Asheville Zine Festival showcases indie publications

BOOK REVUE “Like a lot of zinemakers I’ve met, I started making zines before I knew the word ‘zine,’” says Jessica C. White, left, who cofounded the Asheville Zine Fest with Shawn Scott Smith, right. The event, celebrating art books, chapbooks, comics and other independent publications, takes place at The Grey Eagle on May 1. Photo by Cindy Kunst

When local artists Jessica C. White and Shawn Scott Smith moved to Asheville seven years ago, they hoped to find a zine festival. The couple both make their own zines — self-published periodicals released in limited editions — and White has been going to gatherings celebrating these publications for more than a decade. “There’s a community that happens there that never happens outside of zine fests,” she says.

When such an event didn’t materialize in their adopted hometown, White and Smith decided to do it themselves. The inaugural Asheville Zine Fest launches at The Grey Eagle on Sunday, May 1.

What White and Smith hoped, by planning an event where artists could showcase and share their work, was that they’d meet the local zine community. So far, those indie artists have remained elusive. The Asheville Zine Festival’s 24 tables sold out quickly, but many were claimed by out-of-town collectives and individuals. Pioneers Press from Kansas is one group White is especially excited to have take part. The publishing house’s authors will also give a reading at Firestorm Books on Saturday, April 30.

But Asheville does have a zine scene. Downtown Books and News stocks chapbooks and handmade publications from local and national authors on subjects ranging from gender and recovery to band tours and kombucha fermentation. Cindy Crabb, author of the perzine (personal zine) Doris lived in Asheville for a while. The ThrAsheville Zine, documenting the local punk scene, appears online and in print. White also published Letterpress Now: A DIY Guide to New & Old Printing Methods through Lark Books in 2013. While not specifically about zinemaking, the book taps that skill set and aesthetic.

“Like a lot of zinemakers I’ve met, I started making zines before I knew the word ‘zine,’” White says. “It wasn’t until college that I started to understand, in a bigger sense, what a zine or chapbook could be.” She went on to incorporate a zine project into her MFA in printmaking at the University of Iowa. And, though White — who currently teaches papermaking and book arts at Warren Wilson College — has created gallery-worthy, one-off art books, a favorite zine project had the humblest of origins.

It was in high school. “I was hanging out with a bunch of my friends on a Friday night near Chapel Hill. There was a photo copier in the post office,” White remembers. “We put everything that was in our pockets on the photocopier … we made a bunch [of copies] and folded them up like books and distributed them around town.”

The online Zine & E-Zine Resource Guide estimates there are 20,000 zines in existence and therefore “can no longer be regarded as a strictly underground culture phenomenon, but must be accepted as a significant, if not permanent, part of the American cultural landscape.” The guide’s author, Fred Wright, traces zines back to fantasy and sci-fi fan projects that, along with other independent works and artistic endeavors in the 1960s, morphed into “much more of a mongrel breed of publication.” The result, he says, is “often photocopied, frequently irreverent and usually appealing to audiences with highly specialized interests.”

While the DIY art form speaks to young creatives, in many instances with few tools or resources, White points out that zines aren’t relegated to photocopier undertakings alone. She remembers that, with the advent of blogs, there was some concern that Web-based e-zines would spell the end of the paper chapbook and its ilk. It turned out that every conceivable type of indie publication — from high art to low art, from virtual to hard-copy — has its own groups of makers and followers. “It’s so neat that in these little structures you can bring together words and images. It’s all about creating a whole that’s larger than the sum of its parts,” White says. And the materials are as important as the substance: “Whether you make it into a zine or a fine press book or an artist’s book with handmade paper, it changes the content.”

The Asheville Zine Fest hopes to represent the full range of independent publications. Supported by DIY, book- and craft-minded donors Big Crafty, Horse and Hero and Downtown Books and News, the event will also include readings, Hop Ice Cream and auxiliary events such as a pre-festival workshop and an art show, both at Asheville Bookworks (see the zine fest website for details).

In the future, White and Smith would love to expand the festival with more workshops and readings, but this year is about establishing a community of zine creators and fans and introducing them to each other. As White says, “A zine has a voice that’s different from any other book you can pick up.”

WHAT: Asheville Zine Fest, ashevillezinefest.com
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave., thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Sunday, May 1, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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