Local zine fairs are the peak indie experience. Imagine a warehouse with warm lighting, drip coffee and craft beer, live jazz, people like me selling and trading self-published art and essay booklets, and an open mic. Those who attend are usually young journalists, performance artists, political activists, curious foreigners, and casual occultists. I wouldn’t say this is a “popular” scene, but I’m glad there are places where we can celebrate creative, individual strangeness — for people who have felt out of place most of their lives, it’s good to be welcomed somewhere.
Zines are uncensored, intimate, self-published booklets. This art form is in-between a drawing and a book: it says more than a drawing can but it takes less effort than a book. Zines can be poetry booklets, flash fiction anthologies, photography folios, comic strips, and experimental chapbooks. What I like about this subculture is that it’s a scene of sharing art and embracing perspectives — a huge part of the fun is trading your work with the work of other creators. You’re sharing part of yourself, they’re sharing a part of themselves. It is a culture of unconditional positive regard and acceptance of the other.
I’ve been able to differentiate zines from graphic novels whenever I sell zines at comic conventions — people who prefer zines don’t mind eclectic, text-heavy work and people who prefer graphic novels enjoy coherent story-lines with clean art. During a comic convention, someone approached my booth and browsed through my zine catalogue, opened one and commented, “Ay, kailangan magbasa.” (Oh, if I buy this I’d have to make an effort to read.) This does not mean that one is better than the other, it’s only a matter of preference. But even though there is some overlap between graphic novels and zines, it’s important to notice the distinction between them. Zines are more exploratory and unconventional: it’s like sifting through the raw, elemental contents of someone else’s mind.
You’re sharing part of yourself, they’re sharing a part of themselves. It is a culture of unconditional positive regard and acceptance of the other.
Zine-making requires comfort and time. And because it is sold cheaply, it can also be difficult to actually earn from it. But as hobbies go, the subculture that surrounds this art form has the potential to be progressive, productive, and relevant: zine fairs are safe spaces for certain groups due to the radical nature of their content. There is an openness to progressive ideals — people who are unconventional or ignored are always welcome. Queer and feminist art are celebrated, people who go through mental health issues have a place to share their stories, and activists can promote their advocacy (they usually donate their earnings to their beneficiaries).
Furthermore, zines often augment the body of work done by an established artist: it is the commentary to their greater work. Sometimes, people who start out making zines expand their work and become published artists; and then, a lot of them support the work of other artists and they form collectives. After some time, people start to recognize each other because it is thrilling to have your work be appreciated by others — this is what makes them keep coming back to the community. It takes bravery to put your creative work out there, unsure of whether or not it would be worth anything. Then, someone comes by and actually pays for it — you feel like you are seen.
There is an openness to progressive ideals — people who are unconventional or ignored are always welcome.
There was this one time when I was idly drawing on cards while waiting for customers to pass by my booth. Usually, I’d only take pictures of my doodles, post them, and then throw them away. Someone came by and asked how much they were, and I thought, ah I can sell this for a cheap price because it’s not that good and I just want it off my hands. So I said, “Twenty pesos.” He shook his head and said, “No, that’s too cheap. You’re making this one on the spot: this is original art work, you should sell it for a higher price.” It was new to me, so I asked him how much he’d pay for it. He bought one for fifty pesos. I was so pleased; I made some more and began selling them for fifty pesos. People were buying them. Another guy came by and asked how much I was selling them. “I’m not paying fifty pesos for that,” he said. He handed me a hundred-peso bill.
We are drawn to spaces where our creativity does not go against a repressive standard, and where individual strangeness is a commodity. These places celebrate differences — which is refreshing when everywhere else these differences cause tension and inner turmoil. Of course the aesthetic of these communities depend on the taste of the individuals that make these spaces possible. One cannot expect every communal space to be alike — that would, ironically, negate an attempt at diversity. At the very least we can hope for multiple spaces for different but overlapping circles, where all kinds of people can feel welcome.