It’s the first Saturday in June, and when you walk through RAMP Studios in Asheville’s River Arts District, you feel like you’ve stepped back a few decades.
People behind folding tables line the main hall and galleries, showing poetry, memoir, fiction, cartoons and more. They are here under the banner of Asheville Zine Festival.
“I have collaborations with artists, writers and musicians,” said Erik Pedersen, scanning the items on his tables. “We have artist books, photo books, experimental musical tapes, flip books and poetry boards.”
Among 30 publishers here, Pedersen is an Asheville printmaker with a freelance publishing operation called Drum Machine Editions.
Zines are the short name for fan magazines. The format came of age in the 1930s and hasn’t changed much since. Writing or drawing on paper, hand stapling or twine binding and small print runs are still central to the practice. Some here are blurring the lines with art books, which can take on an unlimited variety of content and physical form.
“There aren’t a lot of everyday people that you can mess with with talking paper and bookbinding techniques,” Pedersen said. “Part of it is just being artisans of a very specific band.”
Another vendor here is Jade Young, who is working on an MFA in illustration. His artistry is on display here in the form of two cookbooks, one with the tagline “sensual casseroles for the modern household” and the other titled “Eat the Rich: Comfort Food for After the Collapse.” Both are printed on 8×11 sheets folded in half and stapled.
“With things being digital, there’s definitely something more human about physically holding art than someone else has done,” Young said. “The new type of generation is really into this idea of an analog type of information sharing. So there’s definitely a much younger audience, which I think is really great and is what zines need .
Eric Knisley is an illustrator who specializes in a medium that cannot easily be shown on a screen. He and several collaborators animate what are called exquisite corpses. Single sheets of cardstock are 16 feet long, and each illustrator takes turns creating elaborate ink drawings on one-foot-wide spreads.
“And then at the end, about a year and a half later, you have this exquisite 16-foot corpse scrolling,” unfolding the length of a print.
The price of each edition is $50. When he suggested to Knisley that the audience for such a creation might be a small niche, he readily agreed.
“People who want it will pay for it and they’re not too concerned about the price,” he said. “People who don’t want it, I couldn’t give it to them.”
Many zine publishers take advantage of risograph printing. It is a fairly affordable format that feeds paper under a rotating ink drum and makes an impression through a stencil. This gives the printed paper a textured, handmade feel that doesn’t come from simple photocopies.
This is how Mel Mandle of Asheville printed his autobiographical and illustrated zine, entitled “Growing Down”. She created it for her graduation thesis at UNC School of the Arts.
“If a person took my zine and read it and resonated with it, I think that would be a satisfaction for me,” Mandle said. “It doesn’t matter if I sell 50 copies or 100 copies. I want people to make that connection.
Jessica White and her husband founded this festival in 2016 and moved it to different locations every year before returning to RAMP studios. White said she expects the festival to remain at RAMP Studios and attract zine publishers from across the Southeast in 2023. Proceeds from vendor fees this year went to the contemporary art center Revolve.
White and others talk about the community nature of the festival. And in an age of revealing digital lives, White said young people are drawn to the medium for its relative anonymity.
“I feel like making a zine is more of a safe space than making a website or a blog,” White said. “Here you have a book and you can be selective about where it goes and it becomes a safe zone where people can be a bit more vulnerable. You’ll probably hear stories that people wouldn’t feel comfortable posting on the internet.
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