A Trip to the Portland Zine Symposium 2014

This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of finally getting to attend the Portland Zine Symposium, which is one of the most highly respected zinefests in the United States. It's been going strong for well over a decade now, with 2014 being the 14th year for zinesters near and far to the Portland area coming together to share their zines, comics, and a few other items, here and there.

Unfortunately, I seem to have very bad luck trying to get to both days of a two-day show. In this case, I lost my main computer, going down to a strange driver issue that had me spending most of the second day of the show in back-up hell. Still, I was able to enjoy Saturday at the show.

The first impression I had of the show was how big it was. While the space may not have been all that much larger than Richmond in terms of pure surface area, there were definitely more tables with people behind them. It's a bit daunting at first, and I'm a veteran of many shows and fests. Still, I found that I had to circle around a few times to get my bearings before looking more closely at what was available.

Once I did, things settled in and I started looking at tables more closely. Some of the distros had zines I'd picked up when I was on the East Coast, and it was comforting to see favorites like "Deafula" scattered here and there. Unfortunately, not all of the distros had their zines priced, and I do not like asking about cost. It takes only a few minutes to make signs or put a sticker on the top copy. Maybe that's the "comics" side of me coming out, but you can't trade with a distro, so I like to know if the zine I might be interested in is going to cost $2 or $5.

Ironically, it was the individual zinesters and comics folks who had a better handle on this. Little index cards and notes dotted their tables, making it much easier to know what was worth looking at and what wouldn't be in my interest range. Erica actually did most of the trading/buying work for us this time, picking up some great stuff, including an MST3K-related zine and the Somnambulist series. She also snagged a few 24-hr zines and a longer work on Pioneer Cemeteries in Oregon that I cannot wait to read.

But I traded for /How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety, so I totally win.

In addition to zine folks and distros, there were a few related organizations. LA Zinefest was talking about their show, with some examples of local zinesters, and of course the zine-friendly Library had a booth, encouraging people to sign up for a library card and showing example zines. (I was a little surprised they were not taking contributions, however.) A pro-choice group and Bitch Magazine also had tables.

Something that was a bit different for me was the number of comics-only people at the show. Now obviously, I'm a comics fan, but when I go to a zine fest, that's where my primary interest lies. I can't trade my photocopied perzine for someone's crafted, color work, and there were a lot of folks there with books that rose far above standard mini-comic level. I know there's a fine line between mini-comic and zine, but I felt like some of the folks there really were better suited for LineworkNW or even Rose City Artist's Alley.

Unfortunately, one thing I did NOT do was attend a panel. Every time one was coming up, I was engaged in conversation, so I didn't get a chance to see how those turned out. I have to make a point of doing better with that next year.

Overall, it's always great to have a lot of positive energy about zines coming in one room like only a zinefest can do. This one even came with a prom afterwards, held at the IPRC, complete with self-made foil hats and a raffle to determine the Queen and King. DIY, motherfuckers!

Despite its size, Portland Zine Symposium still captures the best things about being involved in zines: The sense of community, welcoming environment, and a clear message (via table size and cost) that zines are designed to be for all, with no one being better than anyone else. Only those who are ass-hats get shown the door and only those who think they deserve special treatment or the ability to overwhelm the other tables with sheer volume or stuff will find their act unappreciated.

Zines are designed to be one of the most equitable ways for people to express themselves to each other and invite opening up in ways that you might not do elsewhere. The PZS organizers get that, and strive to do all they can to make it happen. Though I am a bit biased by knowing many of them personally, even an impartial observer can see they work hard to make this show something that the zine community can be proud of, year in and year out.

If you're in the area in 2015, make sure to stop by, and be a part of that community, too.