Maybe the multiple breakfast beers deserve some credit, but when I arrive at the third annual San Diego Zine Fest at Bread & Salt community center on an early October afternoon, the place feels brimming with insurrectionary energy.
Out front, a punk in a Los Crudos cutoff and torn earlobes plays ska tunes on a ukulele while tattooed girls in loud-toned hairdos take slow drags from cigarettes and, across the street, a welder constructs a soccer goal in a grass field. Entering the vast space, formerly Weber’s Bread Factory in Logan Heights, a row of fixies hang from a rack where trans-border bike crew Los Cruzadores host a free valet. TJ DJ Ivy Satana spins the Cure and rockabilly tunes while zine-toting, retro-fashion-forward kids hoof it to the haunted surf solos. Multicolored booklets dangle from strings in swaying rows. Silk-screeners emblazon T-shirts with fest logos. Everything is bustling and alive.
In the main expo hall, about 100 vendors from across the country and into Baja chat with passersby, selling or just giving away homemade zines on topics ranging from social justice to feminism to queer rights to comics, photozines, hand-crafted knickknacks, and anarchist literature of every variety with Crass stencil fonts abounding.
I stop by The Radvocate, a DIY publication that began five years ago as a classic cut-and-paste photocopy zine full of music reviews, roller-blading stories, illustrations, and a few of my own short-story submissions. Now in its 13th issue, The Radvocate prints through So Say We All Publishing in a soft-cover bound book of about 80 pages with the help of executive director and San Diego story-teller-de-force, Justin Hudnall. The refined edition features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and an interview with Henry Rollins. It’s remarkable to see how far Radvocate founder Matt Lewis has taken the zine, which started under the egalitarian premise that all voices should have the chance to be published. Really, that may be the common philosophy tying all of the zinesters together — the belief that you shouldn’t need a zillion dollars to mass produce print, that everyone has something worth listening to, and that — obstacles be damned! — self-publishing and distribution is an attainable if not noble aspiration.
“To actually take it upon oneself to make [a DIY zine], even with the most rudimentary of tools, seemed laughable,” Lewis writes in the editor’s note of his 13th issue. “I suppose I had been conditioned that way. The idea of creating media seemed counterintuitive, foreign, primitive — even dangerous.”
Lewis attended a zine workshop led by Jim Ruland, Todd Taylor, and Mike Faloon in 2011, and was inspired to churn out his first edition of The Radvocate.
“Even in an age when print was ‘dead,’ it helped me believe that I could still create something worthwhile,” Lewis writes.
“Discovering zines is like a portal to a whole new world,” the fest organizers later tell me via email, “nonviolent resistance, uncensored poetry, photographs, and global information. After a handful of zines you become addicted. The motivation [to throw a zine fest] has always been there. San Diego has [a huge] amount of talent from all artistic realms. At this point, creating one platform was just a necessity.”
The free, all-ages event includes a Children’s Corner and a Scrap Lounge, where kids and adults work together on pages for the annual Collaboration Zine. In tune with the event’s subversive attitude, all vendor spaces are donation-based so that no artists will be financially excluded from the fest.
“As long as there’s a need for expression and freedom of expression,” the organizers write, “zines will always be relevant.”