The Philly Zine Fest has been going strong for 15 years now, an annual gathering of zine makers, zine readers, and just all around zine nerds. They come to The Rotunda every year to share in a community that’s based around a shared love of DIY attitude and ethics and being able to express whatever it is you need to express in printed form. That can range from poetry and art to personal stories to zines about specific topics, like cooking or bike maintenance or politics.
In many ways, the zine, in its most pure photocopied and stapled form, is like a song or album created and recorded by a DIY band. There’s the initial idea that is tweaked and shaped – and tweaked and shaped some more – until a final form is achieved. It’s then ultimately written down or typed out and copied and distributed. Sometimes, if it’s that kind of piece, it can be shared with others in a live setting. Sometimes it’s just between the writer and the reader, a conversation in the hushed tones of mutual experiences and emotions. Seem familiar?
Dre Grigoropol is one of the organizers of the Philly Zine Fest as well as a zine maker, illustrator, and musician. Asked if the urge to make music came from the same artistic well as writing or drawing, she told The Key that, “For me the creative process is similar in the two different mediums. I create comics and zines titled ‘Dee’s Dream’ which is heavily influenced by the music scene in Philly.”
Someone else who will be selling his work at this year’s fest is Justin Duerr, who has been putting out his zine Decades of Confusion Feed the Insect for more than two decades. He is also a musician, with his best-known band being the “ghost punk” outfit Northern Liberties.
In a recent profile in The Key, Duerr said that his art is a direct extension of his identity and that the different mediums he works in — writing, painting, and music — are not inherently disconnected from each other. According to him, “It’s not inspiration, it’s just the way I am. It’s a personality trait. But yeah, that personality trait comes through all different avenues depending on what it is I want to express.”
It’s not surprising that music has always been one of the most popular topics for zines. Indeed, ‘fanzines’ in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s focused heavily on the music scenes of the time and were one of the best ways to find out news about your favorite bands. That was especially true when punk started. Punk zines weren’t just one of the only ways to discover new music – like Maximum Rocknroll, which started in 1982 and brought reviews as well as mail order opportunities to thousands of subscribers – but were very much seen as necessary and important, especially when it came to documentation.
Philadelphia was no exception when it came to this DIY phenomenon. There were countless music zines in the city with some of the most well-known being Savage Pink in the 80s and Philly Zine the following decade. Recently Jim Shomo from the band Dark Thoughts picked up that baton with his zine Serrated Edge, which came with a homemade tape compilation of local bands then and now.
And it’s not just music; the city has always been awash with zines of all types. One of the newest additions to the scene is Semiperfect Press, a small publisher dedicated to, “… poetry (and sometimes prose) that moves the ground beneath us. We are drawn to dark humor and carefully-made metaphors.” Robyn Campbell, who plays in Preen, Blowdryer, and Permanent Body, started Semiperfect as an offshoot of the zine of the same name she’s been doing for years.
“I had some hesitations about starting my own press versus joining one that already exists, but I think ultimately there’s room for however many editors/writers/zine-makers are willing to do the work,” Campbell explained. “In terms of needs being filled, the scales are still tipped towards academic-white-cis-maleness (probably unsurprisingly) when it comes to published poets, and I hope to be a part of what tips them the other way.”
While Campbell doesn’t see making music and writing as coming from the same place artistically – “I specifically started playing drums because I felt like I was in a rut with my own writing, and I wanted something else to do. I never necessarily thought I’d be in a band, let alone three, so there was a lot less pressure to be good at it,” she told The Key – she definitely feels like poetry and music go well together.
To that end, she’s booked a number of mixed bill shows with both bands and writers. As she put it: “I’d rather listen to people read in a basement or living room than through a mic at a bookstore at two in the afternoon. … Just because something is quiet doesn’t mean it’s not punk.”
Some of the musicians who are part of this year’s Zine Fest include Grigoropol, Duerr, and Andrew Davis, who does Samantha Comics and a musical project called Sloopygoop. A full list of those tabling at today’s event can be found here.
The energy and immediacy of zines has always been something that attracted Campbell to the format. It’s very much something that can be done on your own with minimal resources and nobody telling you what you can or cannot do. If you have an idea, you can probably make it a reality. As Campbell put it: “I spent a lot of time romanticizing what other people were doing and feeling like it was completely out of my reach for whatever reason, and then I just thought, ‘fuck it, I can do that, too.’”
Philly Zine Fest takes place today at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street, until 7 p.m. Information can be found here.
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