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L.A. Zine Fest Organizer Talks About What Makes The L.A. Scene Unique

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From a zine & comic fair (Photo by kk+ via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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The L.A. Zine Fest is returning, and we decided to catch up with one of the festival's organizers Eryca Sender. She spoke with us about what a form—whose heyday was the 1990's—has to offer us in a digital age.

LAist: How many years have you been doing the zine fest?

Sender: This is L.A. Zine Fest's second year! There was something called L.A. Zine Fiesta about 10 years ago, but there is almost no information about it, so I guess it's a "had to be there" sort of thing. All the current organizers of L.A. Zine Fest are also the founders.

How did you come up with the idea of organizing a zine fest here?

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Well, we're not the first people to make a zine fest. I believe that the Portland Zine Symposium was the first zine fest, in the way that we have them today, and they started in 2001. So when I went to the Portland Zine Symposium (PZS) in 2010, I connected with Meredith, who also lives in LA and is an LA Zine Fest organizer. At that point, I had been a volunteer for the first Chicago Zine Fest (CZF) when I was living there, which happened in 2010 as well. And there are a lot of other zine fests, I almost feel as if we just jumped on the zine fest wagon, but it feels [more important], because it's L.A.

That's understandable. A zine fest feels like a very stereotypically Portland thing--kind of whimsical and nostalgic. Does doing an event like this in L.A. feel different than it does in Chicago or Portland?

Oh, totally. It's a community arts based event, so the arts community is different in every city. I'll tell you that the Portland Zine Symposium is way different than the Chicago Zine Fest, as is the San Francisco Zine Fest, the Brooklyn Zine Fest, The Milwaukee Zine Fest, I mean I could just go on and on. There are also international Zine Events. The London Zine Symposium, which is a nod to the Portland Zine Symposium. To give an example, In LA I see a lot more art-based zines and comics than say, personal or political zines. And in Chicago, I see more diary-style comics and personal zines. While it's the same type of community and connection we're all trying to foster by making these zine events, they turn out fairly different based on the community already in place in the city.

That's a lot of zine fests.

And those were just the ones I was naming from the top of my head.

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It's surprising that there's so much interest in zine culture. This is probably an ageist question, but you're about the same age as me (early 20's), and I wasn't really aware of zine culture as it was burgeoning in the '90s. Were you?

Oh, not at all. I mean, I was a kid in the 90's. I got into zines after reading two books in middle school, which for me was the early 2000's. One was a fiction book, "Hard Love" by Ellen Wittlinger, in which one of the main characters makes a zine, and there are sample pages from her zine, and they have this super awesome zine retreat! [It] totally blew my mind. The other book I read was "Girls Guide to Taking Over The World: Writings From The Girl Zine Revolution," which I guess came out in the late 90's and was a collection of excerpts from girl zines from the late 80's and 90's. This opened up a whole world to me. Also, there was a really active zine community on LiveJournal (I know, I know) that I was sort of a part of. I mostly just read other posts. I wasn't quite confident enough as a 12-year-old to be that active at the time. And you don't sound ageist! There is no way I would have been reading riot grrrl zines at seven years old.

I wish we'd been reading riot grrrl zines at seven.

That would have been so great!

And you don't need to apologize for [the LiveJournal reference]! A lot of the best Tumblrs kind of feel like personal zines to me. How do you think the Internet affects zine culture? I can see it being both inspirational and kind of a nuisance.

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An e-zine is not a zine. I don't know how many times I've been asked this, or been told "Why don't you just make a blog?" It's a completely different thing. A zine is a tangible object that you can physically hand to someone. In order to make a zine, you have to put in actually time and effort to make an actual object! You probably even have to put in a little bit of money! And you may never get it back! Not to say that people don't put in time and effort (and often money!) into their blogs, but you could also be bored in your pajamas one night and not have to move as you "make" a blog on your computer. I feel like recently there have been a lot of articles about how blogs are replacing zines, and zines have become sort of nostalgic, like records or typewriters, but that's not true at all. People never stopped making zines; it's just become more a part of the public eye recently. I came to zines because of the Internet, I got those books from the Internet! But I didn't become inspired to make a blog. I was inspired to make a zine.

At what point does a zine become a journal/magazine/publication? In independent bookstores here, you see a lot of local lit or art journals that come out regularly but still have a very offbeat, personal vibe, like someone spent money out-of-pocket to xerox each copy. Is zine culture a free-for-all or is there certain professionalism cut-off point?

There are no hard and fast rules about zines; that's what makes them so great. For example, Bitch Magazine started off as a zine, but they decided to become a magazine. Generally speaking, zines are a noncommercial, handmade publication, mostly in runs of 100 or less and often about unconventional subject matter. Most of the zines I see are photocopied and stapled and cost less than five dollars. There is no standard of “This is a Zine,” or “This Isn't a Zine.” I personally have my own criteria for a zine and what I think a zine is, but it's different for everyone. I think once you're paying to have your zine professionally printed on glossy paper, it becomes less zine-like. But I'm not the zine police, it's not up to me to decide what is or isn't a zine. I think, on some level, it's a zine if you say it's a zine.

L.A. Zine Fest is happening Sunday February 17th at the Ukrainian Cultural Center at 4315 Melrose Avenue from 11am-5pm. Workshops and panels will be happening all day. The event's website is here. The event is free, all ages and open to the public.

Related:
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'