With a wooden cane and a black messenger bag, the tall, bearded man wandered through the Museum of Latin American Art, sharing lyrical stories of his lone-wolf lifestyle with fellow storytellers.
Hundreds of zinesters filed into the first Long Beach Zine Fest on Sunday, which offered a glimpse of the DIY culture, literature, art, music and everything in between the pages of independently released mementos of modest circulation.
Booth-by-booth, RD Armstrong, a writer based in Long Beach, whipped out pamphlet-sized published works and an anthology of poetry, and spoke to vendors about the history of his involvement with zines.
“The last time I went to a zine fest was in 2005. As I recall, there were about 20 tables and about 20 people [in attendance],” Armstrong said. “That’s when I said, ‘I’m done with these things.’”
He said he didn’t feel like it was getting him anywhere and quit his poetry zine, the “Lummox Journal,” in 2005.
But his recent trip to the glued-together gala re-awakened his ardor for zines, inspiring him to showcase a series at next year’s gathering.
“When I walked through the door, I was astonished by how many people were inside,” Armstrong said. “It was mindboggling to me.”
Annual festivals in Los Angeles, Inland Empire, Orange County and now Long Beach have been locally popping up and are helping this DIY community thrive.
“You are seeing the cutting edge in books and printed material that you won’t be able to find anywhere else,” Geoffrey Golden, an editor for Los Angeles-based humor-centric publisher, The Devastator, said. “These are the kinds of things that major publishing companies are too afraid to publish, and you can get them here from the creators.”
The Devastator premiered in 2009. They are responsible for titles like “The Enemies of Twenty-Something Mega Man” and “Cats You Never Learned About in History Class,” and often feature writers and artists from The Daily Show, The Onion and Adult Swim.
LA Weekly food editor Sarah Bennett has lived in Long Beach eight years and helped organize the event. As part of the marketing team for the festival, the beer and craft connoisseur made sure coffee and food was local.
She said that the fest received over 300 vendor applications for booths, but there were only 100 spots.
“If your center point is self-publishing, think of all the different people that need self publishing and want to get their voice out there,” Bennett said. “You have artists, cartoonists, photographers, political activists, musicians, poets, fiction [writers], non-fiction [writers], people of color, people who hate the police state and, I don’t know, female holistic ways to take care of your body–everything.”
Because these types of works are independently produced and distributed, there are no restrictions on the content that comes to life on the pages.
Sabrina Dropkick showcased her series titled “The Little Fat Girl from Philly” which dealt with body image and drug use.
“I went to Los Angeles Zine Fest two years ago. I saw it and I knew, ‘F-ck, this is for me.’” she said. “The community is amazing; everyone encourages each other. The trading element and that it doesn’t always have to be about money [are some of the things that stand out to me representing community].”
Dropkick does workshops on making zines at her job at Book Show, a bookstore, in Highland Park.
From “Nine Ways To Know You Are Around a Unicorn” and “The Mustache That Plays Roller Derby,” sharing her young students work with like-minded attendees brought her a sense of achievement and communal appreciation.
Along with zinesters and booth vendors, the Long Beach Zine Fest also hosted workshops like Cartooning and Character Design, Yogurt Making and How To Zine, and panels on crafting and screen-printing.
Bennett and many of the vendors agreed that having a physical form of media to express oneself is very satisfying.
“I’m someone who writes for a living. For me, it’s this other-side catharsis,” Bennett said. “It’s another creative outlet that I don’t have to worry about pitching a story, getting it approved, dealing with an editor … it’s really for you.”