June’s Zine evening

Hello, I’m Roz Streeten and I’ve been invited as guest blogger for the June session of Laydeez do Comics. We met this month to show, listen, discuss and enjoy work which was linked by the theme of zines. Even though I’m not a zine producer I am a designer and a self publisher of a small idea which I’d needed to get off my chest (in that zine kind of way) through print, about 5 years ago. It grew and turned into a business and we now print lots of books all based on this same initial idea. Please visit Rosie Flo if you’d like to know more.

I’ve been coming to these Laydeez do Comics evenings quite a lot recently. Once you’ve struggled to remember what you’ve done recently and then gone public with it at the introductions stage (this month: something interesting you have recently searched for in Google) they have a great atmosphere and everyone feels free to chat to anyone. And every month they feel different from the previous month.

First off was artist Rachael House. Bright pink hair and an MA student currently at Camberwell, she produced a zine in the 90s called Red Hanky Panky. At this event she concentrated on showing her current work based on organizing events which bring people together in a public space. Her interest lies in exploring what you are permitted to do in these public spaces. Rachael’s approach is through less traditional routes such as picnics for dogs in fancy dress on Blackpool sea front. Preferring the homemade approach to the outfits, Rachael sees dogs as a perfect conduit to encourage peoples’ fancy dress making creativity and sense of community and fun. We saw a photographic record of some of these days where dogs (and of course their owners) were dressed up in bizarre outfits. Dog face painting (of dog faces on humans) and iced dog biscuits (designs of dogs for humans to eat), dog themed bunting and cardboard dog sculptures all contributed to the eccentric atmosphere.

Another event was a Peckham Peacocks Mobility Scooter Club convention. Mobility scooter users customised their own scooters and dressed up in mod gear. Dogs (again) in parkers, with hand sewn mod iconography embroidered into them also showed up to the event and en masse the scooter users looked like an unusual force to be reckoned with. Regular wheelchair users also spontaneously included themselves in the movement of the day. There is an existing mobility scooter user club in Kent called the Red Wheelers who do some great formation display and you can see them here on youtube. The appreciation lies in having people meet other people that they didn’t know anything about and celebrating this with hand crafted skills, to decorate the day.

Gareth Brookes and Jimi Gherkin were next on and they talked about the Alternative Press
Alternative Press is a “group of artists, comix creators, writers and poets dedicated to encouraging creativity through self-publishing”. They formed in early 2009 and have organised events, published an 80 page book showcasing some of the work going on in the world of self publishing, and continue to produce a radio show, the ‘Alternative Press Hour’ on London’s Community Arts station, Resonance 104.4 fm

They work hard to promote the movement of zines which they believe need to reach a wider audience. They talked enthusiastically about the Alternative Press festival 2009 which was five days long, and they showed some film footage of silhouetted hands and pens spontaneously drawing on paper on a light box. They most definitely believe there is a resurgence of zines as a reaction to screen based media dominating the recent lives of creative individuals. They are keen to encourage people to express themselves through that old fashioned print medium and for like-minded people to come along in person to the Alternative Press festival planned for March 2011.

Third on was Katie Allen, editor of Fat Quarter magazine.

During Katie’s English degree she was introduced to one of the meanings of feminism by witnessing her male house mates’ behaviour. They spoke horribly about women in general and repeatedly left their computer screens covered with porn. Whilst at Brighton on a Journalism course she set up a zine called New Blood but was sent a lot of filth so she stopped it.

Katie reached the conclusion that women’s magazines, which are supposedly for women, don’t appear to like women very much and that they dedicate many of their pages to encouraging women to change themselves, either through starvation diets or carving themselves up via surgery (or usually paying men to do it).

Katie felt driven to produce Fat Quarter, the first issue was printed in February 2010. She noticed a bit of trouble with the inclusion of the word “feminist” in describing it. Katie was surprised to discover that Fat Quarter was refused acceptance into a website community which she thinks was due to the use of this now problematic word and how it is understood (or misunderstood) by young(ish) people today. There was some good discussion around this. Perhaps we need a new PC word to describe it, but which still means the same thing.

Katie works at the Bookseller by day but by night is busy expressing and commissioning others to express themselves via Fat Quarter where women are content with being women and just want to get on with other stuff.

The last to present were Teal Triggs and Roger Sabin. Not zine producers themselves but extremely clever on the subject and were able to beautifully put into a context some of the ideas that had come up so far during the evening.

Teal gave the presentation and Roger chipped in now and then. Teal is a graphic design historian, critic and educator and a fanzine collector. She points out that zines are not a new idea but is incredibly supportive of those producing them and fascinated to see their next step in history. One of her interests is in how the visual language of zines changes over time but even though they have moved from photocopy to dtp and more recently to the e-zine in reproduction terms, she is clear that the same kind of content is still there.

She gave two definitions of a zine

“A special form of communication”
Frederick Wertham 1973 and

“…little publications filled with rantings of high weirdness and exploding with chaotic design”
Stephen Duncombe 1997

As you move through history she pointed out that there are thousands of zines about everything. Significant ones she showed us covers of were Crawdaddy! which is regarded as the US pioneer of rock journalism and was the training ground for many rock writers; Sniffin’ Glue, the first and most famous punk UK fanzine by Mark Perry; Beer Frame: the journal of Inconspicuous Consumption by Paul Lukus in the late 80s; and Riot Grrrl, a feminist punk movement of the early 90s to name a few.

Some of these zines were the launch pad of many a writing career for the initiators and it is argued that zines have a voice that the mainstream magazines don’t or can’t have. Roger Sabin felt we shouldn’t romanticize about them too much remembering that there have always been plenty of commercial magazines which also do the job intended perfectly well.

Teal’s interest lies in less about what they look like and more about why people are producing these zines. On the whole people have something they want/need to say and each visual language just emerges out of this content.

Teal Triggs has a book coming out next year called Fanzines. I expect it will be excellent for all those interested, going by that talk.

It was a great evening and still light and warm when we came out into Brick Lane. Thank you for giving such good presentations.

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