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Detail of the Ottawa Zine Fair poster, by Morgan Sea

Ottawa Zine Fair brings weird, affordable writing & art to town

By John McDonald on May 30, 2016

I had a set Saturday routine as a teenager, living in Montreal.

I’d grab the Metro into the centre of town, and head to Cheap Thrills and Labyrinth. There, loose change in hand, I’d scour the collection of purple, somewhat smudged, mimeographed, self-published zines.

I would inevitably come home with a handful of folded, 16 page, counterculture nuggets focussing on everything from political theory, the Viet Nam War, and hippies. Yes, I’m of that generation.

The zine still exists in our world of vlogs, tweets and posts. Its importance as a vehicle for self-expression and exploration has not diminished.

As proof, the highly-anticipated Ottawa Zine Fair is being held this Saturday with exhibitors from Chicago (¿Serio?), Toronto (The Wheelhouse), and Montreal (Metonymy) joining a number of local zine publishers and distributors.

I had the opportunity to speak with Lee P, one of the organizers, about zines, and this inaugural event.

One of the things I love most about zines is that they often feel like such an intimate look into someone else’s life.

Apt613: How popular are zines in Ottawa?

Lee P: Zines are very popular in Ottawa. When I first started the zine rack at Pressed, I had no idea if anyone would be interested in buying zines. The response has been incredible. Likewise, the Ottawa Zine-Off has grown hugely from its origins. There are a lot of people in this city making amazing zines.

Are zines easily available here?

I have run the zine rack at Pressed for about three and a half years now. I also run the zine rack at Gabba Hey in the City Centre, and the one at Cafe Alt on the uOttawa campus during the school year. You can also find zines for sale at Venus Envy, or at some of the craft sales throughout the year.

Building community is an important aspect of zines, and zine fairs are a fun way for people in the zine community to actually get to meet and interact, even though most people who make zines tend to be pretty introverted types.

In the same spirit, the Ottawa Zine Off, organized by JM Francheteau, is another event that’s held several times a year where people get together to swap zines they’ve made.

Part of the pleasure of zines is that they’re physical objects that you can hold and carry in your backpack and pass along to friends.

This is the first year of the Ottawa Zine Fair. How did it come to be?

We had idly talked about the possibility of Ottawa having a zine fair. Then one night we impulsively applied for an Awesome Ottawa grant. Much to our surprise, and mild horror, we got it, which meant that we actually had to make this thing happen!

We weren’t sure what to expect, but have been overwhelmed by the response, both from amazing folks wanting to come table, and from people in Ottawa who are excited to attend the fair.

Our aim is to provide a fun, accessible space for people to come together to share and enjoy a wide variety of weird, challenging, entertaining writing and art.

Could you expand on this statement from the event’s site: “We value zines as a way for marginalized stories and experiences to be represented.”

Junot Diaz, talking about his experience as a writer who is an immigrant to the U.S., said something about representation that I think about often:

“You guys know about vampires? You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror.  And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

One of the things I love most about zines is that they often feel like such an intimate look into someone else’s life. If that person is someone whose experiences are similar to your own, it can be a tremendously validating thing. And if that person’s life is very different from your own, there is great value in being able to learn about and empathize with someone with different experiences.

Zines are often cited as growing out of subcultures like punk, but they also have roots in fandom communities, in political writing self-published by radical anti-racist groups like the Black Panthers and Young Lords, and many, many more communities.

Groups like the People of Color Zine Project, and the Queer Zine Archive Project have done amazing work in showing that zines have always been made by a huge range of people.

Zines have always been by and for queers and people of colour and other marginalized folks.

And zines are also a great way to access art and writing without having to spend a lot of money. There is the personal, “handmade” aspect to them.

So, people love to argue about whether things like blogs and social media have made zines obsolete, which obviously I don’t think they have.

Part of the pleasure of zines is that they’re physical objects that you can hold and carry in your backpack and pass along to friends.


Ottawa Zine Fair Poster, by Morgan Sea.

Getting to own and enjoy art and writing from creators is a pleasure that everyone should get to enjoy. While also respecting the importance of creators being fairly compensated for their work, we’ve asked zine fair vendors to make work available at a variety of price points, including having things for sale that are under $5, so that they’re available to a wider range of people.

We’re very excited to have exhibitors who share these values, including groups like Justseeds, whose incredibly beautiful posters about radical history and current social and environmental issues sell for as little as $3.

Stay tuned later this week as we present an interview with one of the participating vendors tabling at the fair, The Wheelhouse.

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.