Zinecinnati Fest is for Zine Newbies and Connoisseurs Alike

Helmed by a Bellevue-based couple, Cincinnati’s inaugural zine festival, Zinecinnati, will feature both local and out-of-town artists

Jun 3, 2019 at 5:51 pm
click to enlarge A poster for Zinecinnati - Provided by Zinecinnati
Provided by Zinecinnati
A poster for Zinecinnati

From the first science fiction fanzines of the 1930s to the feminist riot grrrl zines of the 1990s, niche groups and underground movements have long ridden the wave of independence in the form of self-publishing. Now, even after the dawn of the internet and the polarizing debate over the death of the printing industry, the DIY scene is alive and well — and perhaps now more than ever in Cincinnati. 

While Cincinnati is currently home to both a comic expo and an art book fair, there isn’t an event held solely to celebrate these humble little masterpieces. So Bellevue, Kentucky-based duo Tom and Lauren Boeing decided to fill the gap and host the Zinecinnati zine fest. 

A zine is a broad description for any independent publication that’s usually made with the goal of artistic expression rather than for monetary profit. These free-form booklets — which are typically pretty small — are comprised of a variety of comics, illustration, poetry, prose, photography or collages. Some are made by hand while others are printed off en masse at home, at photocopy stores or through small, indie publishing companies.

In larger cities like Chicago — where Tom was first introduced to zines during his time at Columbia College — the zine community is “colossal,” he says, but he and Lauren had a difficult time finding other zine makers in Cincinnati.

When Tom first got into creating and selling his own comic-filled zines several years ago, the pair had to travel to other cities to discover the DIY community that was already blossoming in their own backyard. “We didn’t know anybody locally that did it,” Tom says. “But as we started going (to zine shows) we met people from Cincinnati, but we were at a show in Lexington, or in Chicago. We made friends basically by just talking to people from Cincinnati.”

That’s exactly how fellow artist and Greater Cincinnatian Nola Lee connected with the Boeings. After bonding at an out-of-town fest, she later discovered they were all three Bellevue residents. 

“I didn’t even know they bought a house down the street,” she says. “And we’re just like, ‘Oh, we’re neighbors? Surprise!’ ”

As they made their rounds on the zine circuit each spring and summer, they increasingly began hoping for the day a large, contemporary zine fest would find its way to their own city. 

“We were at a point where we didn’t want to wait around for somebody else,” Lauren says. “We had talked about it so many times where we were like, ‘OK, let’s just do it.’ ”

In February 2018, the Boeings committed to bringing a fest to Cincinnati. They bought the domain name for a website in March, and by April had put a deposit down on the historic Mockbee event space.

Now, Zinecinnati will become a reality on Saturday, June 8 from noon-6 p.m. The event is free to attend, but you can bring a non-perishable food item or hygiene or cleaning product for Community Matters and the Lower Price Hill Food Pantry to get an event poster and button. Zinecinnati joins similar regional events including Lexington’s Kentucky Fried Zine Fest and the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) in Columbus, Ohio, which held its 20th fest this past April. 

The Boeings wanted to create the same sense of community and connection that they’ve found at other fests, so they began by hosting drink and draw events and zine-making workshops in the months leading up to the show. The get-togethers became a casual way to hang out with friends and spread the word about Zinecinnati across town. 

Since everyone’s work is so different, there’s rarely any sense of competition here. 

“Everybody wants to buy each other’s art. At some point you’re just trading the same $5 bill around,” Lauren says.

The free-form nature of the craft allows for the creation of some deeply personal, incredibly intimate work. Sure, there are as many light-hearted, silly zines out there as there are serious ones, but sharing a zine is often like offering up a piece of oneself.

“People are kind of forced to be vulnerable because they have such a personal thing anyone can just pick up and read,” Lauren says. “I feel like that strips away the small talk. People are more apt to be like, ‘Oh hey, you’ve read my stuff, you know who I am when all the lights are off and I’m alone in my room in the dark.’ ”

“It‘s fun to have a medium that’s so accessible because it enforces that community aspect,” she continues. “It lets you engage in a way where you can kind of see yourself in other people. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing or what they look like. I mean, they can look like the most badass tough person ever with the thigh-high buckle-up boots and then they wanna read your pink zine about all of your feelings. And you’re like, ‘They’re just like me.’ ”

Like the original sci-fi fan-fic creators and the Punk pioneers that proceed them, contemporary zine creators are exemplifying the freedom of the craft in multitudes. The Chicago Zine Fest draws hundreds of exhibitors, and it’s only a matter of time before the zine renaissance hits the mainstream in Cincinnati, especially considering the ease of access to the form. Anyone with paper, a pen and an idea (and maybe a stapler) can create a zine.

“It’s really blown up in the past couple years, even with people that you wouldn’t think would be making them,” Lee says. “It’s not like the ’90s where it used to just be like, Xeroxing some stuff and anarchist poems. Now it can be really whatever you’re feeling.”

From zines with corresponding Spotify playlists to listen to while you read (like Lauren’s zine) to collections of art history buttons through the ages (like Nola Lee’s zine) and tales of the worst break-ups ever (everyone, probably), there will be plenty of ultra-niche content from over 30 exhibitors to peruse at Zinecinnati for zine newbies and connoisseurs alike.

“Everybody just needs to find the medium that they find expressive. Zines are great because there aren’t really any rules. There’s nobody telling you that it needs to be a certain way. It can be whatever you want it to be,” Tom says. “You have a voice. Use it.”

Zinecinnati takes place at the Mockbee June 8. More info: zinecinnati.com.