Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I'm always on at the WOOFAH editorial team to get their butts down to the annual London Zine Symposium, to promote the UK's leading reggae / grime / dubstep periodical in person. Never happens, though. This is mainly due to 1) the mag selling out well in advance of the event, every time 2) the WOOFAH head honchos being lazy, selfish slobs, who'd rather spend Sunday afternoons building healthy parental relationships with their children than dutifully tromping around a maze of tables strewn with fanzines.

Well, sod it: I've decided that if any spare, unsold copies of WOOFAH 4 are floating around by May 29th - the date of the next LZS - I'm going to take them down and flog 'em myself. No, of course I haven't got 'permission' from WOOFAH HQ to strike out on this 'lone wolf' escapade...but, damn it, Malcolm McLaren died for my right to disregard authority.

So, how does the average or budding zine scribbler get through one of these fests in one piece? How do you guarantee that a vibrant day out with your creative peers doesn't descend into an adrenaline-soaked nightmare of knotted pulp? Well, here's some advice that I've found quite useful - hopefully it might help you too.


* SOME ZINES. Not hundreds, but as many as you can bear to lug back home in the event you don't shift any on the day. Throwing copies of your own creation into the bin because your shoulder's starting to hurt must be one of the saddest feelings in the world, and it will really piss off the obligatory woman in the Earth First T-shirt.

* COMFY SHOES. I recommend DMs.

* A GREAT BIG SMILE. Even if your zine's called Stillborn and features a collection of harrowing poems about your ongoing war with a brainwashed, hypocritical, sheepish society that deserves nothing less than complete annihilation , it's best to be nice and approachable when you're chatting to fellow fest-goers.

* SOME DOSH. Trading zines is OK and all, but it's good form to buy a few as it shows you support the scene that supports you, and you haven't just come to set out your stall and fuck off with the proceeds straight after.



* THE COMMUNAL TABLE. I'm going to assume most zine writers never get round to actually sending a cheque for their own personal stalls in advance of the deadline, so the free communal table's a good place to start. This isn't that bad, actually, and is probably what I'm going to do with any leftover copies of WOOFAH. You get the thrill of seeing your creation surrounded by loads of other zines, making  you feel part of a diverse, burgeoning scene. You may wish to take a photo of the communal table at this point. But do bear in mind - you can only drop off a few copies. Plonking down 50 issues (or trying to strategically 'place' your zines over the tops of others) is incredibly selfish and immature. So don't do it.

* THE SHARED TABLE. You pay a bit and you get more space for a greater number of issues. However, you're sharing your table with another zine entrepreneur and have to respect their space and tolerate their company. Even if it's a 4ft guy with a rasta hat and facial tattoos called Elf Steve, who's doing a vegan recipe zine. Or a bloke called Jeremy Whitby-Farquhar, who's promoting a photo zine packed with snaps of Dalston artists exposing their genitalia, and who can't shut his trap about Dalston 'art spaces' or rare 7"s he's unearthed in local charity shops. With a bit of luck, the zine fest organisers will have somebody on hand to man the stalls, meaning you can go for a wander.

On the flip side, you might end up sharing with someone really cool, and even end up producing a 'split zine' with them as a result (the zine equivalent of marriage).

* THE LONE TABLE. You pay even more and have your own dedicated pitch space. Some zine writers bottle out of this option, terrified by the thought of returning to a mountain of unsold issues. Again, I can't stress this enough - less is more in these situations. However, if you do decide to go out on a limb and book the full table, it doesn't hurt to have a gimmick. Bring a ghetto blaster and play some tunes. Lay on some veggie samosas. Zines with free CD-Rs always sell well, hint hint.  Turn your table into a memorable event. Flirt with potential buyers. Hire a fire-breathing goth dominatrix, or a ball-balancing seal, for entertainment.


* ANARCHO-PUNK who does a black and white A5 zine called (A)rmed Dezire or Kickin' Up Shit and complains about all the zines with glossy / colour covers that "shouldn't be here".

* ZINE VETERAN who's been covering the South East London indie scene since 1984, can tell you a hundred stories about the June Brides, spent 20 years hitchhiking to gigs and remembers when you had to pick carpet fibres out of your glue-encrusted palms for weeks after getting an issue out the door. Usually a pleasant, knowledgeable character, in a sort of John Peel / Annie Nightingale vein, but very occasionally a mean-tempered alcoholic. Instantly recognisable by the scalpel scars around the fingers. 

* SCHOOL KIDS who've been encouraged by some communist teacher to submit their crappy little spring term 'creative publishing' project. Avoid.

* RIOT GRRRL COMIC ARTIST WITH A FOREARM TATTOO. Quite possibly the coolest person there. Once rented a flat off Brix Smith, and can talk for hours about fonts and pantones. Well worth getting to know.

* BLOKE WHO WALKS AROUND BROWSING THE ZINES AND GOING, "MMM, VERY INTERESTING!" He never buys any, kills an hour and then goes home and writes a piece for The Guardian, or some stupid blog, about how fanzines "are making a comeback".

* DESPERATE GUY WHO'S JUST LAUNCHED HIS FIRST ZINE. Eyes dart around nervously as he anticipates his first buyer. Usually pisses everyone off by scooping up a pile under his arm and approaching punters at random, cheerily imploring them to "Go on, give it a go, it's cheaper than a pint...and far healthier too! [nervous laugh]"

* PERSON WHO BAKES LOADS OF VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE. God bless this person. This is why you shouldn't bring sandwiches to zine fests; there's always an opportunity to stuff your guts with delicious cake, baked by a woman in a green mohair jumper. Just don't make it obvious if you're on your fourth slice.

* WILD CARD CARTOONIST. Does a really funny, sloppily drawn comic with loads of sex, swearing and violence. Couldn't give a toss if (s)he flogs any copies or not and is normally up for popping down the road for a pint around 2pm.

* ZINE SCENE NOVICE. Staggers around, bug-eyed, asking 1,000 questions about design, printing and distribution. Attends all the workshops. Emerges one seriously fired-up bunny, gleefully informing everyone that (s)he's starting up a zine! Wakes up the next day and starts a blog.

* OCCULTIST. Issue 23 of Spiral Psi-Kosis features: an article on gnostic heresies; a personal account of a trip to a Hastings tea shop (Crowley fell asleep at one of the tables); reprint of a Sheffield-based hermaphrodite's take on sex magick, from 1977; and calls for a mass druid intervention at next year's Mayday demo. Plus an interview with Swedish 'multimedia pagan performance artist' (he plays a laptop in front of a TV) Whirlygig Ouroboros.


* Buy a copy of Socialist Worker. No way is that pile of shit a 'zine'.

* Blurt out: "Are you having a laugh? My dog could have knocked that together."

* Ask ANY zine writer, "What's it about?" Pick it up and have a fucking look, you dodo.

* Steal a zine. Seriously, this is on par with stealing from Oxfam, and you're liable to wind up with broken teeth if you try it on with Whitechapel Anarchist Group. I only ever got away with nicking a copy of Savage Messiah because the editor found me hypnotically attractive, and I was only borrowing it 'til payday anyway.  

* Go into a workshop and disrupt the session with loud-mouthed tales about how you produced three issues of Bournemouth's Burning with your college mates Jim and 'Mental', and how it was well crucial, even though it comprised eight one-sided, handwritten A4 pages stapled together, and only two people paid 30p for it (one being your Semiotics tutor, who was just looking for an excuse to kick you off the course).

* Interfere with the ball-balancing seal.

* Disappear into the toilet with one of the zines for half an hour (and then emerge without it). 

* Talk about blogs. Sorry, does it say BLOG SYMPOSIUM on the sign? Zine auteurs generally regard bloggers as weak-hearted, penny-pinching keyboard warriors who lack the guts to commit their words to permanency (incidentally, bet you £40 Blogger culls this site in the next couple of years. I just can't see any of this lasting, what with the Digital Economy Act on the horizon, plus the fact Blogger surely can't be making money from this venture). Mentioning blogs at a zine fest is like informing a victims' support group that someone 'killed' you in 'Second Life'. 

* Dump crisp packets or half-drunk cans of pop on top of the zines. Those are people's babies you're messing up, you slovenly cur. Ditto leafing through zines with greasy fingers and soiling the pages.

* Pretend you do a fanzine when you don't. It's easy to get carried away at these sorts of event and start acting like you're in with the independent crowd, but it's not worth the energy you'll expend maintaining the lie. Take that from someone who casually tossed around the old "in a band" chestnut in the presence of girls, even though we had only two rubbish Taiwanese guitars and about as much chance of getting a gig as that guy who used to play harmonica outside Green Park tube station. Someone'll just ask you, "Where do you get yours printed?", and the ensuing, deafening WHEEEEP! will be the sound of 50 bullshit detectors going off at once. 

"Er...I...er...I do mine down...down...Office Angels..??"

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