Small-press magazines — or zines — hide ideas and stories that will never appear in the high-gloss mainstream marketplace.
One of the better-known examples of independent ink is the self-published Doris, a zine that’s chronicled the life and trials of writer Cindy Ovenrack (yes, it’s a pen name) in cartoons and essays for more than 20 issues. Her life makes for interesting reading — one issue offers creative ways to beat depression — but it’s hardly the mass-appeal fodder of People or Entertainment Weekly.
The main problem with creating zines is simply getting them out there.
Enter the Montreal-based Mobilivre-Bookmobile Project, a traveling exhibit of zines and book-art pieces that tours the U.S. and Canada and will stop in Asheville on April 10-12. For three years now, Mobilivre has brought more than 300 independent-media works to small towns and big cities via their 26-foot vintage Airstream trailer.
Besides being a mobile library and gallery, the bookmobile serves as a traveling workshop and all-around indie-media pulpit.
“The main goal is trying to get people excited about making things, as well as meeting other people in their community who are also concerned with independent media,” Mobilivre member Courtney Dailey said by phone from a stop in Philadelphia. “It’s an issue we feel is important: to spread the word about independent media.”
Still, very few zine writers or small-press publishers ever enjoy significant recognition. And the itinerant Bookmobile Project remains an all-volunteer mission. What keeps them so, er, driven?
“People who are often disempowered, or whose voices are often pushed to the side, have a really exciting way of getting their ideas and their thoughts and their dreams out,” explains Dailey. “One of those ways is through books and zines.”
Each year, the bookmobile features new works, ranging from political-activism publications to practical how-to guides. Though selections are juried, Mobilivre’s overall content is determined by trends in submitted material.
“Last year it was more zines,” explains Dailey, “but this year we have more ‘artist’ books. One of my favorites, for sure, is called The Pillow Face Peace Pack, by this collective called Paper Rad. It’s actually a stuffed animal that has a big peace sign, and on its back is this beautiful painting. Under its back is a pocket with all these different zines inside.”
Though Dailey isn’t completely familiar with all the works on this year’s tour (she’s saving much of her reading for the road, she says), she was able to offer an overview for potential patrons.
“We always have this contingent of miniature books — really tiny things — and some zines that are important in terms of political content. There’s a lot of how-to zines, like Rock Out! Ideas on Booking DIY Shows, by these two women in Chicago.
“There’s one book that I love,” she adds. “It’s so great — it’s a book that was made by an 8-year-old. It’s rubbings of American and New Zealand coins from when he was bored at church. It’s called Danny’s Coin Book, by Danny Gustina.
“I love that book.”
In the process of delivering these unusual works to the public, the bookmobile staff has endured the inevitable practical obstacles. The early days of the project, in particular, involved a steep learning curve for volunteers.
“The first year we learned a lot,” confirms Dailey, “like what places seemed most receptive, and how we can make it easier to travel for such a long period of time. There were logistical concerns, like learning how to parallel park a 26-foot-long trailer and a 20-foot-long van.”
The headaches didn’t end there. Before Mobilivre’s inaugural tour, the collective also had to deal with the thorny issues of fund raising (they failed to get any of the grants they applied for that first year) and promotion (the group has often relied on their punk-activist following to help get the word out).
Keeping the tour going has never been easy — but the payoff, says Dailey, is always worth the struggle.
“People’s reactions kind of help you get over that you’ve been without sleep for the past two weeks trying to get ready to leave,” she reveals.
In addition to presenting zines and book-art pieces, Mobilivre members also lead create-your-own-zine workshops (at press time, details on the local workshop hadn’t been finalized).
“We try to promote independent productions, and we try to have a local person present it,” explains Dailey. “Usually, we’ll do a bookbinding workshop, or a zine-making workshop, where everybody makes a page for a group zine.
“People like that because we get to talk a lot about collage and DIY publications,” she continues. “We also do an artists’ talk about the bookmobile project.
“A lot of people are interested in how we do it, you know … war stories.”