In its fourth year of celebrating underground print, publishing, and alternative literature, the Chicago Zine Fest took place March 14 and 15, with panels, readings, social events, and a zine exhibition at various locations around Chicago. A haven for radical, cutesy, punk, and conceptual printed matter (to name just a few genres represented), the Chicago Zine Fest has grown in its four years into one of the most well-attended and well-respected zine events in the country.
The main event of this year's Zine Fest was its two-floor exhibit open to the public at no charge at Columbia College. "The festival seems to grow each year," said Chicago Zine Fest co-organizer John Wawrzaszek (AKA Johnny Misfit). "We noted this as table registration sold out in about 2 hours this year. We see more press, more attendees, new exhibitors and more interest than we can manage. On the flipside, there were four organizers this year. The only other time there were that few organizers was during the first year of the fest which was drastically different in size. It's great to know we were able to manage programming a successful fest with so few organizers, but for such a large event that so many people enjoy, we hope that more people look to be involved so that the festival can continue to sustain itself."
Though the zine fest continues to be vibrant, Wawrzaszek says he has seen a decline in punk and music zines over the years, despite fanzine culture's deep roots in the punk community. "Fanzines are rooted in Punk and that's how I got into zines," he says. "It's sad to see the declining link between the two. I don't think there is a clear explanation for the disparity but this may be a generalization and is only my opinion." Unlike any other time in our history, social media is a predominant source where people share thoughts. So in the punk scene, I feel there are less zines, review zines, fanzines, all that. We still have Razorcake and Maximum Rock and Roll, but I rarely see the type of zines I used to see at shows. That all being said, like we've seen with the rise in vinyl sales and releases; people are still printing zines, chapbooks and indie-publications. If someone is passionate about their project, I don't think that people will ever stop printing zines," added Wawrzaszek.
A slew of zinesters, indie publishers, mini comics, and distros were in attendance including art house publishers Issue Press, countercultural distro Pioneers Press, the good folks from the People's Library, and many many more. In the time between slinging my own zines and offensive stationery, I took the opportunity to wander and meet like-minded folks who were either desperately in need of a beer or a breath of fresh air.
KIRA KIRA of CACTUS COMICS // kiramardikes.com
Kira Mardikes (AKA Kira Kira) produces most of her work through screen print and xerox processes. Focusing on subject matter ranging from life in the city to growth and the power of plants, Mardikes' work is earthy, sometimes spiritual, and takes form on prints, candles, and a slew of other media. The themes of Kira's work include "the mundane, everyday world is full of spirits, secrets and stories," she says. "Lots of linework and shapeshifting space. I love to look at French underground comics and old etchings.
Kira says she is attracted to the zine community because "it's queer, it's into sharing and people are sincere about what they are creating." Kira adds: "I also feel the importance of having spaces to share information that is suppressed or hard to access otherwise."
GAS MASK HORSE: START YOUR OWN HAUNTED HOUSE // gasmaskhorse.bandcamp.com
GAS MASK HORSE is an umbrella organization that produced zines, music, ephemera, live performances and many other Chicago-based projects. Having curated haunted houses in the Chicago area for ten years now, GAS MASK HORSE publishes the zine "Build Your Own Haunted House" which explains the basics of producing and executing your own haunted adventure. "There is a literal revolving door of artists and collaborators but there is a core group of about 5 or 6 people involved in the set up and operation of any given attraction," a member of the group said. "Our HQ is located on "legitimately haunted" Archer Avenue in the unsightly neighborhood of Bridgeport in Chicago, Illinois. The fanzine is done by myself and contributions from our favorite artists."
Though a haunted house might seem like a massive endeavor, GAS MASK HORSE's haunted house is very much a DIY project: "The DIY aspect of our particular haunted house has heavily drawn upon the aesthetics of underground music. We work for free to ensure access to all. We can't pay our actors as a result and that ensures the project is a labor of love. We are passionate about the project and have turned many cliches of punk rock and heavy metal into amusing caricatures and elements of our haunt."
ALAN CAESAR: DOWNFALL ARTS // downfallarts.com
The Downfall Arts table at Chicago Zine Fest was an incredible display of offset-printed and colorful graphic imagery in the form of books bound with studs, comics, and small prints. A first-time tabler at this year's fest, Caesar's work focuses on multi level narratives with themes including the absurdity of society to original mythology including cartoon animals.
"I determined it was in my nature to be a cartoonist and more importantly be a cartoonist that makes art and stories that are not altered due to the logistics of acceptability to a large audience or any other nonsense you might find creators struggling with in mainstream entertainment fields," Caesar told us, when asked about initial impulses towards the zine community. "That's something you don't find in the zine community, everything is very personal and very earnest in what's being produced. I think it would be very odd if anyone ever came up to someone's table at something like zine Fest and asked, what's the marketability of this 10 day diary comic about your trip into the wilderness or this Xeroxed photo book of goats in grocery stores. It's a very non-hostile environment in that way. The work being made in this community is the artwork, it's not some weird means to an end to get something else produced. It's a community that's accepting of all forms of print, everything from Xeroxed flyers to high quality handcrafted and printed books using a whole slew of difference techniques."