Radical publishers and writers organize 2014 Richmond Zinefest

Chris Suarez
Staff Writer

The ThroTTle cover art was designed by Joe Seipel, who is currently Dean of the School of the Arts at VCU. Photo courtesy of Dale Brumfield.
The ThroTTle cover art was designed by Joe Seipel, who is currently Dean of the School of the Arts at VCU. Photo courtesy of Dale Brumfield.

The event will feature the words and art of several hundred local and traveling artists and activists in self-published or small publishing house circulations known as “zines.”

Based on do-it-yourself or do-it-together ethics, zines have long been a medium for artists, writers and activists all around the world to publish their own works by simple means. Zines are often photocopied in black and white, made in a very limited run and with little-to-no profit to be made in mind.

Despite the often radical viewpoints and graphic content that are synonymous with zines and the underground press, the medium is deeply rooted in the traditions of American print, similar to the pamphleteers of the colonial era. The act of zine-making lets publishers have the freedom to distribute reading material that expresses ideas, thoughts and images that mainstream press would never dream of publishing, lest they lose the support of advertisers and patrons, according to Zinefest coordinator Celina Williams.

“There’s quite a few zinemakers who might be students or academics where they are held to standards of what’s proper that will embrace zines,” Williams said. “I think that’s what makes zines unique. It’s what you make of it, there’s nobody who can tell you what your zine is worth.”

Williams, who graduated from University of North Texas in 2013 with a master’s in library and information science, currently works in the James Branch Cabell Library in the Special Collections and Archive department.

Having lived in Richmond and earned her bachelor’s degree in English and women’s studies prior to migrating to Texas, Williams helped curate a department in the library which houses hundreds of Richmond zines that span from the ’60s to today — some of which Williams and other event coordinators read and helped make before being preserved by the library in recent years.

“(Zines) were pre-blogging, pre-internet,” said local author Dale Brumfield. “The only way to get the word out about anything was printing it.”

A longtime Richmond native, Brumfield worked for the Commonwealth Times as an illustrator and comics editor during the late ’60s. Throughout his college career and following it in the ’70s, Brumfield worked several jobs, but kept creating a number of zines under different names until helping establish ThroTTle magazine, a local arts and culture magazine that pre-dates Style Weekly. During the zine’s 13-plus year span, the magazine featured art by nationally recognized artists and musicians, such as Frank Zappa and the late Dave Brockie of Gwar.

“Richmond was starved to death for something other than the Times-Dispatch,” Brumfield said. “We became part of the community, we were publishing for our community, it was by our community. These underground publications across the country really started advocacy and participatory journalism.”

“Raleigh Review” was originally published out of the VCU School of Social Work. Photo courtesy of Dale Brumfield.
“Raleigh Review” was originally published out of the VCU School of Social Work. Photo courtesy of Dale Brumfield.

Throughout those decades and into the ’80s, Brumfield said the anti-Vietnam war movement made easier access to publishing materials and the advent of punk rock motivated passionate young people to write about subjects they considered important and believed were not receiving mainstream media attention.

Current RVA Magazine editor and former publisher of the “Nothing is Cool” zine from the ’90s, Andrew Necci said that while the ’90s were an era of relative peace for the United States, young people who identified as punk adopted zine-making as a way to share their culture and political grievances with others.

While publishing “Nothing is Cool” and attending school at Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Necci said he would come to Richmond to sell his zine at punk shows alongside publishers and musicians like Randy Blythe, vocalist for Richmond metal band Lamb of God.

Covering anything from band interviews, album reviews, essays and art, Necci said writing or contributing to a zine became a sort of “right of passage,” for young punk rockers. Much like knowing only three chords and starting a band, young zinesters with little to no experience in writing or pulishing became involved with the medium.

“Punk rock was motivated by participants’ feeling of alienation and not feeling like mainstream society speaks to you,” Necci said. “Punk had that going on, whether it was straight-edge bands singing about animal liberation, fast hardcore bands singing about the dehumanization of war or riot grrrl bands singing about feminist issues … This period of time let American teenagers look at society and questions whether aspects of it were legitimate.”

Today, the original ideology of the zines is still held on to by small publishers and those who believe they and their ideas are ostracized in society.

Liberate RVA, an organization established by local activists in 2012 have participated in Zinefest since becoming a local mouthpiece for those who believe in free-market anarchy. Rooted in the concept of a non-aggression principle, members of Liberate RVA advocate for a society free from the use of violence to circumvent consent, according to Liberate RVA coordinator Kal Molinet.

“We aim for a free-market society based on consent,” said Molinet. “There exists no facts or evidence that there is a contract with government. There’s no contract with the city council, with the police or the monopoly on law.”

Molinet said he has been a patron of the Richmond Zinefest for four or five years now. As a way to share ideas and art with one another, he said the community of activist and publishers who regularly attend Zinefest helped shaped his values and beliefs over the years. At this year’s Zinefest, Liberate RVA will have a table offering pamphlets and zines related to topics encompassed by the organization’s mission, such as guides to agorism, anarchy, peaceful parenting and voluntaryism.

“I find (Richmond Zinefest) to be an enriching experience,” Molinet said. “There are local activists, illustrative and creative types, new faces and people. It’s a good crowd, it’s fun and I’ve never had any problems there.”

Even with radical ideas being shared, Williams and Zinefest organizers stress the event is all inclusive and provides a safe environment environment for everyone attending. Last year, the organization established a “Safer Space” policy which distinctly states oppressive behaviors, words or actions will not be tolerated.

In the eight years Zinefest has been a function, there has been no problems with patrons or participants.

“It was clear (to us) that we wanted something specifically stated on our website about what type of behaviors and attitudes are expected and what we don’t stand for instead of leaving it be something we think is obvious,” Williams said.

The event will include zine publisher and distributor tables to buy, sell and trade with, workshops and food. Zinefest 2014 will be open to the general public, all-ages, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. More information about the festival can be found at richmondzinefest.org.

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