m going through it, I’m surviving and I’m loving it (mostly).
Here are all the zines I got. I am a habitually notoriously bad trader so I probably won’t finish reading these until next year, but I wanted to plug everyone anyway. You guys are what make the fest an amazing event.
Sweetheart Redux by Robin Crane http://sweetheartredux.blogspot.com/ My main tablemate & my friend for many, many years. I was delighted when she asked to split the table with me, and I had such a good time talking with her. You’d think you’d run out of things to say after sitting at the same table for 7 hours but here it is, a day later and I miss her. I even texted her what I had for dinner last night. She copied a ton of her old zines from the 90s for the fest, and there’s no doubt that her zine Sweetheart was one of my favorites, but what I like more is to see what people are doing now– how they’ve changed and grown, and her blog does not disappoint. This issue is a compilation of her blog posts, and it’s fiction & nonfiction mixed (which drove me crazy because I’d read the fiction pieces, thinking they’re nonfiction. Then I’d read the nonfiction pieces, and hope they were fiction). I hope she continues this trend of blogging then putting the best excerpts in print. I am all tl;dr when it comes to the Internet (which is ironic because of this post, right?) but I am all about cuddling up with a good zine late at night.
Invoking Nonna book by Sage Adderly– http://www.sageadderly.com–; she’s one of the zinesters I was excited to meet when I couldn’t sleep. She drove down from Washington & her son told me, “We went camping in California!” and I told him, “I’ve been to California! I love it there!” I tried to start her book last night but it’s about a mother & daughter witch team & I couldn’t read it. I can’t do anything fantasy/sci fi/ occult based when I’m riding an anxiety wave, but it sounds like it’s going to be one of those books I’ll casually put on my Sustained Silent Reading shelf at school & hope the cool girls will pick it up.
Kelly Dessaint http://www.kellydessaint.com–; he was one of the readers at Beyond Baroque and he reminded me that we used to interact on alt.zines & various other So Cal zine events. His new zine is called Piltdownlad which is cool because I played drums in a band called the Piltdowns. I love coincidences. He read an infuriating piece about being institutionalized for stuff he wrote in his private journal when he was a kid. He traded me a ton of zines about him growing up because he wanted me to be ready for the kind of shenanigans my kid’s getting ready for. I know– at 9 years old, he’s on the precipice of adulthood. He already changes the lyrics of songs to “Kill kill kill, kill the truth!” so he’s ready for his own punk rock band. (Which I guess has already formed with his cousins & they’re called the Hot Dogs?). I’m sad he and his wife moved up to Oakland instead of stayed in LA & had a baby. We need more breeders in LA, and fewer cool couples in Oakland, imo.
I’m Sorry I Have Nothing Special to Draw– Eryca Sender– http://thestateimin.tumblr.com Man, she is such a cool girl. Robin (my tablemate) told me Eryca has a nice face & I agree– she’s enthusiastic and makes me smile. It’s because of the zine fest founders like her & Meredith who make me come back for more each year.
Miss California by Agusta Gail, lettering by Aurora Lady http://www.auroralady.com–; Aurora’s an artist and one of the pom-pom tablemates. Everything she does is so colorful and affirmative, it’s nice to be around someone positive. I follow her on Instagram just so I can see how cool her hair looks every day.
Hurricane by Kim Burly @kimburly One of my tablemates– she read at the fest & I loved her performance. She writes about heartache & strength in a funny, wry way that made me sit up in my seat. I also think it’s adorable her husband proposed at the zine fest last year and they seem smitten with each other, yet she still wallows in those heart-breaking, character-forming past relationships. I would be friends with this girl if she lived closer & she let me :D
Truckface by LB Lbj4prez@hotmail.com (is that a joke email?). Bro, why did no one tell me of this zine? It’s all about teaching sassy-pantsed teenagers and having reality buck up against your idealism. I’ve heard of this zine for years but no one told me that it would be right up my alley. lb also read at Beyond Baroque & I laughed so hard. I’m going to read this one first.
Couched by Brodie Foster Hubbard. http://www.fairdig.com Brodie is the guy with the long beard and the gentle voice– wait, he’s clean-shaven now, good thing he posted that on social media before the fest or no one would have recognized him. Brodie is like the boy version of Eryca– they’re both enthusiastic, sweet, and devoted to zines. I have a special affinity for Brodie since the first zine of his I read was about his miserable experience trying to train MMA. After some ploying, he told me the studio was the sister studio where I train so I’ve always thought that that makes us kindred spirits. When he wrote, “Sometimes you just want someone to punch you in the face” in his last issue, I was like “Yeah!” I think I just misquoted him quoting someone else but that’s ok.
Mid-life Isis by Marya Errin Jones maryaerrinjones.com. She also read at BB. She’s a phenomenal reader, incorporating breathing and facial expressions, tone & pitch. Quite the performer! Her allusions are to die for– the fainting couch, Heathcliff & Wuthering Heights, Rescue Remedy (which lb also loves!). It’s all about her getting older but refusing to commit to a “mid life crisis” instead, it’s her “mid life isis.” I love it.
Zine Crush #3 zinecrush.com I love the idea for this zine– people write in about crushes they have on people in the zine community. I just wonder if any couples have actually hooked up because of what one person wrote. I’m sure it’s happened– I want to attend the first Zine Crush wedding.
She’s Not a Morning Person by Jen. http://skinnedknees.net This is one of 2 zines I read waiting for the crowd in the morning & I’m glad I did because it’s all about shoplifting, or “liberating” items from a store. So I laughed when I saw a girl walk by wearing a tiny see-through 90s mini-backpack stuffed full of zines (because Jen lamented how easy it was to tuck stuff into her mini-backpack back in the day). I also thought about her when a guy grabbed my zine then walked down the row to some artist’s table. I thought, “He’s liberating my zine!” but then he came back to me, took a picture of it, then put it back and said “thank you.” This is a great zine, a quick read, and it’s sure to bring back some nostalgia if you ever five-finger discounted anything back when you were young.
Absolutely Zippo by Robert Eggplant http://wemakezines.ning.com/profile/roberteggplant After the reading, we dropped our stuff off at the venue so our load would be lighter the following day and so we could check out other writers & artists before the crowds. I saw a ton of Slingshot newspapers on a table & my mind was transported back to San Francisco. Everyone had a Slingshot organizer that you used to pencil in vegan potlucks, acupuncture appointments at Chicken Soup, and Epicenter monthly meetings where everyone sat on dirty couches & argued about NOfx. So the next day when Eggplant came to my table, I jumped up & gave him a hug. He inspired me with my first issue of That Girl, as he walked around Giman, giving away copies of his zine for free. As a recent transplant to the bay, I had no friends but the boy I was dating who was up to his chin in east bay ethos and lifestyle. I figured an easy way to make friends was to sell a cheap zine (I didn’t have the heart to make it free- can you imagine offering someone a free zine & them saying no? Well, Eggplant had to deal with that all the time). So the first issue of That Grrrl was a nickle. AZ was (is?) a zine all about east bay punk & politics with goofy pictures and adventure stories. He also gave me a tape compilation (tapes! I will sell my MC Hammer tapes but never my homemade punk comps) and a zine anthology of old punk flyers from the east bay. I love seeing people from back in the day, still publishing, still writing, still trying to make connections with people. He bought a bunch of my zines to take back to Oakland, but I warned him that he may be taken to task at the next coop meeting for bringing in my stuff & tainting the collective’s ideals.
Cool people I traded with but I don’t know much about (yet):
Dreams at explodingbuffalo.com– it looks like an anthology of short stories
Cardio Arts facebook.com/cardioarts– looks like a short-run collection of a variety of mediums– poetry, photography, etc.
Excuse Me While I Think Freely excusemewhileithinkfreely.com (site coming soon)– the form reinforces the theme (I think I will always review zines like an AP English teacher now), as each page is cut & stapled on the side (instead of folded). I can appreciate something new! Poetry and comics, mostly.
Like… Heart On Presents…Made of Dead Stars the only contact info I found was http://chuckchillout.tumblr.com/. This one caught my attention because it’s handmade– the paper is glued together (instead of copied back-to-back), the cover has stickers and metallic marker on it, and there are photos and other cool, color little details that make it stand out in a world of black-and-white photo copies. Collage art & poetry.
I Heart Technology email@example.com– I like this zine because it blends the traditional zine print style with internet memes, which are my favorite things in the world. It’s a compilation from very authors about their experience with modern technology–including a piece about okcupid dating which I can’t read because the writer wanted it published anonymously even though I know the writer so now I’m like “Oooh!”
Now I’m even happier to have gotten my grading done so I can pretend like I’m a free-wheeling zinester for just one more day as I read through as many zines as I can before I have to go back to grading comparative poetry prompts… When I have fears that I may cease to be, I’ll remember self-publishing, and bags full of singles, and handmade rings that don’t make your fingers turn green.