Some went online and others hibernated. Here’s how zine fairs around the world adapted to social distancing restrictions and kept their communities connected during the pandemic.
Do you remember zine fair anxiety? So many people! So many awe-inspiring zine geniuses! So many strangers?! But for all its anxieties, the quaranzine era makes even the most anti-social among us long for an old school, real-life zine fair, with tables and people squeezed together, pressing new zines into new hands, still warm from the photocopier.
But zinesters are nothing if not a creative and resourceful people. As champions of DIY, we contacted dozens of zine fairs near and far to see how many had shuttered, how many had adapted and gone digital, and how many found ways to make an in-person festival work safely in the age of social distancing. The answers were, as zine fairs are, unique combinations of these options and sometimes something completely different! Here are four of the models that people have come up with to manage COVID-19.
The obvious first, of course, is that many zine fairs went digital! Zine fairs are unique events, with a vibe not easily replicated. But trusty zine heads persisted with a few approaches:
Social Media Campaign
Some of the earliest hit zine fairs didn’t have much time to change course, including the monumentally important Chicago Zine Fest. Their solution was simple: push their tablers and friends on social media, using hashtags and graphics, as a means of driving traffic to the existing online stores of many a creator.
PROS: Fast solution to an unknowable problem; low-cost; focus on vendors.
CONS: Can get lost in the noise of social media; a lot of clicking; hashtags are weird.
Virtual Tables + Events
Some zine fests, including Canzine, had more time to prepare a digital event that could mimic aspects of a zine fair. That includes matching the idea of tables (webstore) and
a shared marketplace (website) that visitors could wander through and shop (click, click, click!). Many of these were only temporarily and accompanied by live or more recorded video events.
PRO: Drives traffic to multiple zinesters; creates more seamless browsing experience; opportunity for creative design choices.
CONS: Complex e-commerce and many steps in shopping and shipping logistics; requires lots of outreach.
One of the first zine fests to return to in-person events was Autonomous Zine Fest in Minneapolis in September 2020. Vendors had distanced tables and blankets dotted around Powderhorn Park, several other fairs followed suit, and with vaccination and a better understanding of outdoor transmission risks, many small zine fairs did events in parks and plazas.
PROS: No venue costs, distancing feasible, fun.
Mail, mail, mail
LA Zine Fest hosted an early snail mail zine swap in the spring of 2020, and towards the end of the year, the clever folks at San Antonio Sine Fest hosted a Snail Mail Zine Fest! In essence, this was a special catalog you could order from.
PROS: Fun, old-school zine energy.
CONS: Logistics, postal delays and fees, promotion.
PDF to IRL
Some zine festivals, notably international fests, got creative about how to ensure a range of geographical representation. In India, Bombay Zine Fest has offered to print the zines of vendors who cannot travel. Tijuana Zine Fest offered the same.
PROS: Distributes print zines all over the world, brings zines across the globe.
CONS: Printing costs, reproducing unique formatting.
Why pick one? Tijuana Zine Fest offered multiple ways for zinesters to have a presence at this year’s event — in person, via post, or by sending PDFs to be printed and distributed. In Tallahassee, they had outdoor, walk-up workshops and zine exchange in multiple locations across the city.
PROS: The best of everything, accessible to many, way fun.
CONS: Can be weather-dependent, lots of logistics.
Zines Zoom too, it would seem. Many festivals had programming using videoconferencing for workshops, panels, presentations, and collaborative creation.
PROS: You know about Zoom.
CONS: You know about Zoom…
Postponing + Cancelling
Sadly, a number of zine fests large and small did not overcome the challenges of the pandemic this year — here’s to bouncing back!
Finally, there is hope! A number of zine fests have had successful events in person with COVID-19 protocols in place, be it capacity limitations, vaccinations or masking. In Olympia and Milwaukee, zine fests offered reduced events to keep within COVID-19 restrictions on capacity. In Watertown, Massachusetts, the public library even launched its first-ever zine fest — during the pandemic! Take heart.
Stay safe and see you at the fest, one way or another.
Pandemic Mail Alert!
The European Union is turning away a lot of mail at the border, taking a conservative approach to anything they don’t recognize or understand. Not only might your mail be returned to sender, but the recipient — your penpal! — could be slapped with a heafty fee. Luckily, heroic zinester Nina Echozina, who alerted us to this problem, has the solution: write “gift” on your customs form, and you should be in the clear.
💥 eBay’s porn ban major hit to queer archives 💥
Since 1995, collectors of all stripes have relied on one of the earliest superstar platforms of the World Wide Web: eBay. While today’s e-commerce sites like Amazon have many hot ticket items, old and new, eBay houses some special tenants. That was until recently, when the online auction marketplace banned one of its long-time categories: vintage queer porn. In June, eBay announced that it would eliminate its listings for any “adult” items including sex toys, XXX videos and yes, ye olde spank pages. That is, all except a select few publications deemed cool enough to stick around, like Playboy, Bear, and Butt, according to eBay’s eye-crossingly senseless new policy. Everything else needs to hit the bricks. As a result, the last consolidated online market- place for people interested in the primary texts of gay liberation, the groundbreaking zines of 90s genderfuck vanguard, or a mostly harmless “physique” magazine will be shit out of luck. Amongst them? LGBTQ2S+ historians, archivists, and future generations of queer activists inheriting the fight against morality panic and censorship.
Virtual + Mail
• Midwest Perzine Fest
• San Antonio Zine Fest
• Tallahassee Zine Fest
• Tijuana Zine Fest
Hybrid (IRL/Virtual/ Postal)
• Asheville Zine Fest
• Milwaukee Zine Fest
• San Diego Zine Fest
• Tijuana Zine Fest
• Albuquerque Zine Fest
• DC Zine Fest
• Ft. Worth Zine Fest
• Les Insu
• NYC Anarchist Bookfair
• Olympia Zine Fest (Reduced)
• Print and Resist (no artist tables)
• Queen City Zine Fest
• Tallahassee Zine Fest (Curbside)
• Tijuana Zine Fest
• Watertown Free Public Library Zine Fest
Virtual Tables/ Events
• East Bay Alternative Book & Zine Fest
• Houston Zine Fest
• KC Zine Con
• Litchfield County Zine Fest
• Lone Star Zine Fest
• NYC Queer Zine Fair
• Philly Zine Fest
• PHX Zine Fest
• Portland Zine Symposium
• Small Press Expo (SPX)
• Streetcat Zine Fest
• Toronto Comic Arts Festival
• Twin Cities Zine Fest
• Unibrow Arts Festival
• Vancouver Art Book Fair
Postponed or Cancelled
• Albuquerque Zine Fest
• Charleston Zine Fest
• Chicago Alternative Comics Expo
• DiNK Denver
• Femme Wave Festival (Calgary, AB)
• Genghis Con
• Kazoo Zine Festival (Guelph, ON)
• LA Zine Fest
• Long Beach Zine Fest
• Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (Mice)
• New Zineland
• NYC Feminist Zine Fest
• Ottawa Small Press Fair
• Prairie Comics Festival
• Queer Between the Covers
• Santa Fe Zine Fest
• Short Run
• Zine Librarian Unconference