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Arts and Entertainment

Writing That Could Save Your Life (Or Make You Miss Your Metro Stop): A Q&A About Zines Before L.A.'s Inaugural 'Zine Week'

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Warm up your xerox machines and ready your staple guns: next week the inaugural L.A. Zine Fest will be kicking off.

During the week of February 5, zinesters and other DIYers will be teaching workshops on zine-making, button-making and screenprinting. There will be sales, new zine collections, release parties, exhibitions, art shows that require your participation and plenty of music. You can find the full calendar here.

Some of zine culture migrated onto the internet, but many of us in Los Angeles seem to have a soft spot for things the internet was supposed to kill. We asked Jenn Witte, a zine-lover who works at Skylight Books (which is hosting its own zine sale), why that might be, to offer a few picks and tell us how she got hooked on zines in the first place.

LAist: Could you offer a few recommendations of your favorite zines?
Witte: I just blew through Martha Grover's brand-new book, One More for the People (Perfect Day Publishing), a collection of her zine writings (Somnambulist) from the past eight years or so. It was so absorbing that on my commute to work I completely missed my metro stop while re-reading a favorite part.

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Years ago, at SF Zine Fest, a friend working for AK Press gave me a copy of Doris #15: Anti-Depression Guide. I immediately passed it on to my baby sister, she was going through a really tough spell, and she then started xeroxing pages of it to hand out to her friends. I make sure we always keep a few at the store for people to discover. I honestly think that this particular zine has saved a lot of lives.

I will add that I love everything that Teppei Ando makes.

LAist: Which are the longest-running zines Skylight carries?
Witte: I think we've been carrying Cometbus for a long time. It is likely that Cometbus is the most-widely distributed zine, but I'm sure there are some more local predecessors that we would have started carrying before Cometbus reached Los Angeles...

LAist: Are there other places around town that have interesting (or even historic) zine collections?
Witte: Probably! I know that The Smell has a nice zine library. I'm hoping to learn more at Zine Fest, actually.

LAist: I sort of associate zines with the 1990's. What do you think zines do that blogs or, say, tumblr don't?
Witte: My first exposure to zines was this thing I came across at a friend's house in high-school, it was something like a mail-order catalog, or maybe it was just a list of P.O. Boxes that you could send self-addressed envelopes to? She had to explain to me that it was sort of like a network of pen-pals, and it's true! A zine you get in the mail is addressed to you. With a blog, you may be the intended audience, and that is wonderful... I think regardless of where you get a zine, you know, whether it is mailed to you by the author, if you meet them at the Anarchist Book Fair, or if you buy it in a store, the object is inarguably more personal than an isolated page on the internet. The content in a blog may be equally intimate or whatever, but a zine is handmade, is handled by the author and the reader. It is more human. It smells like something. This is an issue with books and records that I'm sure everybody has their own opinion on. As a bookseller, it's not only my personal preference, but the inclination towards physical objects is my livelihood—I depend on people wanting to take something home with them.

Having a zine is more of a commitment than browsing a blog. Maybe you've paid money for it, that's sort of a vote of confidence. I know you can "like" something online, but it doesn't really cost you anything... what am I trying to say? I'm trying to say that you can look at a blog, right, and you can even announce to the world that you "like" it, but there is no reason why you'd ever have to spend more than a few seconds looking at it. If you choose to carry a zine with you or bring it home, you've committed to spending so many more seconds with it. You are spending time with a zine even when you're not reading it. Maybe you'll have it for life.