Zine Fest Houston
Photo: Michael Mayer/Zine Fest Houston
Zine Fest Houston has been a must-attend event for seekers of strange ideas for more than a decade. Now, the exhibition is taking pace at the Orange Show, the biggest venue yet. That’s not bad for something that used to fit in one cramped room of the Printing Museum just a few years ago.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” says longtime co-organizer María-Elisa Heg. “We’ve always tried to approach the idea of scale growth to keep it manageable. We don’t get paid for it, so when we’re thinking of the event, we don’t think about infinite growth.”
The profitless attitude to Zine Fest Houston goes hand in hand with the media format’s history. A natural successor to the pamphlets of the 19th century, handmade zines have been a way for people to distribute ideas and interests that simply didn’t have the audience for traditional publishing. Everything from obscure art to political issues made its way into these collections.
“Obviously, it’s always wonderful when someone does make a profit, but the ethos comes from a long history of zine making without mainstream representation,” says Heg. “Young Black artists in the ’20s in the Harlem Renaissance made zines because they couldn’t get their voices out otherwise. Zines have always been a way to spread information, stay in touch, and in some cases, to actually stay alive in systems that are actively seeking to harm the marginalized.”
When: Noon-6 p.m. Nov. 12
Where: The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, 2334 Gulf Terminal
Details: Free; zinefesthouston.org
That punk-rock approach means that Zine Fest is far more than a gathering of authors and artists hawking their self-published wares. Most of the things on offer are never going to become bestsellers. Instead, it’s retellings of “The Legend of Zelda” with gay characters, explorations of how dirty urinals are, instructions for teaching your cat about gun control, or collections of the worst of spam marketing.
These are craft artisanal obsessions unsuited for a grocery store book section, where spreading the information is more important than getting the dollar. Currently, Zine Fest Houston is in talks with the Orange Show to build an actual zine library, further cementing the format as an essential, if quirky, part of the city’s history.
Laura Corley Burlton is a local photographer who specializes in archaic methods, such as tintypes, who is vending for the first time at Zine Fest Houston. She’ll be bringing collections of her own work in photo zines as well as some that her student’s at Houston Photography Center have put together.
“I don’t know if it’s a viable skill, but it’s a fun thing to do and a good way to learn about storytelling with a portfolio,” she says. “It shows them how to sequence. I’ve seen them made for women’s rights and how to wash your hands, and it’s fun to collect them. Anyone can do one on any subject.”
Unlike a lot of other industries, the internet has not killed the zine. In fact, it might have actually made it better. When Zine Fest Houston went digital during COVID, hundreds of people tuned in via Twitch for the event. People still order physical copies from creator websites the same as they used to do from addresses in the back of zines that were hand delivered or left around town. The physicality of the medium has endured.
“Now, people are very focused on our screens, but the zine format does offer an interesting difference,” says co-organizer Patrick Brooks. “It’s a touchable, palpable art form. That appeals to people and why we get the increasing crowds. The community is growing.”
Jef Rouner is a Houston-based writer.
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