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The 3rd Annual Ottawa Zine-Off!

By Michaella Francom on September 10, 2013

What started out as a backyard get-together for friends has evolved into a public event where a hodge-podge of Ottawa’s arts communities can mix and mingle.  Described as a “self-enforced communal deadline” the third Ottawa Zine-Off! on September 11th is a great way to get some self-exposure, do some trading and make connections with fellow creators.  I had the chance to talk with the organizers, JM Francheteau and Maxx Critical, about their experiences as zinesters here in Ottawa.  Below is a transcript of an email interview edited for length and style.

Apt613: What about zines make them different from other forms of art or self-expression?

Maxx: I think zines are a very accessible medium – at the base, you only need paper, a pen and access to a photocopier. I wrote my first zine at 15, as a means of expressing my thoughts about some political projects I was involved in but also sharing stories of my day-to-day life. It didn’t feel intimidating to me to make that first issue, because the zines that had inspired me to create my own strongly encouraged the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic; according to those zinesters, everyone could self-publish. I also didn’t feel like mainstream media represented my ideas or interests, and zines felt like an appropriate way for me to address that issue.

JM: I tend to be a meticulous editor, so getting a chance to do something with rougher edges where I could experiment a little and work with friends on a project had a lot of appeal. Plus, zines appeal to a different audience than poetry or critical writing, so it was opportunity to get in touch with interesting people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

The “no rules” nature of a zine sounds like it must be freeing but also challenging.How do you go about narrowing in on an idea so there’s cohesiveness in the finished work?

Maxx: I don’t think good zines necessarily have to be cohesive – some of my favourite zinesters usually publish collections of short stories alongside reviews of their favourite records. I like seeing a progression in the writing of my favourite zinesters, more so than a particularly cohesive issue… I think that as you read a few issues of someone’s work, it becomes easier to see the cohesion in their zine vision.

JM: Having an idea of what you want your zine to be, even in broad strokes, is helpful. Do you have a mess of small ideas, or one big topic you want to address? A lot of my favourite zines have a little of everything, from essays to record reviews to comics. The unifying feature is “you”, so that lends even the most scattered zines a certain coherence.

Maxx: JM said it best – the writer is the unifier.

JM you say on your website that you created your first zine last March after seeing a poster for a ‘Zine Off! event. What about that first experience made you want to get more involved in promoting Ottawa zine culture?

JM: Maxx and Neil [Johnston, who helped with the first two events] are both super-friendly, welcoming people and I think the event’s atmosphere reflected their personalities well. It was very casual, and they made it easy to mill around the room chatting/swapping with other zinesters. My zine was a collaboration, but generally doing creative work can be an isolated experience. It was great to meet other people who were making the effort to put their work out there, and I was struck by how inventive a lot of the stuff was.

Do you think there’s a strong zine culture in Ottawa right now? Or was this event created to try and foster a community here?

JM: One goal of mine is just to help it become bigger and even more diverse by making this event visible through my connections with poets, writers and artists. There are a lot of flourishing little cultural scenes, and this is an opportunity for them to intersect a little.

Photo from wemakezines.ning.com.

Zine rack at Pressed. Photo from wemakezine.ning.com.

Maxx: I’m no expert on Ottawa zine culture, but I think there’s been resurgence lately. Between the zine-offs and the zine rack at Pressed things are doing pretty good! Ravenswing Fair also usually has zinesters tabling, and that’s been going strong for a few years now.

What would your number one tip be for first-time zinesters?

Maxx: Watch your margins! Don’t make your text or pictures come up too close to the edges of your pages, or things might get lost when you photocopy and cut. Also, try and steal photocopies from your office working friends: using the photocopiers at Staples and other stores is expensive.

JM: If you do end up photocopying at Staples, ask for the long-arm stapler. So much easier!

Anything you’d like to add about the event?

JM: You don’t have to make a zine to come hang out, but you can totally make a zine on super short notice.

Maxx: As JM said, you don’t have to make a zine… But it’s so much more fun when you do! I haven’t started mine yet, I expect I’ll be frantically laying it out and photocopying before the event next week.

If I can’t make it this Wednesday, or if I want to be involved post-event where can I go to trade/sell/buy locally-made ‘Zines?

JM: One of the appealing things about holding the events at Pressed has been that they’re very supportive of zine culture in general; they have an excellent zine rack curated by Lily Pepper. Ravenswing’s online coverage of local zines is great. And if you just want to get your stuff out there, you could always go the message in a bottle route and mail your zines out to random addresses. Blow the minds of Barrhavenites (Barrhaveners?).

Maxx: The zine rack at Pressed is a great place to get new zines. Lily also does a blog, where she reviews zines and has links to zine distros (distributor of zines). Although this isn’t local, there’s some cool zine stuff happening in Montréal, which isn’t too far away… Check out Jeff Miller’s zine rack at dépanneur Le Pickup. Amber of Fight Boredom! Distro will be travelling to Ottawa’s zine off, and said she’d bring some of her distro with her.

The third Ottawa Zine-Off! will be held at Pressed this Wednesday September 11th at 8:00pm. The meet up is free and everybody is welcome! For event information or for tips on making your own zine (there’s still time!) you can visit their event page on Facebook.