Inaugural Long Beach Zine Fest Showcased Long Beach's Support for Storytelling, Self-Publishing, Still-Thriving DIY Culture

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Photos by Asia Morris.

One-hundred-plus self-publishers came together to put their inner thoughts, political stances and artwork on display at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) on Sunday for the inaugural Long Beach Zine Fest (LBZF). Southern California artists, poets, cut-and-paste gurus, comic zine makers, perzine confessors and fiction and nonfiction storytellers congregated to create a brilliantly overwhelming scene in support of the printed word, as a still-viable method for communicating despite the always-available opportunity to share their lives on social media.

As Neely Bat Chestnut phrased it during the Mend Your Dress Writer's Workshop at LBZF, there's just something about the process of making a zine that makes the creator’s experience a bit more tangible, that makes your thoughts real in a different way than if they were still inside your head. Even if it’s just one zine you’ve managed to print.

Some perzines on display took into account the positivity of social media, specifically of the selfie, with one writer declaring that the act of sharing their self portrait online was and remains today a method of healing, especially for someone struggling with body dysmorphic disorder. One woman crammed her over-600-mile bicycle tour from Glacier National Park, MT to Vancouver, BC into a mere 16 pages in an effort to describe her distaste for bug bites and share her journey of empowering self-reflection via one deliberate pedal stroke at a time.

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One artist shared their lighthearted musings of what the comically slow-paced life of a disgruntled snail might entail in several simple hand-drawn snail portraits. One couple pooled their passions for zebras and pizza into a collaborative masterpiece of haikus, black and white stripes and pasted pepperoni pictures. One woman showed off her painstakingly-detailed drawings of all things nature, paired with concise poetic ponderings.

LBZF brought attendees from as close as Koreatown and as far off as northern California. An attendee from Torrance declared he was going to be spending quite a bit more time in Long Beach after visiting LBZF and MOLAA, especially, while several local and San Pedro high school students were sent to the festival on assignment by some very cool, forward-thinking instructors. A preschool teacher and MOLAA volunteer attended the papermaking workshop in hopes of bringing back something creative for her students to try. LBZF gave each and all of its attendees something to take back home, something to try and something to ponder by the end of the day.

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Local musicians and bands Tall Walls, Big Sun, Alyssandra Nighswonger, Rufrano, Bobby Blunders, Alicia Murphy and Greater California brought up the energy as tired zinesters trickled out of MOLAA to find food and figure out just where those rad, locally-grown melodies were coming from.

For the last hour of LBZF, The Zine Table, a discussion on DIY, counterculture and this time, Long Beach’s zine history, featured a variety of panelists whose experience with zine making began before the onset of social media and our sharing-obsessed culture. A look back to the late 70s and 80s when zines were the only method of sharing your voice, was a necessary grounding for some discussion attendees.

Teka-Lark Fleming, publisher of Morningside Park Chronicle and host of the online program The Blk Grrrl Show, reminisced about how she would manipulate her friends into going to Long Beach to see shows at Fender’s Ballroom. She spoke about how “that outlaw part of the 90s,” that no-rules, DIY, punk attitude, ultimately encouraged her realization that she could do whatever she wanted. “It was great, it was like the Wild West, you could do whatever the hell you wanted,” she said with a laugh.

“[...]I know that for me as a woman,” she continued, “in my community, to be able to have a voice, that I would have to publish myself. But not only just publish myself, but create vehicles for other people to publish, kind of like, ‘Be the change that you want to be.’”

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Greg Narvas, drummer of Hepcat and writer and artist of the comic zine I Was A Teenage Filipino Skinhead, grew up in the 70s and 80s in Los Angeles. As a teenager he frequented Fender’s Ballroom and Grand Central Station, a nightclub on Broadway where Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles is now, and described the zine scene back then, bringing their relevance home to today.

Narvas explained, “[...]zines were a way that people could express themselves and write scathing reviews of anything. They could say how much they loved something or how much they hated something. And you could put it out into this little tiny Xerox box, like a magazine, and you could just drop it off at a record store and sell it for 50 cents. But it was raw, it was courageous, it was candid, and that’s the way it was back then because you didn’t have social media, you didn’t have anything else to express yourself on a whim.

He continued, “You had to do this labor of typing out stuff, cutting and pasting photographs and putting them in, and it’s like you need that in order to produce zines, that’s just the way it is. Even to this day, modern day zine makers, you still have to love what you’re doing in order to create these publications, you have to add your heart into it. And I think that’s what [it was about] punk music and all the subcultures. We were kids, either it was anger or rage or just wanting to be different and you needed to find outlets to do that, either by going to shows or expressing yourself in zines.”

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Francesca Lia Block, author of the Dangerous Angels Weetzie Bat stories, Beyond the Pale Motel, and the how-to zine guide Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to Zines, Senay Kenfe, the youngest panelist and a Long Beach local, poet, journalist and rapper from The Natives and Stacy Russo, author of The Wild Librarian, continued to inform listeners that making a zine is a statement not to take lightly, that although the publishing scene might be difficult, the state of the self-publishing scene is thriving and all shared the commonality of a love for storytelling.

For more information about Long Beach Zine Fest, click here. You can also follow LBZF on Facebook, here and Instagram by the handle, @lbzinefest. Support your local artists and the novelty of the printed, self-published word!

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