Last week I attended my very first zine fest. Zines, self-produced “fanzines,” are multimedia works with as many messages as there are zine creators. Zines have been in circulation since the 1930s but the medium boomed during the 1970s and 80s as a means of distributing information related to various punk movements. Zines are incredibly diverse. Usually produced via photocopy, zines can also use letter-press, silk-screen, risograph, or handwriting.

At a zine fest, artists bring their works to trade and sell. In the city that brought us the 80s cult classic SLC Punk, the underground alt-punk zine scene is still alive and well. However, the second annual Grid Zine Fest proved that zines are an evolving medium for self-expression The fest made space for more than just punk zinesters.

It celebrated creators of all kinds, from punk queer kids to librarians and archivists. People of all ages, races, genders, sexualities, and abilities attended and tabled the fest, featuring zines about anything from irreverent Joan of Arc comics to the realities of life an undocumented person of color.

I enjoyed the Salt Lake-based zine fest so much that I convinced my Madison-based twin sister to attend the Madison Zine Fest next week. If you’re still not convinced that attending a zine fest is worth your Saturday afternoon, here are 5 reasons to attend your local zine fest.

Zine Fest
Image by Kate.

1. Support Local Artists

In an age where funding for the arts is on the cutting block, directly supporting the efforts of local artists is more important than ever. Additionally, local art makes a culture distinct.  It is unlikely that you will find many zine makers’ works in other venues. When you buy a zine, you purchase an incredibly unique piece of art.

Another perk of attending a zine fest is that you can support many artists at a relatively low cost. Zines are highly diverse in price, and no matter your price point, you can participate in most fests, making it relatively easy for everyone to support the arts!

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2. Safe Spaces

Along the lines of supporting the arts, zine fests are a great way to support individual artists from all backgrounds. Although there are always ways to improve, the zine fest I attended last week was one of the most inclusive Salt Lake City events I have ever been to. Because zines are an underground tool for self-expression, the medium boasts an incredibly diverse array of creators. Indeed, zines have an important place historically for giving voice to marginalized groups. For example, the Queer Zine Archive Project documents queer zines from the mid-1970s to the present including QUEERS READ THIS, a zine associated with the advocacy group ACT UP. Intersectional and political art feels very much at home at a zine fest. As a result, zine fests are a great way to learn about and support artists of color, LGBTQ+ artists, disabled artists, and artists of all ages in your community.

Zine Fest
Image from Fierce & Fabulous.

Thanks to the inclusivity of zine fests, there is something for everyone. The gritty underground history of zines gives zine creators space to create political discourse and make it accessible to others.

Importantly, there is humor, poignancy, and a general appreciation for authenticity in art within zine communities. Although many artists make the personal and political part of their zines, others are lighthearted and even silly. As a result, there is something for everyone at a zine fest, regardless of your particular interests. Moreover, attendees get to be themselves!

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3. Community Engagement

One of the best things about zines is that anyone can make them. They can be as low budget productions as you want. Some zine fests have zine workshops you can attend to make your own zines. If you didn’t get a chance to table at the fest, you can still bring your own zines to trade with other creators.

The community engagement provided by a zine fest vastly outweighs the capital gains.

Zine Fest
How to Make A Zine. Image by Kevin White.

While you are making, trading, or buying a zine, you just might make a new friend! Zine fests are a wonderful opportunity to share ideas in a non-institutional way. Zine fests foster an environment that is fresh, organic, and open. Talking to tablers from all over the state is a great chance to connect with others, learn about other events, and get more involved in your community.

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4. Get in Touch with the Underground

Not to be too much of a hipster about it, but zine fests are just about as anti-mainstream as you can get. As a result, zine fests will transport you to a world of new ideas both absurd and astute, and rarely available anywhere else. This is an obvious plus for anyone who is tired of consuming media through a screen.

More importantly, a zine fest might get you out of your bubble, inspire new ideas, and give you a chance to talk to people of different backgrounds. The typically nondigital medium will remind you that although mainstream media is entertaining, there is so much more to be found in the underground.

Image originally published on gomag.com.

5. Zine Fests: Full of Treasures and Surprises

On that note, zine fests will surprise you. You never know what you may find in the zines. For example, you might find an artist specializing in zines about yetis. Or, you’ll find anything from Fancy Cat zines to exposes on an iconic local waterpark. Whatever the case may be, you’ll encounter new ideas, new styles, and boundless creativity. The experience will be memorable, and you may walk out of the fest with some rare treasures. You will certainly leave with new sources of inspiration.

How to Find A Zine Fest?

Now that you know why you should go to a zine fest, it’s time to find one near you! There are zine fests all over the country. Brokenpencil.com provides an excellent list of zine fests around the planet. Stolen Sharpie Revolution also has a list.  Due to the independent nature of zines, zine fests may pop up in your neighborhood or disappear without much notice.

However, many big cities from Milwaukee to Bristol have a zine fest. My suggestion: search the name of your city + zine fest in Google or Facebook and see if there is one near you! If you can’t find a zine fest nearby, maybe your city needs one. My other suggestion: if you build it, they will come!

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