Zine Fest Houston Returns to Lawndale

Zines aren’t new, and neither are zinefests, but many people haven’t heard of either. Zines are self published “magazines” and can be about literally any subject and in any medium. What makes zines special is that highly sought after ideal – “creator control.” With no publishing houses, editors, and of course, money, there is no one to answer to except yourself. Zines played a crucial role in disseminating information in movements that you may have heard of, such as the American Revolution, the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement and eventually shifted to include creative expression, often by marginalized peoples with no other outlets. Possibly the most famous zine movement is Riot grrrl, which emerged out of the PNW and DC area and brought third wave feminism not only to the forefront of punk, but pop culture in general.

The 2018 Zine Fest Houston poster was designed by Jade Young.

Today zines can of course be distributed via the internet, but zinefests, such as Houston’s own Zine Fest Houston (ZFH) taking place on Saturday Nov. 17th from 12-6pm at Lawndale Arts Center, are still a vital way for zinesters to come together and get their work out there. After more than a decade of nomadic existence and a name change or two, Zine Fest Houston is now run by four organizers; Maria-Elisa Heg, Anastasia Kirages, Evan McCarley, and Sarah Welch, each an artist and zinester in their own right. This year’s featured artist is Jade Young and the theme is wrestling, both of which help to create a consistent marketing plan throughout the year and lead to some great crossover with the local community for events and workshops.

I sat down with the ZFH organizers to ask some questions about what’s in store for this year, but first thought it would be neat to hear what got them each into zines. The questions following are answered collective style by all four ZFH organizers.

Maria-Elisa Heg: I really cottoned onto zines because they represented the ability to create tangible objects that I could be in control of distributing. It felt accessible, they were easy to produce and tweak to my personal preference, and it felt really good to table at my first event (Zine Fest Houston 2012) and actually interact with people as they saw my work, and get to know me through that work as well.

Sarah Welch: I studied screen-printing, relief, and offset printing as a student and making zines and comics was a natural way to share my love of drawing and storytelling. The work that comes through often doesn’t have an obvious home: comics that wouldn’t fit in at a comic-con, photography that doesn’t belong in a high dollar coffee table book, writing or poetry made for a small, specific audience. There’s a bit of everything and that what’s surprising and beautiful.

Anastasia Kirages: I dabbled with journaling, photography and comics but it wasn’t until 2011 after I graduated from college that I started making zines and combining my interests of art and art history, writing, collage and photography in a series called Modernizm. The feeling of empowerment is what keeps me coming back to zines; the fact that you have absolute control over the layout, topic, and materials, and that you can share it with as many or as little people as you like.

Evan McCarley: I was drawn to zines because of the activist community I was a part of in my late teens and early 20s. I would print/copy other peoples’ zines and distribute them at rallies and meetups. I think my favorite part about zines is the personal connection that is formed when the zine transfers hands. It’s like you and the other other person are in a secret club now, and the zine has all the knowledge that only a few people get. I know that sounds goofy, but I am really into secret societies. ZINES ARE THE KEY TO A SECRET SOCIETY AND ZINE FESTS ARE THE MEETING OF ALL ITS MEMBERS. Gotta go, working on my secret handshake…

Sarah Welch, Total Monsoon.

Let’s imagine the reader has never been to Zine Fest Houston and is planning to come this year; what can they expect?

Newcomers to Zine Fest Houston can expect to encounter an incredible variety of material! The space is transformed into a wonderful riot of visual stimulation, with a distinct topnote of warmth and camaraderie as artists make community with one another as well as with attendees.

Work displayed at Zine Fest Houston crosses many, many mediums: writing, photography, illustration, nonfiction, personal essay, music, comics, choose-your-own-adventure, economics, politics, social justice, and so much more. There truly is something for everyone at the festival. The first and second floor gallery spaces will be completely dedicated to vendor tables, with the third floor dedicated to programming. 2018 programming will feature kid and teen zine making workshops, as well as talks and panels in the project space.

What kind of growth has ZFH experienced over the past few years?

We’ve seen a lot of growth in attendance as well as in sheer number of applicants for the festival. This year we’re anticipating over 120 vendors, which is a significant increase from last year. We have also had the chance to experience growth financially as we have obtained fiscal sponsorship through Fresh Arts, which means that ZFH will have the ability to apply for grants that we were not previously eligible for. In 2018 particularly we’ve seen a lot of buzz around our theme, wrestling. We’ve been very excited to see ZFH news circulate in zine circles outside of Houston, and a not insignificant number of our out-of-state applicants have wrestling specific projects!

Sarah Welch, Holdouts reading room.

What kind of challenges do you face with four people at the head of the organization? What benefits does a leadership team provide?  

We have a leaderless structure that functions more or less organically, which has been an asset for many reasons. With four organizers, consensus is not difficult to come to, but when conversations need to be had about important decisions we’ve come to a place where we can swiftly and efficiently consider the options as well as the feelings of each organizer. With such a small team, it wouldn’t make much sense to have a hierarchy of any kind, and it’s been a boon that each team member has more or less found the things they are best suited to contribute. It can be hard at times to find a time when all four organizers can physically be present, or when the responsibilities and timing of fest duties just happen to all crash down at the same time – you’d think going from a team of two to a team of four over the course of four years would lighten the load, but it seems to grow proportionally to the amount of woman power we can throw at it!

One new element this year is the shane patrick boyle Memorial Grant for Emerging Zinesters. How did that come about, and what can you tell us about its purpose and how it will (hopefully) be used?

We created the grant to commemorate the late shane patrick boyle, who died in 2017 due to lack of access to insulin needed to manage his Type 1 diabetes. His death was tragic, but moreover it was unnecessary. It was extremely difficult to process that his was not a death that needed to occur, and in the aftermath we sought for some way to not only commemorate his legacy, but also to actually provide material support for marginalized creators, of which he was one. Although it cannot replace the lack of a comprehensive and compassionate healthcare system, it is our intention to practice what shane did: to support those who are finding their voices, and to help lift up creators who for many reasons find themselves at the mercy of systemic failures that disproportionately affect them. That is why the sbp Memorial Grant is offered to LGBTQ+ creators, and in particular we encourage POC to apply. We hope that as we continue to grow and evolve we can create an alternative to what is too often a cruel and uncaring system that leaves valuable and precious creators to languish or die for lack of resources. The grant is intended to provide support for a zinester to publish a zine to be debuted at ZFH, and/or cover additional expenses such as travel to the festival.

The Comic Arts Teaching and Study Workshop, directed by Rice University Associate Professor Christopher Sperandio, will be “tabling” at Zine Fest Houston for the first time this year. Photo by The Comic Art Teaching and Study Workshop at Rice University.

Can you talk about the venue evolution ZFH has undergone, what led you to Lawndale Art Center, and what about Lawndale has made it work since this is your 3rd year there?

When Shane Patrick Boyle and Lindsay Simard handed over ZFH to Anastasia and María-Elisa in 2013, the festival had been searching for a more permanent home. The 2012 festival held at Super Happy Fun Land was, by all accounts, a raucous and wonderful event – but logistically quite onerous! It was clear that even then a larger venue was needed.

After much research and consideration, The Printing Museum emerged as an ideal venue both thematically and space-wise. Thanks to the open-mindedness of then curator Keelin Burrows, a strategic partnership with ZFH was forged and the festival took place there from 2013-2015. Those three years were incredibly positive for the festival, with the support of TPM staff and an enthusiastic response from vendors and attendees, growing the profile of ZFH. By the end of 2015, it was clear that the efforts of both ZFH and The Printing Museum had resulted in a bittersweet outcome: the festival was too large to continue in its current capacity at TPM.

Parting ways with TPM was hard, but the growth the festival underwent during those years opened the door to collaboration with Lawndale Art Center, which would not have been possible had we not seen such consistent growth during the years at TPM. Lawndale generously offered to host ZFH and partner with the organization, and so the festival moved to Lawndale in 2016, where it remains to this day. Lawndale has been a productive partnership because space-wise it enables ZFH to open its doors to an even larger number of zinesters without compromising on comfort or accessibility needs. Additionally, the staff at Lawndale are enthusiastic and helpful, and provide crucial support on the day of the festival as well as in the time leading up to it.

Have programmatic elements such as lectures and workshops always been a part of zinefest, and if so can you take us thru some past highlights?

Extra programming has been a part of the fest for a while, but 2013 was when we became focused with providing programming such as lectures and panels due to the availability of the variety of spaces at The Printing Museum. At the 2011 and 2012 festivals at Khon’s and Super Happy Fun Land respectively, there was musical programming scheduled throughout the day. We have shifted away from music to having lectures, workshops, panels and screenings during the festival and include music at the after party instead. Some past programmatic highlights include a live podcast hosted by Veer Queer (an all inclusive LGBTQ+ podcast based out of Houston, TX), an interview with Paraspace Books (a transient queer book space), and a lecture about Wild Dog Archives (The Official Archives of Houston’s Premier Punk Fanzine) by Nancy Agin Dunnahoe.

Is print dead?

If we had a dollar for every time we were asked that…! In all seriousness, print is far from dead. People will always be enticed by print because it is the opposite of the digital realm. With print, you can touch and smell, heck, even taste it if you choose to. You can’t really do that with a blog! Despite the ease and ubiquity of digital media, print still resonates with people. In addition to the tactile pleasures of objects, print and zines specifically offer an outlet for information that can be controlled in a way that digital has often proven incapable of doing. One particular example is that of personal zines, or “perzines”: people share very intimate, personal narratives in the space of a zine event and feel safe that those details won’t end up online for all to see. It provides a safe way of sharing important information and experiences with others, and particularly when it comes to marginalized communities that sense of safety is extremely important.

In the end, the continued existence of and recent spike in growth of self-publishing and self-publishing festivals shows that people are still hungry for print matter. Zine Fest Houston has been around since 1993, and although things have changed a lot since then, the sense of community that has formed around the production and exhibition of printed matter has remained strong.