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FOG! Visits LA Zine Fest 2016!

Written by Lily and Generoso Fierro

After a night of heavy rain in Los Angeles, the bluest sky we’ve ever seen here appeared.

Mesmerized, we nearly forgot that this was the day (Sunday, March 6, 2016) that we would attend LA Zine Fest, but after a cup of coffee, our memory returned, and we headed into downtown Los Angeles to weave through tables of zines.

This was Lily’s first zine fest as opposed to Generoso, who throughout his teens and twenties during the dark, pre-internet ages attended multiple zine fests held in libraries, gymnasiums, and even once in an abandoned warehouse in Philadelphia, all events that were usually put together in just a couple of weeks. And, in recent years, prior to moving to the west coast, Generoso had frequently attended the Massachusetts College of Art’s Zine Fest, which was in a medium sized hall that had live bands performing on stage in the exhibit room throughout the day. Zines for Generoso had come to represent a method of learning the underground’s dark secrets prior to the web such as which railroad yards have the most vicious bulls to avoid and homespun, yet complex conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of public figures. Thus, given these experiences, we expected a relaxed, somewhat thrown together show where we would just stroll around and casually pick up some zines.

However, as we approached the ornate plaster entry and art deco arches of the Majestic in Downtown Los Angeles, we began to get the sense that LA’s Zine Fest was far more grandiose than we had expected. A part of us had the slightest amount of guilt that we would be spending the day in a dark room on such a pretty day, and when we arrived to the dimly lit, enormous hall packed with people, making most of the aisles completely unnavigable, that sense heightened.

So much DIY in the midst of elegance

However, we had promised not to leave the event without stopping by the table of Sparkplug Comic Books, one of Lily’s favorite small publishers in America, and so we crawled up to the second floor of the building and found current owner, Virginia Paine, at the Sparkplug table. With the mission to give exposure to artists that the publishing team feels strongly about, Sparkplug certainly has its own taste in comics, but the catalog has something to offer for everyone, and we snatched up plenty.

Our selection included Eric Haven’s hilarious Tales to Demolish, Whit Taylor’s perceptively acerbic and personal The Anthropologists, the Orchid anthology of Victorian horror tales, and Shiga’s outlandish Bookhunter. Sadly, Sparkplug will be closing up shop this year, but thankfully, the kind folks of Alternative Comics will continue to distribute the psychedelic, the strange, the fun, and the distinct stories of Sparkplug, so thankfully, you will still be able to grab a copy of Chris Cilla’s Heavy Hand (which you should do no matter what) and all of the above outstanding books we picked up at Zine Fest!

Sparkplug Comic Books, we’ve been looking for you! 

Immediately to the left of the Sparkplug collection, sat Melinda Tracy Boyce with hers and Aaron Whitaker’s creations. After a look through Aaron’s naughty The City Troll and Melinda’s clever and beautiful The Melinderly, we picked both up and then set our sights on trying to view the work on rest of the second floor.

At this point, the crowds were still a bit daunting, but we had fallen into the slow ebb and flow of the tiny lanes of stop and start foot traffic and were outrageously happy with our initial selections, so we made our way to the rest of the tables to see what other exceptional zines we could find. As we stopped for a quick breath of air, from the second floor balcony, we spotted the table of Giant Robot, a favorite of Generoso’s, and we immediately darted toward it.

At the table, Eric Nakamura, the longtime curator and distributor of media gems from Asia, had back issues of Giant Robot magazines along with Deth P. Sun’s The Various Things I Eat, an intricate pictorial catalog of what he ate and who with every day from September 1, 2009 to February 16, 2010. After debating which back issues to grab, Generoso made his decision to take home two, one in full glossy magazine form and another in the late night at Kinko’s, hastily stapled, black and white zine form of Generoso’s youth, and we pressed onward.

On the right, Giant Robot founder Eric Nakamura

In between the two sections of the main hall sat a small section where indie creators presented their video games. With open source platforms such as Unity, games can be a new medium for DIY storytelling, and LA Zine Fest organizers cleverly recognized this and gave individual game designers a chance for them to show their work and get feedback from the public, since after all, what is a game if it is not played? Seated under magenta lighting, we each gave a game a try, and we both realized quickly that there is a reason why we are not video game champions and that perhaps we should stick to what we know: writing about comics and films.

Generoso makes his attempt at digital archery

As the day progressed, the crowd began to ease off, and we made additional stops in one of the best break areas we’ve ever seen: the makeshift zine library. Zines of all topics ranging from the highly political to the fantastical were strung across a set of clotheslines for all to peruse, and if you found something that you could not leave without, each zine had a tag with the table number where you could purchase it. Besides giving a large space where people could relax, the zine library also allowed you to browse before journeying into the aisles, giving you the opportunity to peruse away from artists and publishers’ already crowded tables, making the exchange for all easier, since it is never fun to be that jerk who spends a long time browsing at a table only to walk away empty handed.

More practical than clothes on a clothesline, the well hung zine library

While there were plenty of zines that were misses for us, the zine library did give us a chance to find some stars, particularly Mary E. Walter’s Cancer-y Enough and Anna Jo Beck’s Personal Finance, so we we plotted out our next adventures on the exhibition floor in search of both. Mary E. Walter’s Cancer-y Enough addresses the anxiety surrounding not having a severe enough cancer to attend a cancer support group and effortlessly balances humor, distress, and grief in less than ten pages, making it one of the best finds of the day. And, on a completely different plane, Anna Jo Beck’s Personal Finance teaches you how to manage money in simple terms with levity and helpful illustrations, epitomizing of the ability of zines to be informative and educational on practical topics without getting too formal and unrelatable.

Generoso wishes he found Anna Jo Beck’s Personal Finance in 1984

Toward the end of the day, as we walked one last time through the tables, we spotted Tiny Splendor Press’s ninth edition of the Box of Books, a set of twenty handmade zines that open up into full sized posters. While Generoso’s bag was getting heavy with all of the picks of the day, this was not a collection we could pass up because the art in the Box of Books embodies the exact spirit of experimentation of zines that reminded us of why we should never miss any zine fest.

Those aren’t cookies! Those are some tasty zines in that Box of Books!

Sure, the swells of people at first made the navigation through LA Zine Fest 2016 almost unbearable, but our finds made the effort and the time more than worthwhile; we did not pick up anything of less than excellent quality. And, best of all, LA Zine Fest 2016 was completely free, so this wonderful resource was accessible for the entire community.

If you are not in Los Angeles, do keep an eye out for a zine fest near you! The zine culture is still vibrant and very much alive! It is one of the only media forms left where you really can do it all yourself, so it is one of the only places where you will consistently find unique stories, perspectives, and art.

Make your own poster and bag at the Zine Fest!
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