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The Pittsburgh Zine Fair

on Thu, 09/19/2013 - 00:00

Although the concept of self-publishing one’s personal thoughts in pamphlet form has been around since the political and philosophical musings of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, it wasn’t until the Twentieth Century that “zines” became a bona fide medium of their own. Starting with science fiction fandoms in the 1930s, through the Punk and Riot Grrrl movements of the 1970s and 1990s, zines have given voice to the previously voiceless and helped define the culture of their times in the process. One might think that the rise of the World Wide Web may have diminished the publication of physical zines, but in actuality the medium is still going strong in the Twenty First Century.

Although the US Postal Service was once the primary distribution method for zines, today’s creators utilize everything from independent book stores to downloading from the Internet to get their publications into the hands of the populace. Nothing beats the one-on-one approach, however, and numerous symposiums and publication expos have popped up through the years as well, including the Pittsburgh Zine Fair. “The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh held a Feminist Zine Symposium in the spring of 2011,” co-founder Erin Oh explains of the event’s roots. “Participants of that symposium discussed how great it would be if Pittsburgh had an annual zine fair, so we distributed an email list and developed an organizing committee to put together the first-ever Pittsburgh Zine Fair in September 2011.”

Erin Oh—who has her own zine about “feminism, education for liberation, dating, and dreams”—was first hit by the self-publishing bug in 2005 when she attended Canzine, the largest zine fair in Canada. In addition to assisting in the formation of the Pittsburgh Zine Fair, Erin Oh has also organized “She Said Boom,” a two-day feminist zine-making symposium held in Toronto during April 2013 that featured Canadian artist G.B. Jones and Carolyn Azar, lead singer of the all-woman post-punk band Fifth Column. “Zines create spaces for discussion about issues that are largely missed by mainstream media,” Erin Oh says in regards to the importance of zines. “Zines also facilitate the spread of individual creative thought and expression, and can be empowering tools for young people to develop voice and perspective.”

If the 2013 version was any indication, the annual participants at the Pittsburgh Zine Fair are an eclectic group of authors with a wide-range of interests and narrative styles. Stories about personal relationships, travel adventures, martial arts parodies, legal guidance for activists, professional advice for sound and audio engineers, fictional fantasy tales, poetry and comics were all available for perusing during the event. Many of the zines likewise defied conventional categorizing. “Past issues have centered on experiences in college radio, my love for Bill Murray and Feminism,” Laura Lane explained on the Pittsburgh Zine Fair website of Staircase Wit. “My most popular issue to date is a condensed, how-to guide for the phenomenon of Lucid Dream. In user-friendly language, I describe what Lucid Dreaming is, relay a bit of technical and historical information behind the topic as well as include cultural references and induction techniques.”

Maggie Negrete, an administrator at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, also offered a unique spin on her writing style: “Adventuring Princesses is a serial fairy tale that attempts to subvert traditional gender stereotypes within the genre by focusing on two princesses as distinct individuals and developing young women as they try to save the kingdom from the Dark Wizard and therefore, metaphorically, gain equality for women in the physical, spiritual and intellectual realms.”

While many of the zine creators in attendance travel to the region from such far off locales as Detroit and New Orleans, the majority of self-publishers at the Pittsburgh Zine Fair are local residents. “It is blooming!” Erin Oh says of the Steel City zine scene. “Cyberpunk Apocalypse keeps it real with zine events and hosting visiting out-of-town writers. And we’ve become a destination for touring zinesters. People of Color Zine Project stopped by the Roboto Project last year (2012) for their Race Riot tour, and Cindy Crabb stopped by with Doris Zine the year before that.”

In addition to zine creators, Pittsburgh is also home to a number of small, independent publishers who cater to the industry, and many of them are on hand at the Pittsburgh Zine Fair as well. Little Tired Press, for instance, publishes the monthly comics anthology Andromeda, while Wild Age Press specializes in books that are “experimental” in nature and have an “edge” to them. Small Press Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is a pop-up bookstand that has featured local authors, artists and self-publishers since 2008, and both the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland and the Mr. Roboto Project in Bloomfield have zine collections, adding to the unique flavor of the Steel City zine community.

Decades after science fiction fans reinvigorated the medium in the 1930s, zine publishing is still going strong despite the presence of the World Wide Web. “The Internet can never replace the satisfaction and fun that comes from creating a publication that is tangible and then organizing in public spaces to share, discuss and sell it,” Erin Oh explains. “The future of zines looks bright as long as we continue building community around self-publishing and keep tackling difficult topics through our writing.”

If the Pittsburgh Zine Fair is any indication, the future of zines does indeed look bright.

Anthony Letizia

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