Zine Fest shines light on underground publications

Posted at 8:04 AM, Oct 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-06 08:05:11-04

RICHMOND, Va — Richmond has long prided itself on fostering the efforts of community artists, and this past weekend was no exception. Counter-cultural artists, activists and writers displayed their unique publications, known as zines, at the city’s 8th annual Zine Fest at the Gay Community Center of Richmond.

Zine publishers attended the event in hopes of selling or trading their work.

The Oct. 4 festival featured prints and publications on a variety of interests and issues including social justice, music journalism and humor. The event drew an eclectic crowd of locals and visitors from all over the East Coast.

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Zine Fest was held October 4 at the Gay Community Center of Richmond.

Zine Fest coordinator Celina Williams said creating zines is less about profit and more about freely expressing one’s own ideas.

“It’s a way to circumvent the whole publishing process and [taking] control of what you put out in the world and distribute it how you want,” Williams said.

The medium itself originates from the 1960’s when activists and writers of the era developed the practice to find new ways to express themselves. Creating zines, publishers found their own opportunity to publish essays, articles and art which mainstream press would normally reject in fear of losing patronage and advertiser support, VCU graduate Maya White said.

White showcased her personal work at Zine Fest, a collection of poetry, and a zine previously published by Amendment and The Horn RVA.

“There’s a democracy to zines. Anybody can make them,” White said. “You can contribute to the conversation without having to be backed by a big company that’s publishing whatever you’re publishing.”

In the five decades zines have been produced, countless do-it-yourself publishers have adopted the practice, lending personal preference and artistic vision to expand what can be achieved and produced through the visual medium, according to VCU student and previous Zine Fest exhibitor Craig Zirpolo.

“There are a lot of different forms of storytelling that happen in zines,” Zirpolo said. “There is a sense of appropriation being okay and [using] other people’s work and creating something different. There’s definitely more freedom in terms of how things are made than if you’re doing something straight up like a magazine or a newspaper.”

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In Richmond, zines have been a cornerstone in the city’s underground press scene. Before popular alternative publications such as Style Weekly began in the 1980’s, other underground publications and artists published their own works for the Richmond community.

For some long-time Richmond residents now involved in industries other than print, the practice and memories of making their own publications still resonates.

At Zine Fest, Lamplighter Roasting Company co-owner Jack Archibald catered the event and distributed what he called, his new “zine about enjoying coffee.”

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Invited to bring his business’ offerings of coffee and sandwiches to the festival, Archibald said he was absolutely excited to participate, having been part of the punk and zine publishing communities in Richmond and Portland since he was a teenager.

“Back then it was less of a visceral thing you could actually see. You felt you were part of a larger community,” Archibald said. “You’d make a bunch of zines and you’d bring it to a [punk] show, sell it for a quarter or 50 cents. But really you were just hoping to find someone who’d want to read it.”

At Saturday’s event, VCU students studying various disciplines took part in sharing their own publications. This past month, Commonwealth Times Comics Editor Chris Kindred and publishers Shannon Wright and Hannah Lazarte founded their own publishing group, tentatively called House Special Press.

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For the three students, publishing as an organized group provides an outlet to promote themselves and other publishers of color, a demographic they believe is under represented in the industry.

“I got tired of not seeing anyone who looked like me,” Wright said.

The House Special Press strives to make its presence known in the publishing world by featuring characters of all cultures who are more complex than, what Kindred called, “cookie cutter” personalities.

“We just want to pull ourselves up to the table and let everyone know that we’re here,” Kindred said.

Among the local publishers, exhibitors from cities like New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. traveled to Richmond to connect with local artists, publishers and old friends.

Sporting a plastic crown and fedora nearly every year, artists Joe Mochove and Rusty Rowley have been coming to Richmond Zine Fest from Maryland annually to share their comics and zines. Mochove said the duo always makes a whole weekend vacation of their trip, making a point to visit new restaurants and areas such as Carytown each year.

Artists Joe Mochove and Rusty Rowley

Artists Joe Mochove and Rusty Rowley

“There is a really good crowd and a really good zine community in the Richmond area,” said Rowley. “It’s one of our favorite shows that we come down for every year.”

By Chris Suarez, Victoria Zawitkowsi, and Eric Arthur (Special to

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.