Counterculture in print: The 2010 Milwaukee Zine Fest
This weekend, artists from far away as the Pacific Northwest and as close as our own backyard will convene in Riverwest for the third annual Milwaukee Zine Fest to display their independently crafted publications, share their zine experiences and hand out advice on how to create your own.
For those unfamiliar, a zine (pronounced “zeen”) is a small, handmade booklet that covers a wide breadth of counterculture topics. They blossomed in the ‘70s with the rise of punk music and surged again in the ‘90s with riot grrrl zines.
Those later feminist works are what first piqued Milwaukee Zine Fest co-organizer and Queer Zine Archive Project member Nico Bennett’s interest in DIY publications during her tween years.
“Zines are so personal,” says Bennett, who’s known by her zinester alias Miss Nico. “There are so many zines made for individual topics and states of mind.”
For how ostensibly accessible the medium is, it’s still difficult to actually come across one in daily life. Bennett was handed her first from a friend.
“It’s an underground thing,” she says. “You can’t just go to the store and buy zines. It’s a community.”
It’s a strong community, too. Many zinesters partake in trading their work rather than exchanging cash, she says. One zine she shows me is priced at one dollar, or three cigarettes. She’s even received some in the mail from complete strangers. Others are left in bathrooms or buses for others to come across. Bennett, however, hates to part with one. She’s a collector.
She’s amassed somewhere between 800 and 1,000 zines, but can’t be sure of the exact amount. There’s usually one or two in her purse. When we met, she had about five. She’s written her own, too. Her series Desensitized, which began in 2007, is on its seventh issue. She describes it as ego-centric creative writing.
The Milwaukee scene is still very small – Bennett estimates that the city has about 10 active zinesters. She hopes the gathering creates awareness, grows the local community and nudges others to create their own zines.
Though, they shouldn’t expect to make much money — or any, really. Most zines go for anywhere between one dollar — or a few cigarettes – to about five dollars. Making a profit never factors into making a zine, Bennett says.
“It’s a labor of love. You never get the money back you put into it. Photocopies aren’t cheap.”
Eschewing monetary objectives is freeing, however, she says. There are no quotas to meet. There are no topics that are off-limits or required. You can create anything. And, more importantly, you can create what you want.
The Milwaukee Zine Fest kick offs 7 p.m. Friday night at Cream City Collective with a riot grrrl seminar that looks back at the movement’s last twenty years. The big event, however, takes place Saturday at Falcon Bowl from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. About 40 vendors are expected to fill the room with their distinct literature. For a full schedule of workshops and seminars, visit the Milwaukee Zine Fest website.