Of the recent art forms that have maintained their power and presence offline, zines have been at the forefront. There’s always been a handcrafted element the DIY booklets. And, due to their self-published nature, owning one likely meant you had either met the artist directly, spotted some on a corkboard at your local music venue or found one seemingly misplaced on a coffee shop table.

But for those in the know, the best places to take home a batch of the sometimes glued, often stapled, handmade pamphlets were at niche markets and exhibitions. And in their height before the pandemic, hundreds of zine artists, writers and crafters would convene to share their work. In 2019, Southern California alone had 26 annual zine fests, Long Beach included.

But in the wake of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, the zine scene pivoted to online spaces, a move almost antithetical to the zine-making ethos, which has always believed in the power of print as an artistic expression and vehicle for change. But the art form blossomed online (especially on Instagram), reaching new audiences and inspiring a younger generation to participate.

“During the pandemic, people were getting themselves involved in more projects, and zine making would have been the perfect thing to do because you really don’t need too much aside from your own creativity and some kind of printer,” said Chris Giaco, who also spoke to an increase in popularity for zines at his local bookstore, Page Against the Machine.

But now that gathering restrictions have eased, zine artists are venturing back outside.

L.A. Zine Fest, one of the largest zine gatherings in the country, is returning live and in-person Sunday, May 28, and coming, for the first time, to Long Beach. Over 140 independent artists will convene at the Expo Arts Center in Bixby Knolls with a massive marketplace, workshops and panel discussions.

“I’m just really excited to have a space where we can all come together again,” said longtime LAZF organizer Daisy Noemi. Before Noemi would go on to volunteer for the organization, she first entered the inaugural LAZF in 2012 as an exhibitor. Immediately, she said, she fell in love with the artistry and community.

“It was just this world that I never knew existed. Just being in a community with a lot of like-minded people was awesome. And seeing the creativity that exists, it’s just bountiful,” she said. “Ever since then I was smitten with zines and the zine community, and I volunteered after that.”

Exhibitor Helms Zinester at the L.A. Zine Fest in 2019. Photo by Julius Tanag.

Zines (short for “mini-magazines”) have historically served as an outlet for voices outside of the mainstream. Early zines, dating back to the late 1920s and ‘30s, were used in science fiction communities to talk about things popular media wouldn’t print. Social and political movements through the decades—from the ‘60s counterculture to ‘90s punk feminist movements—have used zines to spark conversation, speak out against oppression and create change.

Today, zines and their creative communities continue to be a haven for marginalized voices.

“One of the missions the L.A. Zine Fest has always tried to carry out is making sure that we’re highlighting people of color, women of color, queer, and trans people—just basically any minority that exists,” Noemi explained. “We just always want to make sure we’re rooting for marginalized voices to be heard, seen and connect with a lot of like-minded people.”

L.A. Zine Fest organizers sifted through more than 400 applications for this year’s event. The final lineup promises to showcase a diverse range of artists and topics, with many speaking to the collective experience of pandemic-related isolation, mental health and recent social justice movements.

Knock LA, a nonprofit community journalism outlet, will be attending LAZF for the first time this year. Its new debut zine is an explainer guide on the LA County Sheriff’s deputy gangs, based on the award-winning reporting of journalist Cerise Castle. Panel discussions led by featured zine exhibitors will also speak on subjects such as trans activism, disability in the media and more.

Long Beach artists will also represent at this year’s LAZF, including zinesters  Jeromy Velasco, Sarahe Roman, and Bruxita Linda. Page Against the Machine will also be exhibiting some of his best-selling zine authors including Long Beach-based zine influencer Bre Upton.

L.A. Zine Fest is free and open to the public. Attendees are strongly encouraged to wear face masks while indoors, since many of their exhibitors are immunocompromised or have a disability, Noemi said. The festival will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find more information and see the full list of exhibitors here.

The Expo Arts Center is at 4321 Atlantic Ave.