2019 Philly Zine Fest

Chilly, biting Philadelphia November air rushes into the dark, dense Rotunda packed with artists. Cramped tables line the walls, and interested onlookers squeeze past each other in the aisles. Creators sit behind the table of their work, some engaging immediately in conversation, others keeping their gaze down at their quiet sketching. The space is humming with excited, creative energy. This past weekend was the 2019 Philly Zine Festival at the Rotunda. 

Created in 2002 by Casey Grabowski and Andrea Hallowell, the Zine Festival was formed in order to create a space of connection centered on zine culture. Now run by Soapbox Philly, a Philadelphia-based zine library and print shop, the Zine Festival hopes “to embrace written and verbal communication as much as possible without constraints.”   This year’s zine fest was a hit. Hundreds of people poured into the cramped space and talked zines, and creators got the opportunity to sell their work, cultivate fans and meet fellow artists. But this underground art cult is far from new.

Zines, short for magazines, are self-published works made from original or appropriated content that are traditionally made with copy printers and circulated on a small scale. They often featured original art, poetry and writing, as well as clippings from magazines and newspapers. Zine culture came into vogue in the late 80s and 90s. Around this time, the Riot Grrrl Movement, a global subculture that combined women’s rights, politics and punk music, was in full swing. Zines of this time carried similar messages and united many young women in the development of the third-wave feminist movement. Most were made with the physical cut-and-paste method, xeroxed and distributed for a small fee or a trade, and most were made by young white women and teenagers, though zines made by men or people of color were not unheard of.

With the Internet boom and a lack of necessity for physical postage, zines quickly fell to the back of the line. Yet the anti-establishment, rebellious tone of zines seems to keep the appeal alive for people, even after the decline of physical mail. Some formats have even used the computer age to their advantage by creating e-zines.

The demographics of zine makers have expanded dramatically. People of all ages, genders, races and sexual orientations have joined the zine squad. The topics range dramatically from politics to mental health to systems of oppression to personal narratives to recipes to cats to soda reviews. People create zines about whatever they want. No matter how niche your interest is, you’re bound to find a zine that appeals to you--and if not, you can make your own. 

If you’re interested in more zine events in the Philadelphia area, the Soapbox hosts frequent events with a zine or book printing theme. Some events coming up this December include a screen printing workshop, Arts of Resistance Zine launch party, and a holiday card making event. You can check out all upcoming events on their website at http://www.phillysoapbox.org. If you’re interested in any of the zines that were at the festival this past weekend, you can find a list of all participants, as well as general information about the event on the Philly Zine Fest Facebook or Tumblr (https://www.facebook.com/phillyzinefest/, https://phillyzinefest.tumblr.com/).