The fourth annual Milwaukee Zine Fest is happening Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Polish Falcon's Nest, 801 E. Clarke St. Zine makers from all over Milwaukee and the region will be tabling inside the Falcon's large community room from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., selling and trading their zines, sharing stories and building community.
"Zine," while sometimes an abbreviated form of "fanzine" (a publication dedicated to a particular entertainer or form of entertainment), is a word now more often used to designate a self-pubished text, often but not always photocopied, with a relatively small circulation.
Zines are therefore outside the mainstream in both form and often in content. "Zinesters" are those who create zines, enjoy reading zines or are generally appreciative of the art form – in short self-proclaimed members of zine culture.
Zine Fest events actually happen all weekend at a few different locations in Riverwest.
The fest kicks off Friday night with a zine reading, 7 p.m. at Cream City Collectives, 732 E. Clarke St. (cater-corner from the Polish Falcon). Zine-related workshops that run concurrently with the fest will also be held in the Collectives space on Saturday. These events are free.
For $5, people can attend the Zine Fest after party at Quarters Rock-n-Roll Palace, 900 E. Center St. (a short walk from the fest locations). Attendees will get another chance to talk everything zine with the tablers, enjoy live music and down a few cold ones.
Festival goers head back to Cream City Collectives for a vegan brunch Sunday morning at 10 a.m. The cost of brunch is also $5; all proceeds go to support the Collectives space.
Started in 2008 by Milwaukee zinester Jessica Bublitz, Milwaukee Zine fest was organized collectively this year, according to Christopher Wilde, one of the fest's eight organizers.
"At the first organizing meeting earlier this year, we decided to organize without hierarchy, so no one has a title and all have equal say in decision making. We're definitely influenced by all the amazing cooperative work that goes on in Riverwest and most of our meetings have been held at the Public House," says Wilde.
The Riverwest Public House, 815 E. Locust St., is a cooperatively-owned and operated bar and community space which opened earlier this year.
Wilde says the collective structure of the fest's organizing committee, along with communication via social media meant the organizers were expected to step forward whenever they saw a need planning the fest, using their skills and sharing them so that no single person became responsible for a majority of decision-making and action.
Zine Fest is free to attend and according to Wilde there is an "accessible scale of economy," in that zines can often be picked up for free or through trade and most cost no more than two dollars.
"Yet if you have some holiday spending cash in hand and are looking for books, comics or other indie publishing items to purchase directly from the creators in the $5 to $20 range, you'll find a great selection at some of the bigger tables," says Wilde. "Milwaukee Zine Fest is also an excellent way to support independent print based media in a time where it is increasingly important to have unfiltered voices speaking truth to injustice. In November, the Occupy Wall Street People's Library was mostly destroyed in the raid to 'clean up' Zuccotti Park and it was with the help of independent media creators, zinesters, librarians and other folks that activists have started to rebuild this valuable resource."
Wilde says that zines typically represent the stories of lives lived on the margins, be they social, economic, cultural or sexual minorities. Zine fests help directly link audiences to this body of work without fear of censorship or repression.
Wilde helps run the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) along with Milo Miller, local feminist and "sex-positive zinester" Miss Nico and queer librarians and academics from around the world.
QZAP preserves and shares, electronically, the stories of hundreds of radical queer lives by archiving their zines.
"We'll be flying the 'Circle-A' Archivists flag, as it were, by tabling for QZAP but Milo and I, as zinemakers and troublemakers, will be there with our own work and in pursuit of our own interests outside of QZAP," says Wilde.
Among the registered tablers are many local zinesters and some from beyond Milwaukee, including John Porcellino of "King-Cat Comics," Susan Simensky Bietila of "World War 3 Illustrated" and Ethan Krause of "The Famous Hairdos of Popular Music."
The many workshops include fest founder and co-organizer Bublitz covering the history of zines in a presentation. Hers kicks off the workshops at 11 a.m. Wilde concludes the workshop sessions at 4 p.m. with short films that document zine making around the world. Others throughout the day include zinster Nico talking about using zines as a positive resource in sexuality and identity formation and this author will co-host a zine-making workshop for kids ages 6 to 14.
Milwaukee doesn't have dedicated zine space such as the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland or a zine library. And Wilde finds that there is little in the way of community for zine creators in Milwaukee year-round, another reason community-building is an important aspect of Zine fest.
Wilde is celebrating 20 years as a zinester this year, so he's extremely excited to be participating in a zine community event and tabling his own work.
"Early on I learned the value of hosting zine events and how important these events are to connect creators with fans and other creators. I was directly inspired by the first generation of queer zinesters to create my own work, so from 1992 to the mid 1990s, I published a queer punk zine while corresponding, trading and buying from other zine creators. I am still friends or in touch with many of those folks," he says.
All in all, the organizers put on zine fest partly to promote their work and mostly to create community.
"Swinging through the door into the zine universe is one of the best, adventurous leaps I made and I am a better person for it," says Wilde.
Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.