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Aus & Lauren. Photo courtesy of The Wheelhouse.

The Wheelhouse talk zines ahead of Ottawa’s first zine fair

By John McDonald on June 2, 2016

In my interview with Lee P, published earlier this week, I learned that the organizers of the Ottawa Zine Fair are pleased at the range of exhibitors eager to support the event.

One such exhibitor is The Wheelhouse, a not-for-profit supporting resource based in Toronto. Amongst its activities, the organization serves as a distributor (‘distro’) for zines and other artistic works by their members. They table at events throughout the United States and Canada and are planning a new slate of workshops and events throughout the year.

Lauren Melissa and Aus from The Wheelhouse were willing to offer their thoughts on the Ottawa Zine Fair and zines.

Can zines be considered art?

I would say yes. Though I don’t think all zine makers would call themselves artists.

Zines are historical documents, personal artifacts, political pamphlets, and so much more. I think we need to be careful with language when we call zines art – as it may make folks feel that they can or can’t participate in art/zine making?

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Ottawa Zine Fair poster, by Morgan Sea.

What about the idea that zines are “old school”?

They never left!

When people get really invested in the idea of zines as “old school” I think it contributes to the belief that zines are this exclusive thing.

Not everyone comes to zine-making from a place of teenage angst in the 80s and 90s and that’s okay! I discovered zines in my 20s and I was in awe of them and their creators – it took a lot of encouragement to be able to see myself as a potential zine maker.

We want everyone to see themselves as potential zine makers.

How would someone decide that a zine is the best means to express themselves rather than the various social media platforms?

Zines are unique among other forms of media in the way that they have a deliberately low threshold of attainability and production. They don’t need an e-reader or a laptop or internet – hell, they don’t even need electricity! It returns the communication of ideas to something interpersonal and intimate – something almost sacred, as you literally pass
your thoughts on to someone else, hand to hand.

Unlike online content, once a zine is printed and distributed, there are no opportunities for revision – sure, you could re-issue it, but the first batch is still out there.

Zines offer a snapshot of a particular moment. It’s easier to reach an audience online and it’s much more forgiving to create a single digital copy than to manually assemble booklets, but it somehow makes the transfer of ideas a more genuine experience for both the creator and the reader.

What does participating in the first Ottawa Zine Fair mean to The Wheelhouse?

It’s always exciting to hear about new zine fairs being organized in Canada. We love to make connections within the zine community and often head across the border for fests, so it’s great to have more options closer to home.

We have really appreciated how attentive the organizers have been to issues of accessibility leading up to the event and are excited to see how it all unfolds.

And you’ll be reading at the event.

Aus: I think the best way to describe my feelings about/relationship to zine readings is to refer back to something I said at a panel for the Boston Zine Fest – doing readings (and tabling at fairs) is my way of keeping myself socially accountable.

Having deeply rooted social anxiety and a tendency to avoid crowds and strangers, it’s hard enough for me to express myself in my zines, much less aloud.

Speaking about what matters to me, about what I’m thinking, to a whole room full of strangers, is a way to force myself to engage with people.

Lauren: I see zines as an avenue for sharing ideas and building community. A lot of my writing focuses on my experiences and reflections on life as a queer, fat femme with disabilities – they are personal and political but above all they are intersectional.

It is my aim to build solidarity across identity, to find connections between disability justice and the chub life, femme strength and queer community, and so on.

Participating in a zine reading is a way of reaching out to community by making myself visible, a way of saying I am here! Where are you?

Aus’ “speaking about what matters to me”, coupled with Lauren’s “I am here”, sums up zines quite nicely. In their myriad of formats and focuses, zines offer just that – opportunity for self-expression and awareness.

To explore the world of zines, visit the Ottawa Zine Fair on June 4, 2016 at Mac Hall in the Bronson Centre, as well as the Pre-Party evening reading. Both events are free.

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