By the end of this February, skeptics in the ongoing debate over print's ability to persevere will have been dealt several mortal blows. The month began with the second annual L.A Art Book Fair (LAABF), a free one-night, three-day event held at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA that showcased a diverse group of 250 vendors hocking printed materials ranging from sophisticated artists' books and catalogs, design-y broadsheets and periodicals, and innovative handmade zines of all types and sizes. While hundreds of thousands of Angelenos spent the weekend preparing to mind-meld with their televisions for the NFL's big game, the LAABF ushered over 25,000 visitors through its door--a consistent swell of adults and youngsters gawking at exhibitions, flipping through books, excitingly drifting from table to table sifting through postcards, pins, and posters. The energy was palpable, the gallery halls filled with such a surprising fervor for printed materials that Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, archivist for the Gagosian Gallery, described the event as "the Super Bowl of book fairs."
Organized by New York-based nonprofit Printed Matter, the event, though including many Southern California presses, was a distinctly international assemblage of top-tier galleries, publishing consortia, independent presses and individual artists. While one's reflexive geographic pride could leave a local wishing the fair had shown a bit more West Coast love, the vastness and variety of bookish stuff certainly lent itself to a sense of purposeful engagement. Some favorite finds were housed in the zine-centric "(Xe)rox + Paper & Scissors" section of the fair (a designation that references the essential processes of zine-making: cutting, pasting, photocopying, folding), and include the smart, satirical prints of Brooklyn-based artist Wizard Skull (especially the one of Kanye West as Donald Duck), the 2nd edition of Jazz by Eric Wrenn and Antje Peters (Shabazz Projects), and the variety of feminist texts issued by the recently formed Women's Center For Creative Work (WCCW) .
One of many sharing in the collective curiosity (while participating as a vendor) was Dum Dum Magazine founder Taleen Kalenderian, who described the LAABF as "sensory overload, in the best way imaginable." Dum Dum is a prime example of a small, local crew of creatives that use traditional printing techniques and unexpected mediums to push, pull, and tear at book publishing's longstanding conventions. Case in point: Dum Dum Issue #3: Punks & Scholars was a 45" record mailer box containing a literature booklet, cassette tape, seemingly random art objects, little poetic matchbooks, and a "break-your-own" geode. The release party for "Issue #4: Lost & Found," held at The Last Bookstore last Friday, doubly served as the opening party for L.A Zine Week, a collection of literary and arts events running through February 15. Of particular interest are "Vermin On The Mount" at Book Show and "We Are In Zine Love With You" at And Pens Press -- both on Thursday night and both featuring performances and readings by some exciting writers and artists. In true L.A. fashion, events span the metropolis, from Downtown to Culver City to Frogtown, culminating in the main event on Sunday, Feb. 16 at Helm's Bakery: The L.A. Zine Fest.
Now in its third year, the L.A. Zine Fest is a one-day homage to local and regional self-publishers of all sorts, from zinesters to comics creators to DIY publishers. Founded by a collective of five multi-disciplinary artists, designers, and/or zine-makers -- Bianca Barragan, Simon Sotelo, Kenzo Martinez, Meredith Wallace, and Rhea Tepplim -- since its inception the Fest has been delivering as a homegrown counterpoint to larger, more established operations such as the LAABF or the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. "We wanted to create something that we thought was lacking," says Tepplim. "We want to make sure that L.A. Zine Fest reflects the unique spirit of this city and the changing needs of the community."
With over 175 tablers and a provocative assortment of panels and workshops, the L.A. Zine Fest has moved beyond merely reppin' the region to serving as a hub for zine culture itself, a place where book nerds, print enthusiasts, and publishing hopefuls can not only meander amongst a myriad of bound-printed inspirations, but can actually learn publishing techniques and/or meet their longtime heroes. At the top of the list for must-see programming is a conversation (scheduled for 5:15pm) with Jaime Hernandez, Harvey Award-winning co-creator of seminal zine, Love & Rockets. "I'm super excited to check out Yumi Sakugawa's zines," says Dum Dum's Kalenderian, who'll also be participating in the Fest. "I love the way she approaches the creative process as a combination of social interaction and reflective meditation."
This potent combination of impulses -- simultaneously communal and introspective -- is central not only to zine-making, but zine-seeking. L.A. Zine Fair presents an opportunity to indulge in both. Perhaps zines are the new vinyl.