It’s a crisp October afternoon outside, but inside 918 Bathurst, you’d never know it. The wide multimedia rooms of the cultural arts facility are crammed with booths, convention style. And of course there are people, people everywhere, people meandering the aisles and lingering at the stalls of favoured vendors and warming the air with their body heat and buzzing energy. In my heavy leather jacket, I soon begin to sweat. I wish that I could shrug it off, but the room is so busy, I’m terrified that I’ll just end up creaming someone in the face with my sleeve if I try.
I’m not usually one for crowds (like the noble antelope, I panic easily), but today I’m making a more-than-willing exception. After all, this is Canzine, Canada’s biggest annual zine fair. Over 200 vendors have flocked to promote their zines, comic books, and small press projects. In short: it rocks.
Not sure what a zine is? Don’t worry; you have that in common with almost every single one of my friends. Zine is short for “fanzine,” and they are usually self-published, hand-stapled magazines that are representational of the artist’s personal interests or passions. They can be about anything, from punk rock to a favorite dog to science fiction (in fact, some of the earliest forms of fanfiction were originally found in Star Trek zines). I love zines because they are intensely personal, and because they often give voice to alternative subcultures that are unheard or underrepresented.
At Canzine, which is organized by the alternative culture magazine Broken Pencil, these unheard and underrepresented subcultures get to be front and centre for a day, and it’s a blast to see. The artists have pulled out all the stops when it comes to what they are offering fans: as I wander amongst the stalls, I see prints, zines, comics, buttons, temporary tattoos, and even old-school surprise bags for sale. They range from the saccharine (actual sparkly unicorns) to the hilariously macabre (a print of a demon spitting blood through its eyes).
A friendly and casual air permeates throughout. “Look at whatever you like for as long as you like,” one zine artist tells me cheerfully, and I do.
“I’m sorry if I’m spacing out,” another artist tells me. “I had a beer at lunch and now I’m really sleepy.” It’s this sort of frank, informal attitude that makes Canzine such a treat to be at, despite the crowds.
After I’ve made a couple circuits of the artist’s hall, I work my way into the Sun Room. Special events have been held in here all afternoon, and I slide into a back-row seat just in time for the Radical Punk reading series, a panel of writers with a focus on the history of Toronto’s punk rock scene.
“[NoMeansNo] really encapsulated being alone while with people and how agonizing it is,” said Mark Black (NoMeansNo: Going Nowhere) on why he was so inspired to write his book. Since this is what draws so many to produce zines, I see a lot of heads bobbing in agreement.
When these authors are asked if zine culture has influenced their own writing, the answer is immediate and unanimous.
“Yes. Yes, yes, yes,” fiction writer Kristyn Dunnion (Happy House) says immediately. Despite her edgy pink-and-blue hair, the self-described “lady punk warrior” comes off more as someone’s very sweet, very cool aunt.
I leave Canzine with a head full of thoughts and a wallet full of flies. Though I entered intending to buy nothing, the impossible lure of a surprise bag proved too tempting to ignore. Anyway, if my afternoon has taught me anything, it’s that money isn’t so important: after all, most zines are put together with pennies, moxie, and unconditional love.
Canzine West, the coastal counterpart to Canzine, will take place November 17 in Vancouver.