Dublin Zine Fair 2015
Anthony Eden, British Prime Minister in the early 1950s, was a dashingly handsome man. A hottie, you might say. He possessed a ‘fine boned aquiline beauty’, and Suez Crisis or not, he always ‘maintained his matinée idol good looks’. If you learn nothing else from this article, a brief whizz through Saturday at this year’s Dublin Zine Fair, remember that at least. You’re not liable to hear it discussed, let alone so lengthily and full of conviction, anywhere else.
Now in its fifth year of existence, DZF bundled its way into the Chocolate Factory on the 15th and 16th of August this year, for two days’ celebration of the esoteric, the eccentric and the brashly, defiantly independent. Venders lined the walls and spaces of the upstairs hall, coming largely from our own fair and dusty city, but arriving too from as far away as Australia to test the waters of the local scene and to offer up a flavour of their own. Music was provided by Laura Ann Brady on a stage to the right of the door. The Chocolate Factory café tipped away downstairs at its usual Saturday business. And up in the hall, you couldn’t avoid the sense that what was going on and what was being sold, was in its own way, quietly but thoroughly unique. And surely that’s at least half the point.
To return to Anthony Eden for a moment. Andrew Kelly, well placed at a stall close to the entrance, was selling a number of works priced up to about €10. Most eye-catching and wonderfully bizarre is his work, published by ignition.ie, suitably entitled ‘He’s a Hottie, is Anthony Eden’. Upwards of 30 sparsely designed pages are dedicated to ruminations on the physical features of the late Tory Prime Minister, before a second section, just as much of an absurdist non sequitur in the grander scheme of things, details the artists’ attempts to physically resemble his subject as closely as possible (not without success, I should mention). Off the wall, bonkers, truly eccentric in the original sense of the word, ‘random’ to use the parlance of our times, yes. But where the hell else would you find such a brilliant collection of lovingly published oddness all packed into the one place?
It was probably pointed out with dour regularity in the glut of utopian prophesising that accompanied the dawn of the Internet that zine culture ought not to have any place in a digitised, post-physical world of post-modernity. Why go to the bother of writing, designing, printing and publishing a zine, when you could whack your ideas and concepts onto Tumblr or WordPress, and reach a potentially vaster audience, in about a tenth of the time? Zines, collective brainchild of the late-1970s American punk movement, would be washed away in the flood-tide, as what was supposed to be the net great, democratic, people-driven sociocultural movement, the World Wide Web, banished them into obsolescence. Judging by the buzz, crowd size (consistently busy if never thronged) and the sentiments of the vendors, such predictions were only about half-true at best. Blogs and webpages might diminish some of zine culture’s necessary passing trade, but insofar as the making and reading of zines is a passion and a craft to those involved, they probably aren’t going anywhere soon. Indeed, as Rachel Ang, a Melbourne-based illustrator points out, it is often the bigger, better-financed media firms and forms who feel the brunt of digital disruption the hardest. As newsrooms close and major newspapers are pushed into areas they wouldn’t have even entertained 20 years ago, zines makers and the culture that attends it, can keep on keeping on in the way they always have. “Why would I go buy the Guardian when I can get it online for free?” Rachel wonders. Too true. Such carefully crafted, brilliant art and nonsense as this? Well that’s a bit harder to come by.
Speaking of nonsensical brilliance, Ang come to Ireland from Melbourne (where the equivalent fair is about 3 times the size) armed with the best and oddest her city’s scene has to offer. I came away with a collection of comics, “Francis Bear: Short Stories”, which while originally published online by Vice, is about as fine an example of zine-worthy anti-conventionalism as you could want. Drawn in a similar way to and featuring many of the same looking characters as a children’s story-book or comic, it in fact details the post-apocalyptic adventures of Francis, “a stuffed animal malcontent” and “his wayward friend Doug, a toy dog of simple means”. Doug and Francis meander around a deserted-apart-from-the-toys city, drinking beer, stealing and generally getting into what would normally be classed as trouble. The work is by Gregory Mackay, and is a treat if you can get it, preferably in paper form.
The one defining feature, artistically speaking, across the board at DZF, and much as it is doubtlessly a pain-inducing cliché to anyone in the know, is the sheer difficulty of defining as a whole any of the work on display. Every conceivable point of the spectrum is covered in some way or other, even in as small a setting (though still a growing one) as this. Venus de Vilo, a ‘solo acoustic horror punk’ artist as a day job, sells a series of horror inspired zines illustrating the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, suitably filled with oozing entrails and dead children, clearly a work of passion. Helen McCormack has a number of zines and pamphlets, including ‘A Perfect Plan’, a quick, black and white comic wrapped in what seems like brown envelope paper. I also somehow ended up with an interesting zine ‘by Laura’ which considers the ‘Become a Great Artist in 10 Seconds’ computer program, thinks about our relationship with technology and each other in and the idea of extrinsic versus intrinsic value in the post-modern world. It is illustrated entirely with the boggling results of the program. Suburbia, the film ‘Cutie and the Boxer’ and any number of other themes and idea have their own zines or feature in somewhere in at least one of them.
Two things which have probably been noticed by more articulate observers of zine culture than me stand out. First, the unbridled and resolute independence and refusal to conform of the artists probably defines the scene in a way that mere stylistic tropes cannot. Anybody I spoke to either explicitly mentioned or implied this as being one of the driving forces behind their involvement. Ang points out the total freedom in zine culture to write, to draw and to publish whatever you want, with no-one in publishing or any arm of the corporate world telling you otherwise. Zines are freedom, to people who care about them. While there is likely a good deal of senseless gunk to go along with the standout pieces of work, there is nothing on show anywhere in the Chocolate Factory that you would think the creator did not wish to see there with all their being.
Secondly, related put separate to the personal will and vaguely politicised commitment to artistic freedom of the artists is the total sense of passion you get from speaking to any of the or reading their works. For nobody here is this a non-committal afterthought of a hobby, nor is it likely to yield much as a commercial venture in search of earth. It’s a stronger impulse than that. Be it praising the looks of dead politicians documenting the adventures of a stuffed miscreant or pondering the worth of a randomised Photoshop alternative, everything is here because someone wanted to make art about it, an d because they felt wholeheartedly about their right and their ability to do so.
While I couldn’t get to the fair on the Sunday to give a fully rounded picture of the weekend’s proceedings, I saw enough to get a sense of what it was all about. Odd, unusual, bamboozling and often downright weird it certainly was. But in its own way, which doesn’t give a damn what anyone else says about it, enthralling. To bigger and better things in the years to come.
Words: Cathal Kavanagh
Illustrations: Conor Nolan