The hunger for something tangible seems all the rage these days -- as anyone witnessing the return of vinyl can attest. The same situation seems to apply to 'zines, those gloriously cut 'n' pasted, hand-designed, errantly-stapled samizdat dispatches from some alternate universe where nobody gives a rat's ass about celebrity A-list circle-jerking...the latest auto-tuned pop something-or-other phenom...let alone the latest installment in some mercifully forgotten movie franchise.
No, 'zines serve a purpose, and more people seem to have reached the same conclusion, judging by the turnout I witnessed at the Grand Rapids Zine Fest (7/25/15), which took place at the Kendall College of Art and Design's Fed Galleries. Having planned on doing a 'zine myself for some time now, I decided to go and see how the field looked. After all, pundits and scenesters alike had been sounding the death knell of 'zines since the 2000s, when blogs seemed to have taken over the space that they'd occupied. The '90s era of zinesters-make-good-now-here's-your-book-deal seemed as unthinkable as an ashtray on a motorbike.
However, the energy on display in the room said something else to me, as my wife and I made the rounds of tables -- from anarchist-oriented, to feminist, to personal and back again, all the passion on display made me want to pursue my objective that much more. Given the heavy hand of tech developments like "Mobilegeddon," all of a sudden, paper looks like a better and better bet: you can hold it in your hand, you can put it down again. Hey, what a concept! I suspect that's one reason for developments like the return of vinyl records, and the apparent rebound of indie bookstores.
The day's bigger draws included Matt Feazell, best known for his series of mini-comics: "The Amazing Cynicalman." Fittingly enough, he gave a workshop on the subject -- and, 90 minutes later, I found myself creating my first one! Now that's energy in action, I say. The afternoon concluded with a workshop, where several exhibitors read from their own 'zines -- and, though I didn't have a table, I was able to read excerpts from one of my own 'zine's forthcoming articles. Hear it for yourself on the "Featured Songs" portion of this site.
Somewhere, somehow, an inner ring of true believer is doing its best to keep the cause alive, which makes me want to sign up all the more. The nature of instant publication is hard to deny, especially when you're used to publications sitting on your ideas for weeks -- or even months -- at a time, only to say "NO" anyway...or, worse, seeing them watered down through sheer attrition in the editing process.
While I can't leave these developments behind just yet, I've dedicated that it's time for my own outlet, my 'own zine -- and its name is DESPERATE TIMES, which will combine my lifelong love of outsider music and art with personal commentary, essays and reflections on whatever topic or issue might strike my fancy (though it'll most likely come wrapped up in a social bent). I'm working on it this week as I speak -- creating a look that dips into the currents of Punk and Mod, without permanently dropping anchors into the choppy waters of the past.
DESPERATE TIMES will cut through the fog of those '77-era ills that seem stronger and more noxious than ever -- cultural apathy, glaring social inequity, mindless media content, and narrowing of opportunities for the majority -- with humor, without a concern for the passing of trends, or falling into the common traps of art/cynicism for its own sake, or making lengthy lists of rules that everybody else but the compilers feel obliged to follow. DESPERATE TIMES will offer a voice to music and the culture on the margins, and -- in the process -- reclaim a space outside mainstream cliches of "elevator speeches", "media platforms" and "staying on message." DESPERATE TIMES will stake out a presence away from the gatekeepers' mindless power games of "thumbs up, thumbs down, what else you got, kid?"...and, hopefully, leave its own lasting imprint.
What happens from this point? Stay tuned, as I begin assembling the final product, and figuring out the usual distribution/promotion issues...but all I know is, after seeing all that energy on display, I don't feel like standing still.