Zines, or independently-produced publications, reached a new-high in public visibility and accessibility in Richmond this week as a result of the 10th annual Zinefest on Oct. 1 at Richmond Public Library, and the opening of the Richmond Independent Zine Library (RIZL) at nonprofit art space Gallery5 on Sept. 29.
Zinefest grows larger each year, said Zinefest co-organizer Brian Baynes. During his four years organizing the event, Baynes said it’s steadily become more diverse, and better attended.
“It falls in place easier each year,” Baynes said. “We used to struggle to get tablers. Now we sell out.”
According to Baynes, Zinefest is more of a forum than a marketplace. While it is about trading ideas, it costs money to make zines, so it must cost money to acquire them too. Ideally if zines could be made and traded for free, then they should be, said Baynes.
“I like that unlike a lot of things, a zine doesn’t have a golden standard,” Baynes said. “In movies and music, there’s this standard of what is and isn’t. There’s no ‘this is the best zine.”
A zine’s biggest strength is that as long as you’re passionate enough to make one, then it can be accessible to everyone, Baynes said.
“Richmond has a great small press culture. It ties in with DIY culture and the arts school here,” said VCUarts alumni and member of zinester group Clown Kisses Press James McPherson.
Many arts students want to create something independent of VCU, and so many of them produce zines, McPherson said. Fostering a zine community is the best way support creatives and makers, McPherson said.
“To think that most of the people here live in my city, working hard like I am, its inspiring,” said Richmond artist and tabler Carlton Nivens.
Nivens said Zinefest gave him a deadline and incentive to finish, package and present his art, rather than post it online.
“Zines are complete creative freedom,” said Richmond artist and Zinefest tabler Christina Allen.
Having so many creatives in one location raises the bar for her as an artist, Allen said. Not as a competition, but as a way to build off each other, she said.
“Last year I just walked around. I’ve lived in Richmond my whole life, and I didn’t know Zinefest existed,” said Richmond artist and tabler Cait Morris. “I was determined to have a table this year.”
The best part of zines is they’re self-published, Morris said. In a zine, you don’t have to cater to anyone’s interest but your own.
“Its accessible to both the creator and the person looking at it,” said Richmond artist and tabler Izzi Atkinson. “They’re usually simple and handmade, and easily communicate to everyone.”
The RIZL is located on the second floor of Gallery5, and open Wednesday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“As someone who has worked in academic and public libraries, while both have zine collections, they’re not as open and accessible as this space,” said Zinefest co-organizer and RIZL librarian Celina Williams. “Other libraries have so many other responsibilities to the public. This space is all about zines.”
VCU’s Cabell Library does have zines, but they’re behind a desk on a shelf in an archive box, said Williams. This makes them hard, or even intimidating to engage with.
“For a lot of people (zines) can help you find a community,” said Williams.
Zines are perfect for people that are more introverted, Williams said, because it is a comfortable way to engage with people and their ideas at your own pace. Within a zine, you can find anything from a P.O. box to an email address or phone number, Williams said.
“If you’re a community, then it’s great to put out zines,” Williams said. “To be completely in control of your own media and grow your community around ideas.”
Zines are organized on the shelf loosely into topics with significant overlap, Williams said. One of the goals of RIZL is to be open and flexible to change, and as a result the zines on the display could likely change from week to week, Williams said.
“A lot of zines that deal with private subject matter, but cover a broad range of subject,” Williams said. “This way, people can engage and explore with what’s on the shelf easily.”
Topics on the shelves now include: art, assemblage, comics, fanzines, gender/queer, consent health and advocacy, poc feminism, poetry/prose and politics.
“This is for everyone. It’s a community space. We exist outside of academia,” said Gallery5 program director Claude Marin Dustin Fenton. “For a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable going to VCU’s library because they aren’t students, or are outside of the traditional age and culture, they can feel welcome here.”
According to Fenton, RIZL offers a space to read as well as a mini-gallery that features artwork associated with the zines on display and special collections that rotate on a bi-monthly basis. There is also a printer and workspace for those interested in making their own zines, Fenton said.
“This is completely free space, mostly run on a volunteer basis,” Fenton said. “Donations are very welcome.”
If you want to contribute your own zine to the library, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jesse is a junior print journalism major and Arabic and Middle Eastern culture minor. He has walked in the valley with no water and bitten the heads off of snakes.