Local Counterculture Shines At Kansas City's First Zine Conference
This past weekend, the KC Zine Collective hosted the first-ever KC Zine Conference at the Uptown Theater. It was lively and well-attended — a colorful scene, adorned with twinkle lights, banners and, of course, the vibrant zines themselves, exhibited by up to 90 local and regional artists.
In spite of a large turnout from the community, there are still some among us who don't even know what a zine is. By the very definition, this isn't surprising. A zine is a handmade and self-published, limited edition and non-digitized, miniature magazine of sorts.
"They tend to be rather quirky, they tend to stake a position outside of mainstream discourse, and they are circulated in a number of non-traditional ways," guest lecturer and KU English professor, Frank Farmer told Gina Kaufmann on Central Standard.
This non-traditional distribution, undoubtedly, has made zines hard to find and track over the years, which is why members of the KC Zine Collective partnered with the UMKC Library's LaBudde Special Collections to archive Kansas City's zines.
"In historical research, what's surprisingly the most illustrative or engaging is the most ephemeral stuff from the past," said Stuart Hinds, assistant dean at the LaBudde Special Collections. "[Zines] represent a unique cultural phenomenon. They are part of the broader cultural output of Kansas City. That in and of itself makes them worth preserving."
According to Farmer, who has written a book about zines called After the Public Turn, some of the earliest zines date back to the 1930s, when science fiction zines first started popping up. Then there were music fanzines in the 1960s, on to anarchistic punk music zines in the 70s and Riot Grrrl zines in the 90s.
Zines represent a certain kind of public — a "counterpublic," which exists in opposition to the, quote-unquote, public at large.
"The general public is a fiction," Farmer said. "It's actually made up of all kinds of publics."
If a general public encompasses heteronormativity and traditional patriarchy, then feminist discourse, and queer politics, for example, exist in a counterpublic. Zines as an alternative media have, historically, given voice to the marginalized.
Local artist and musician Rita Brinkerhoff remembers when she first discovered zines in the early 90s at a youth conference at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.
"I realized, 'I can say whatever I want, I can draw things, I can talk about things no one wants to talk about,' which for me has always been a draw," Brinkerhoff laughed. "I was bullied a lot growing up, and didn't have a lot of connection to other folks. That was the beginning for me. I just wanted to connect with other people."
In one of her earliest zines, she told her story of being sexually assaulted.
"No one wants to have that conversation most of the time," Brinkerhoff said. "But I got so much mail with people saying, 'Thank you for just sharing your story, I don't feel alone now.'"
Like Brinkerhoff's early zines, local zine artist Luke Rocha's most recent series, called Missouri Life & Crimes, sheds light on things people aren't talking about, or haven't talked about. It is a compilation of news clippings from old books, newspapers and magazines about greater Kansas City's history of crime, focusing in part on disenfranchised youth.
One of the zines includes the story of a serial killer, who was a good "church-boy," Rocha said, who grew up in the ghettos, but eventually got into drugs and turned to cannibalism.
"Those stories interest me because I grew up in a low-income area, and it's crazy to hear about how people end up that way," Rocha said. "There's skeletons in closets everywhere, but it's part of history. I focus on the stuff that's not in history books, and that I think should be remembered and taught."
With the rise of the internet, many zinesters wondered about the future for zines — where they would fit and whether they would remain. But if last weekend's event and UMKC's archival efforts are any indication, zines aren't going anywhere.
"Facebook and Twitter posts are so short, and yes, they're immediate, but zines, to me, have always been less about getting the word out, and more about getting your words out," Brinkerhoff said. "It's a long-format way to fully express yourself. It lets you have a more in-depth conversation with one another."
Here are a few of the local and regional zine artists who displayed their work at the KC Zine Conference:
- Kelsey Wroten, Kansas City, Missouri: illustrator who self-publishes under "Jukebox Comix." Her zines are surreal fantasy and semi-autobiographical. Her most recent comic, "Cannonball," was published on Vice.
- Virginia Black, Tulsa, Oklahoma: author and illustrator producing feminist, fetishistic, often serpent-themed zines. Most recently, she self-published "The Pernicious Little Slut's Home Journal on Wellness and Beauty" and the second run of "Women and Snakes."
- Grant Kratzer, Kansas City, Missouri: comic illustrator and graphic designer, his zine is called "The Butt Sniffers."
- D. Moth Meyer, Kansas City, Missouri: blogger and zinester who focuses on gardening and magic. Her zine is called "Hagwitch," a cut-and-paste style zine of stories, secrets and magic spells.
- Matt Bryan and Mike McCubbins, St. Louis, Missouri: this illustrator/writer team came together to self-publish a cloth-bound graphic novel called, "Book of Da," a sci-fi underwater adventure.
- Julia Eff, Detroit, Michigan: active zinester who focuses on gender, feelings and "myspace bands." Eff's collection includes "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues," "Every Thug is a Lady," and "Read Once and Destroy."
Andrea Tudhope is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3. You can reach out to her on Twitter @adtudhope.