This ain’t the Ryerson bookstore

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Jordan Heath-Rawlings

Are you a part of a subculture so small that it’ll never appear in Spin magazine? Do you worship or idolize a specific genre of film or music that everyone else ignores? Do you have something to tell the world but don’t know how to begin?

“Make a zine,” says Suzanne Baumann, 26, gesturing to the hundreds of cheaply printed mini-magazines spread on the tables around her. “Just do it yourself ans photocopy it at the corner store.”

“But don’t expect a paycheque,” she adds. “Ever.”

On Sunday, The Big Bop nightclub at the corner of Queen and Bathurst Streets hosted Canzine 2001, an annual event that gathers zine publishers like Baumann from across North America to buy, sell and trade their wares. Canzine, organized by the staff of Broken Pencil, Canada’s magazine of zine culture and independence art, is the largest fair and festival of zine culture in the country.

This is Canzine’s sixth year, and a quick walk through the three floors of the Big Bop offers goods from at least 200 creators of independence art. They are predominantly zines, but independent poets, photographers, painters and filmmakers also set up shop.

Seminars and panel discussions on underground journalism and web publishing were held throughout the day. After 10 p.m., the venue reverted to club mode and held a post-Canzine party with music and spoken word performances.

Party aside, Canzine is mostly about the zines, scattered and stacked on the tables in multi-hued, loosely-stapled piles. So what the hell is a zine anyway?

Officially, says Emily Pohl-Weary, 27, associate editor of Broken Pencil and a co-programmer of this year’s Canzine, a zine is a small, not-for-profit publication. She says zines are independently produced and distributed. They are usually created by one person and are based on personal experience.

The wares on display at Canzine 2001 are incredibly diverse. The first and third floors of the club are arranged flea-market style, with zine publishers displaying their art on wooden tables. Colour, size, paper quality and subject matter vary widely from table to table. The zines generally cost between $1 and $5, but some people are giving them away.

Grab a random zine, open some random pages, leaf through, and you can find studios socialist commentary, adoration for any number of subcultures and artists, personal diaries or artfully-drawn but somewhat ridiculous cartoons.

A table on the third floor displays Femmenstraution, a zine devoted to female sexual health products and a concern “about western medicine’s treatment of women.” The table is also covered in reusable maxipads, female condoms and various women’s health pamphlets.

Less than a foot away sits Deviant, a zine dedicated to “true documentation of sexual perversions in a comic book format.” The artwork in Deviant shows, among other drawings, a wart-covered penis penetrating a vagina that appears to be bleeding.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Baumann says. “The most appalling shit is sitting right next to the most righteous stuff, and nobody complains because to produce a zine is to give everybody the power to say whatever they want.”

Baumann comes to Canzine from Michigan every year to sell her independent comic books. “This is a nice little community,” she says. “I’ve made so many friends at Canzine and other festivals who have jobs and lives completely different from mine. None of us do this for a living, just for personal expression.”

If a desire for personal expression is the force behind a zine’s creation, then emotion soon takes over. Everybody at Canzine 2001 with a zine to sell has a distinct bent and a target niche. It’s the spin that the publishers put on it, free of censorship and the constraints of profit-making, that makes zines worthwhile reading.

“Zines are a response to the mainstream,” Pohl-Weary says. “As opposed to Maclean’s or Time, where you are spoon-fed articles by journalists who are reporting information, a zine is about you, creating what you want based on how you feel about something.”

Zines like WAR – a response to the recent terrorist attacks on the U.S. – couldn’t have been made any other way. Ryerson RTA graduate Kristina Clemens create the tiny zine using photographs and text cut out of last week’s newspapers, and arranged them to tell a fictional doomsday scenario. “I cut and pasted this between two ans six this morning,” Clemens says, “I wanted to make something different from everything that’s been in the media.”

Revolved is 24-year-old Rob Rao’s response to corporate culture and his experience at the Free Trade Area of the American protests in Quebec City last April. The zine is an essay written by Rao and accompanied by photographs he took at the protest. It’s peppered with quotes from Starbuck’s confidential employee handbook (Rao was recently fired by the coffee giant).

Rao is camped at the bottom of the stairs, a high traffic area, giving away copies of the 24-page zine. “Some people are selling their stuff,” he says. “But they’re not making money either. I’d really rather just get my writing out there.”

StreetEaters is a a zine that Montrealer Paula Belina, 20, created because “the streets are where we all live, and I like my art to reflect my life, and I like my art to reflect my life.” The zine  has strange photographs and pictures coupled with short stories and poems and “art that I just grab from people and run away with,” Belina says.

And they go on and on. Kiss Machine is a collection of urban Canadian fiction. Infiltration is a zine dedicated to “going places you’re not supposed to.” Its creator has snuck into luxury hotels, abandoned buildings and forbidden subway tunnels. Moldy Bagels is a comic about making breakfast, realizing the bagels have gone bad and feeding them to the birds. Open All The Time is a personal zine where Angela deals with her friend’s and society’s response to her coming out.

Bound in bright yellow paper with a Curious George-like drawing on the cover, Sick Punk is a collection of interviews with terminally-ill punks. “I was a punk and then I got sick,” says its 24-year-old publisher, Siue. “I wanted to know if there were any other punks out there with serious illnesses and how it affected their life-style.”

Sick Punk recounts the most personal details from punk rockers afflicted with everything from depression to schizophrenia to an allergic reaction to water. Siue has been creating zines since she was 15, so it’s only natural that she express her personal issues in zine format to Canzine to share with the public. “It’s basically the way that I communicate with the world,” she says.

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