Tuesday, 21 March 2017

ZIne fairs 2017

So zine seasons is definitely in swing. 

Here are some upcoming zine fairs I'll be tabling at in the next few months with new zines and everything!

Leeds Zine Fest
Leeds Central Library
Saturday 25th March 2017 11am - 3pm

Leeds Libraries zine exhibition
Leeds Central Library, Room 700
You can also find some of my zines at the Leeds Library zine exhibition throughout March.

CCA Glasgow
Saturday 29th April  11am - 6pm
Rich Mix London
Sunday 14th May 12 - 7pm

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The economy of zines

There are two conversations on zines that just go round and round and round until the end of time. The first being "All hail the resurgence of zines! Zines are back!" And we all roll our eyes because we all know that zines never went away, but every now and then The Guardian or Vice will inform us of their return.
The second one is "Yeah but what is a zine? How do you define them? And should you  define them?" 

I started making zines 18 years ago and those conversations were already old and tired back when I assembled cliched Drew Barrymore collages for my early riot grrrl fanzines in the 90s. They can be good conversations to have though, as zines change and adapt and I know we'll keep having them, particularly around defining zines. 

The term zine is not an abbreviation for magazine, it is its own thing, which is zine 101. Sometimes you still see zine written as 'zine with the apostrophe as though something is meant to come before it. To be honest, when I was a teenager I hadn't even considered that zine would be short for magazine, and I had assumed that 'zine was an abbreviation of the term 'fanzine', which were the first few types of zines I ever read. So my viewpoint on this is totally skewed anyway. 

In the last 10 years zines have gained more recognition which is honestly great. It's easy to be cynical when a major website or newspaper does its annual story on the world of zines, but my entry point to self publishing was from the time that Just 17 featured an article on fanzines and diy music, as part of an interview with defunct 90's teenage grrrl band Vyvyan. They printed a list of UK zines such as Abuse, All About D and friends, and Glitter Underground and I sent off  for my first ever zines. I was much more likely to read an issue of Just 17 than I was to read a zine aged 13, and Just 17 changed my life for real.

This was the greatest issue of J17 of all time. Honestly I just want to make a zine about how 90s teen magazines changed my life. 
The rise in zine recognition is great: there are more zine fairs than ever before, you can find out how to make a zine by reading Rookie or watching youtube tutorials, you can buy zines online rather than having to send £1 coin sellotaped to a bit of card in the post to a stranger, there are zine workshops in public libraries, it's ace! And the term zine itself has become much more diffused. 

In the last 10 years or so, the term zine has been used interchangeably with things like artists' books, small press comics and illustration, independent magazines, photobooks, etc. All of these things are forms of self publishing and are radical in themselves for operating outside the traditional mainstream forms of publishing. And zines themselves have changed. From political pamphlets, to football zines, sci-fi zines, fanzines, perzines, punk zines, art zines, poetry zines, photo zines, and beyond. They haven't always been one thing, and they should never be just one thing. It's important to see them change and grow.

But despite the change in audiences, themes, and subject matter, the term zine is always rooted in diy non-profit forms of self-publishing. That is really their only defining feature. anything else - subject matter/format/binding/style - is fair game. 

I'm aware that zinesters often come across as petty when we discuss and try to lay down the parameters of what is a zine and what isn't a zine. It's just a term and why can't we embrace change, and who the hell are we to decide? I've been making zines for 17 years, I'm co-founded two zine library collections at the Stuart Hall Library and Tate Library, but I'm not a guardian of the term zine, my opinion doesn't actually mean shit, and I honestly have no right to tell you what is or what isn't a zine. Nobody does.

Defining zines isn't petty though when it comes to the economy of zines. The point of zines is to make them as cheap as possible and to distribute them as cheaply as possible. Are there problems with the zine model? Totally. You have to know what a zine is to be able to access them for a start, And to make them you need access to a cheap photocopier, etc. 
Zine culture, like a lot of activist culture is guilty of being too white, elitist, cliquey, and inaccessible. But the very basic idea of zines is to share your ideas and create something quick, and very cheap. It doesn't have to look glossy and professional. Of course if that's your aesthetic then that's cool too, but zines are non profit.

One more time: Zines are non-profit. That's the big defining feature. It doesn't make your artists book, comic, magazine any less radical or important or inspiring if they are made for profit or to develop your career. People need to eat and pay rent and make a living and writers and artists deserve to be paid. Artists should asbolutely be able to make a living from their art. 
It also doesn't mean that zines are inherently better than other forms of self-published works. These works are still radical, they just might not be zines, and that's totally ok. We can still co-exist, we still table at many of the same zine fairs because we are still operating under the same umbrella of diy self-publishing.  It just doesn't make them technically zines. Because zines are non profit.

London's queer zine fest 

The art of the zine swap is a major custom of zine culture. This has always been part of zine life and zinesters openly trade their zines with other zinesters for free. You don't view it as losing money, you view it as exchanging your ideas and that's really the point of zines, to share ideas quickly and cheaply.  Most zines are meant to be shared and passed on, and it's common to see anti copyright/copyleft disclaimers in zines encouraging readers to make and distribute your own copies/scans of the zine and share with others. It's part of what makes a zine, that it can exist outside of normal economies. And while this non-profit model works for zines, it probably wouldn't work for independent magazines for example, which requires profit to sustain the work and to pay writers.

The reason why zinesters feel passionate about defining the term zine is because we've seen diy models of production co-opted by people precisely trying to make a profit or to elevate their status, using diy as a stepping stone to 'making it.' 

It can feel gross to overhear someone bragging about how much money they have made from their zine. We've cringed when people apply the term 'business model' in relation to their zines, when creators discuss promoting and marketing goals in relation to zines, when people refer to making zines as their job, or when we've picked up an expensive art magazine filled with advertisements calling itself a zine. Absolutely none of those things would bother me if the term zine was removed from the situation.  Want to make a living from your art? Go for it, I want to support that! Want to crowdfund your book? Sounds good, I'm in! Want to set up a independent magazine and pay your writers? I'm so down for that. 

The term zine comes with a history and context which implies radical methods of publishing and sharing.  It's not just a bunch of zinesters being petty over semantics saying 'you can't sit with us.' You can definitely sit with us, there just needs to be an understanding of that context. As an art librarian for the last 10 years I've seen the trend of lecturers and teachers  in art schools using the term 'zines' interchangeably with 'artists' books' on book making courses without explaining any of the cultural history and context associated with that term. Art students then create artists' books, calling them zines, and then get frustrated when they aren't able to sell their artists' books for £30 at zine fairs when the average price of a zine at the same fair is £2. The context of the term matters.

Zines aren't just a way of describing a cut and paste aesthetic in the same way that 'punk' wouldn't be applied to a designer t-shirt  covered in safety pins. I don't think anyone wants to police who gets to call their work a zine because that establishes hierarchies and rules which go against the point of zines in the first place. And this conversation will be repeated over and over until the end of time anyway.I'm sure zines will continue to adapt and change in ways we haven't thought of. I just hope they always maintain that link with non profit diy publishing.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sheffield Zine Fest 2017

It's the first zine fest of the year for me in just a few weeks as I'll be heading to Sheffield Zine Fest 2017 on Saturday 25th February.


I'll have all my zines with me plus a new mini comic zine. Sheffield Zine Fest is one of my favourite of the UK zine fairs. It's not as overwhelming and anxious making as some of the bigger fairs, and there's a good mix of zinesters with more focus on diy zines rather than artists' books/expensive arty zines. Nowt wrong with those, but it's the cheap zines scene where I feel more at home. See you there!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

New year new zines

I know that just because it's the new year doesn't mean that I have to make resolutions, I can make change anytime I like during the year. But it's like when I start a new notebook and the first page is all untouched and perfect and I do my neatest handwriting using my proper best pens and I feel like oh shit maybe this is the notebook that will sort my life out and then by page 4 everything is a mess again. It's nice to get swept up in the optimism.

2016 was both hard and good in lots of ways. In the wider world there were lots of bad things happening - celebrities were dying and fascisim was rising. I also lost family members this year, I saw less my of friends than I liked, and I was ill a LOT.

My health was awful. I fractured my ankle, I had an operation on my bum, I had infected cysts, I had tonsillitis 3 times, and my arthritis knocked me back on crutches again. My mental health was super bad and my ocd came back in a pretty massive way after laying dormant for most of the year before. My weird patterns and rituals came back, I developed new and annoying nervous tics which I couldn't control, one of these got so bad it threw my back out. Solidarity to everyone else on super long waiting lists for cbt and other mental health treatments.

But lots of amazing things happened last year and I'm pretty glad they did, especially when it came to zines.

I decided that my lack of artistic ability didn't actually matter and started my new diy comic zine Cool Schmool.

I also made 4 other new zines - My Mad Fat Zine, Bite Me, Sick Sad World Tour zine, and Not Queer Enough. I tabled at a bunch of zine fairs like Northwest zinefest

 I took part in a roundtable on zines, hosted 3 workshops on zines and did a zine reading with Salford Zine Library gang. 

Basically zines continued to rule my world and I don't see that stopping any time soon. I spent most of my christmas break listening to the Moana soundtrack and working on two new zines that I hope to have out later this year and a mini zine in time for sheffield zine fest.

2016 was also the year I tried to manage my burnout better. Making zines and comix and writing and playing in bands outside of work can be a lot of, well, work, especially when my health was shit. I played a bunch of gigs with my band The Potentials, I also played bass with Yiiikes. We put out a new ep, recorded a new single, made a pop video and went on summer tour with a bunch of babes. 

The Potentials photo ezgif.com-video-to-gif 1_zpsoz4pow0a.gif
Beware the burnout!

I also hung out with my bff Bruce Springsteen last year, have I mentioned that?

I don't make new year resolutions but I do have some stuff I'd like to do this year. And if I don't do them then it's ok, I won't beat myself up over it. I want to make more zines, be more posi, be a better activist, stay at home more because being away from home every single weekend is making me poor and tired, finish this online art history course I've been dragging out, go the doctors more rather than just leaving things to get worse for a year and then being too scared to go, and I dunno, maybe listen to the Moana soundtrack more. 

See you at Sheffield Zine Fest in Feb!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Greetings from Asbury Park

Being obsessed with Bruce Springsteen is a bloody weird thing at times. I've written zines about him, I've made comics about him, I've given talks on him, I've followed him and the E Street Band round the country, I've got his name tattooed on me, I've contributed a chapter to an upcoming book on Springsteen, and I've even met him twice now. I've mentioned in my zines and in talks before that fandom and diy culture don't always fit together and it always feels super weird to place a straight white millionaire cis dude on a pedestal in the way that I do. But sometimes I like to stop caring about that for a second and just indulge my obsessive fan behaviours.

A few weeks ago I went on an adventure to New York. Me and my partner had the best time eating vegan pizza and donuts and going to record shops, comic shops, seeing so much art and so many ace bridges, and pretending we were in a film every day. During our holidays we took a day trip out to New Jersey for a special Bruce Springsteen rock and roll tour.

The rock and roll tour of the Jersey shore is run by Stan Goldstein and Jean Mikle. They have painstakingly researched Bruce's connection to New Jersey, the places he lived, grew up, and played and they drive you round in their car dropping stories and trivia all over the place and letting you get out and see those places for yourself. The places that had a profound impact on his lyrics, his albums, his friendships, his sound. And if you are a Springsteen fan with a day in New Jersey it's probably the best thing you could ever do.

We took the train from Penn Station and headed out to Long Branch, NJ for the day. I was ill as fuck, couldn't breathe or swallow thanks to infected tonsils of doom, but despite the holiday lurgy I was so excited. We were met at Long Branch by Jean, and we hopped in her car with my bag of tissues and cough sweets (sorry Jean) and spent the next 4 hours geeking out.

I liked Jean. She made no assumptions as to what kind of fans we were, she didn't mind if we were diehards or casuals, she didn't mind  what our favourite albums were which was nice. My partner isn't the diehard that I am and I was worried it could be a boring 4 hours for him, but Jean was bloody brilliant. During the 4 hours she also put feelers out to figure out what our political leanings were before tearing into the rise of right wing fascism in America. Jean was ace, go hang out with Jean!

We started in Long Branch by visiting the house where Bruce wrote Born to Run.

Someone take the flag down and buy me this house please, ta.

I've read so many books about Bruce, so many biographies, so many accounts and versions of the venues he played in Jersey, the streets, the houses, the bars, the boardwalk. And then there's the stuff that I wasn't sure whether it was myth or whether it was real. Which is why I nearly broke down in weird tears in the front of Jean's car as she casually dropped into conversation that we were now driving down Kingsley ("Well I'm riding down Kingsley, figuring I'll get a drink") from the song Something in the Night and that we were about to pass the strip where drag races used to take place, which Bruce used as the setting for Racing in the Street

We drove through Long Branch, down to Asbury Park and saw legendary venues like the Stone Pony, The Wonder Bar, the ground where the Palace amusements used to be ('Beyond the palace hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard'), the Upstage bar, and even Madam Maries from the song Sandy.

'Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for telling fortunes better than they do' - Sandy

We passed the factory where Bruce's dad used to work and was maybe the setting for the song Factory, we passed his old school, the bar where he first met Clarence the big man Clemons, his childhood homes in Freehold, the famous Springsteen tree in Freehold, and of course 10th avenue and E Street.

It was kinda weird having such a strong reaction to streets, buildings, and venues in New Jersey having romanticised so many of these places in my head. I'm sure my partner didn't have strong feelings as we passed the Upstage bar, the streets of freehold, or the places and street names made famous in Springsteen lyrics, but it was something that's only ever been fictional in my head and it suddenly became dead real. As we drove round Freehold we smelled the coffee from the nescafe factory and just a couple of days later when the official Bruce Springsteen autobiography was released, Bruce would go on to describe in those first few pages sulking round the streets of Freehold and smelling that same coffee smell from the factory everywhere he went, and it was just a bit bonkers to me that I'd been following his ghost around NJ doing just that a few days earlier. It still didn't feel real. It was like going to the Harry Potter Studio tour and being amazed by all the things you've seen in the films but also understanding it's all still just fiction. 

The only weird bit of the tour was driving out to Colts Neck where Bruce currently lives, which then felt a bit too real. The road down to his house is a private road and is secured by a fucktonne of private land that you can't get through but we drove round the parameter and I suddenly felt like a weird stalker. There was a private road, 100s of acres of land, and a fence separating our car from Bruce if he was home, but it felt a bit weird to be driving so close to where he actually lives. I spent the next 20 minutes gawping out the window looking for a black land rover in case Bruce was in the area.

Jean dropped us off in Asbury Park after the tour  where we hung out at the Silverball pinball arcade and museum and walked along the boardwalk for a bit, and I had Sandy playing in my head the whole time. I don't think I've ever felt as ill and as feverish as I did that hot summers night stuck on the platform of Asbury Park train station swigging medicine, chomping lozenges, and coughing my lungs up in Springsteen's old stopming ground. Shout out to my loving partner who endured a 4 hour tour of Asbury Park and then the whole evening of me whinging that I thought I was dying until we could get back to our bed in New York. 

'This boardwalk life for me is through'

Just a few days later in New York, Bruce did a public appearance for his new autobiography and we managed to meet him. I got a hug and a handshake and a compliment on my hair. 10 seconds later and I couldn't even remember if I even looked him in the eye when I spoke to him, I just know that I had shaken his hand and mumbled an overly earnest 'thank you for everything.' If you've read my zine Me and Bruce #1 you'll know this isn't the first time I've met him, but it is the first time I got a photograph to document the occasion.

Immediately after meeting him, My Hometown played over the loudspeaker at Barnes and Noble and I had a little cry. Having just been to New Jersey it was then so weird to have started reading his autobiography that morning where he described all the places we visited, and then to meet him just a couple of hours later while a song about his hometown played in the background just blew my mind a little bit. I want to say that having been to see where he grew up and having met him and hugged him, that Bruce feels even more real to me, that I feel more connected to his songs. And while it's true that I'm always going to be able to picture those places now when listening to his songs, none of it feels really real. He's still up on this untouchable pedestal and just because I've been to New Jersey I'll never really know him, and I'm still going to appropriate his songs to be about me and my experiences.

Speaking of appropriating Bruce, I'm dead excited that the book I've contributed to -  Bruce Springsteen and popular music: rhetoric, memorial, and contemporary culture has a publishing date of April 2017. My chapter is about interpreting Bruce lyrics as queer anthems and it's been a super fun experience contributing to a properly published book. Although I miss the immediacy of zines and not having to spell check my work or worry about copyright, zines forever! So today I started work on the next in my zine series Me and Bruce #4 which should be out dead soon. I love making Bruce zines and it's been a while since my last one. I might even ask for contributions this time round as when I started making them I didn't know anyone who loved Bruce like me and now I seem to know loads of queer Bruce fans. In the meantime you can get issues 1-3 of the Me and Bruce zine series in a special bundle here

Friday, 9 September 2016

Leeds zine fair

I'll be tabling at Leeds Zine Fair tomorrow!

I'll have my new zines like Cool Schmool comic, Bite Me, and My Mad Fat Zine with me as well as all my old ones. There's gonna be some proper ace people tabling and I'm looking forward to getting some hangtimes with my favourite Leeds people!

I'm severely burned out at the moment and I've got the massive tonsils of doom right now, but tomorrow will be ace. Plus there's the Pale Kids and Just Blankets matinee show with vegan cafe at Wharf the next day!

Life on the hash brown scene

Last month I went on tour with my band The Potentials and our mates FOMO and Whatevers and had the best time ever! So I made a little tour documentary about our week of adventures. 

It's no Life on the Murder Scene, but then again nothing is. But editing this helped with the post-tour comedown, and now it's finished it's just made me want to go back on tour even harder.