Indie publishing for passion, not profit

Canzine West allows vendors to showcase a tangible alternative to blogs

Fans of traditional media flock to Canzine.

Fans of traditional media flock to Canzine. Courtesy of Olsy Sorokina

Canzine West, a festival of independent arts in British Columbia, proved that print is not dead on November 17. Both floors of the W2 Media Café were alive with the rustling of paper and animated conversation, as over fifty of the West Coast’s edgiest zine publishers showcased their work.

Canzine is not a regular art showcase; in a way, it is a challenge to the mainstream media format, content and purpose.

Zines are self-published pamphlets, which by virtue of the author’s complete creative control over the publication explore a limitless variety of topics.

“Anything that you would find in any other medium, you can find in zines … plus a whole lotta stuff that you don’t find anywhere else,” says Hal Niedzviecki, founder of Canzine and co-founder of the Broken Pencil magazine.

Diversity among the attendees and vendors at Canzine mirrored the variety in the published material: everything from colorful glossy comic books to free-verse poems to photocopied doodles, all with intriguing titles like Prevailing Nonsense and Super Fun Satan Club. The traceable common theme in zines, be it a comic or a collection of short stories, is that almost all of them contain an in-depth exploration of an event or an experience in the author’s life.

In every interview related to Canzine, Niedzviecki gets asked a question about the ways the creation of the blogosphere has affected indie print media. The existence of a new platform for unfiltered expression can hardly be described as a negative thing. Ironically, once this alternative appeared, it acted as a sort of filter to the world of zines.

“We start to see a sort of backlash against the amorphous digital nothingness of posting your words to blogs,” Niedzviecki explained. “There’s a lot of people who feel like there’s something unsatisfactory about that, and they want some other relationship to the work.” The result is that only the most passionate and committed zine publishers take their mixed-media artwork to the photocopiers.

[pullquote]We start to see a sort of backlash against the amorphous digital nothingness of posting your words to blogs[/pullquote]What kind of person can commit to the art of zines? It’s hard to define the group by looking at the authors behind the tables at Canzine. Some of the vendors began publishing zines in the early 1990s; others are just starting to explore the medium. Albert Art, the author of the Homeless Quatchi & Friends zine project, says he got into zines to promote his art. “I’ve always been like a do-it-yourself type of person,” Art explained. “And I figured zines are a small, compact way to get your stuff published without any gatekeeper.”

It looks like blogs may have given zines the advantage on the production side. “Modern zines tend to be much more like art artifacts, there’s a lot more work put on production. It’s something that you can’t download, or you can’t just look at on the Internet,” says Rebecca Dart, an illustrator with twenty years of publishing experience. Despite the convenience of online publishing, Dart is not planning to come over to the dark side of indie publishing anytime soon. “I promote my zines online, so doing the zine in conjunction with the Internet is the best of both worlds. I still like having the artifact, the physical thing.”

Attendees of Canzine West would probably agree with Dart – after all, how often can they walk away with a piece of original art for only five dollars? Blogs hardly rival the excitement of the zine author whose work gets the ultimate approval: the reader’s interest.[hr]

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