Zineheads flocked to the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, October 18 for the day-long Madison Zine Fest. Pronounced like “magazine” without the “maga,” the fest was sponsored by the Midwest Zine Collective, which tries to make it easier for people who make zines to get in touch with one another and distribute their zines. The Zine Club! from Knox College was fortunate enough to attend.
Most people exploring the festival were seasoned zinesters, yet still the big question was occasionally heard from a passer-by walking in off the street.
“What is a zine?” One man pointed the questioner to a zine called the “Stolen Sharpie Revolution,” which defines a zine clearly for those learning about it as “an independently created publication containing anything you want it to; personal experiences and stories, political ideologies, music related writing, travel stories, comics, or anything you like. Zines can be put together by one person or a group of people and they are usually photocopied but can also be printed offset.”
There were dozens of tables set up within the theater, each by a specific zinemaker or zine distributor. Prices for zines are often based on sliding scales — most people will accept one dollar, whatever you can pay, or they will trade one zine for another. The process of making and sharing zines is non profit based and non-commercial.
One man, Anthony Rayson, had an entire table full of at least forty zines, all of which he had made, about the problems in America’s prison system. When asked how much to pay, he simply said, “Oh, whatever. If you can afford a buck or two, that’s fine, if not, that’s fine too. Here, take a couple of these while you’re at it,” he added as he handed me three more zines. Idea-sharing is more important than monetary gain, though people who have spent time hand binding elaborate zines do often ask for small contributions.
The zine conference allowed people to explore new ways of binding and new zine techniques.
“I usually use block lettering to do my covers,” one distributor said. “It’s just a pain in the ass because of how tedious it is, and you have to make everything in reverse and then print it forward.”
There were feminist groups distributing zines as well as personal manifesto zines and comic-style zines.
Workshops were also an integral part of the festival, such as the Co-op Distribution with Your Friends Workshop, and the Zines as Educational Tools for and with Prisoners Workshop, which Knox students attended. The prisoner zine workshop raised awareness for how the prison system in America is flawed so that the educational tools some prisoners have are extremely limited, to the point where many of them believe reform with so few resources is pointless and nearly impossible.
Anthony Rayson, the man running the workshop, said, “Books coming in [to prison] are often subject to suspicion of being contraband for really absurd reasons, like people assuming maybe someone would soak the pages of a book in methamphetamine even though shoes and things are brought in all the time and guards sneak contraband in all the time, too. It’s gotten to the point where, if a prisoner makes an educational zine in prison — and many prisoners I have met are very intelligent and do make informational zines — they aren’t even allowed to keep their own zine.”
Rayson stressed the importance of prisoners being able to communicate with the outside world and that learning through zines and books is more effective in reforming than things like solitary confinement. He stressed the idea of “zines as a means” for real education. It was evident walking through the festival that there is a lot to be learned from all the zines that exist in the world.