Asheville Zine Fest spotlights a ‘community many didn’t know existed’

CUT AND PASTE: Asheville Zine Fest co-organizer Jessica C. White considers zines one of the most accessible art forms. “Get a sheet of paper, cut it up, fold it in half and put something down,” she says. Photo courtesy of White.

Jessica C. White started making zines — handmade, self-published periodicals — in college. “Both my roommate and I were art students and did a lot of collages, so we created this zine that poked fun at pop culture,” says White.

But when asked more about her creative roots, the University of Iowa graduate digs in. “I got a stapler when I was 10 or 11 and would make these little books,” she notes. “I would’ve never called them zines, but they definitely were.”

Today, White is the unofficial matriarch of Asheville zine culture. Together with her husband, Shawn Scott Smith, she hosted the first Asheville Zine Fest in The Grey Eagle in 2016 and again in The Refinery Creator Space a year later. The event returns Saturday, June 30, in The Ideation Lab at The Center for Craft, this time with more space and vendors than ever before.

White says one-third of attending zine creators will be local, including the likes of Warren Wilson College papermaking instructor Whitney Lyn Stahl and Western North Carolina printmaker John Mansfield.

Other vendors will come from farther away. There’s brooding zinester Stephanie Phillips, who will be traveling from Ohio; Ben Sears, noted for his whimsical comics, who will be coming down from Kentucky; and Lucy White, a Chattanooga, Tenn., zinester focused on mental health, community and plants. Illustrator and fine arts instructor Tristin Miller will also be driving up from Greensboro to lead his Epic Zine Makin’ Jam Session. A beginner’s guide to zine-making, the workshop will be held at 3 p.m. and will be more of an exercise in letting go than in mastering the art.

“I’ve realized over the years that if you stress too much about getting it right, it never gets done,” says White, whose work has been described as a cross between Beatrix Potter and Edward Gorey. “You don’t have to be good at writing. You don’t have to be good at drawing. You don’t have to go to school for this.”

Zines are accessible by design. Made popular during the independent arts movement of the ’60s, the medium gained ground in highly specialized niches like punk rock and sci-fi.

“They are containers for anything you want to draw or write about,” White says, citing a friend’s bicycle repair periodical and a zine on how to give and understand sexual consent. “Zines need to be a piece of ephemera: They can be left at the bus stop or on a bench. They shouldn’t be precious, and they are most effective when they are personal.”

In many ways, zines erupted as an early form of social media. Before the internet, people updated friends and family by creating zines and sending them through snail mail. When blogging surfaced in the late ’90s and early 2000s, many zinesters feared virtual sharing would overshadow the age-old craft. But, as White points out, “there’s something so different about a zine. You can put a story down in a less filtered way without feeling overexposed.”

She and Smith have created nine or 10 issues of His World, Her World — a series about things she likes, things he likes and where those concepts find common ground — in addition to their own editions. (He has a more literary, flash fiction style while she prefers a graphic-heavy approach.)

When the couple relocated to the mountains in 2009, they expected WNC would have a zine fest. Much to their chagrin, the closest event was four hours away in Chattanooga.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘OK, it seems like we’ll be the ones to make it happen,’” says White.

The Asheville Zine Fest now fills a regional need, attracting some 300 guests and 40 vendors, including notable local authors like F.T. Lukens. A firm believer that every young person should have an opportunity to see themselves represented positively in media, Lukens writes young adult science fiction and fantasy novels that feature LGBTQ+ characters in lead roles. Her third novel, The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic, is a young adult urban fantasy featuring North American folklore and cryptids. She will be sharing a table with Carrie Pack, also an indie press author, who will have some feminist zines and her coming-of-age novel, Grrrls on the Side.

“I love this event. It’s an opportunity for local zine creators and small press authors to display their creativity and talent in a fest specifically geared toward their craft,” says Lukens.

White echoes that sentiment. “When I attend a zine fest, I look for kindred spirits,” she says. “I look to meet a community many didn’t know existed.”

WHAT: Asheville Zine Fest
WHERE: The Ideation Lab at the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, 67 Broadway, ashevillezinefest.com
WHEN: Saturday, June 30, noon-5 p.m. Free

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About Lauren Stepp
Lauren Stepp is an award-winning writer with bylines here in these mountains and out yonder, too.

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