02 June 2009

Zine Fest : When Houston is Cool

Zines on parade at Zine Fest Houston, May 16, 2009. Photo by Rob Block / Houston Independent Media.

Zine Fest Houston 2009
The fest showcased dozens of writers, artists, publishers and distros who presented a wide variety of independent publications with topics ranging from politics to poetry, from freegan lifestyle to bicycle messengering. . . featuring characters ranging from gay republicans to small town preachers to pot-smoking superheroes.
By shane patrick boyle / The Rag Blog / June 2, 2009
Also see, Space City News at Zine Fest: No 'fusty ramble down memory lane,' by Chris Tebow Smith, Below.
Houston often gets a bad rap for being not as cool (both in terms of culture and temperature) as other cities like Austin for example, but this doesn't stop creative people in the humid city from doing cool stuff anyway. Years ago, when what is now known as Zine Fest Houston was still in its planning stages, we were frequently told that a zine fest in Houston could never happen. There is no zine scene in Houston people still tell me. No zines and no interest in zines. All of this may be true but you wouldn't know it if you attended the 2009 Zine Fest Houston last month.

Zine Fest Houston (formerly known as The Houston Comix and Zine Festival) is an event dedicated to promoting zines, minicomics and other forms of small press, alternative, underground and diy media & art. It is also a grassroots attempt to build the local zine, diy and alternative media scenes and form networks with media creators in other areas. The goal of the event is for attendees to not only discover new publications, but also to be inspired to create their own diy media projects.

Approximately 250 people attended this year's event which took place May 16 at the Caroline Collective in Houston's museum district. The fest showcased dozens of writers, artists, publishers and distros who presented a wide variety of independent publications with topics ranging from politics to poetry, from freegan lifestyle to bicycle messengering, from autobiography to fantasy and fiction featuring characters ranging from gay republicans to small town preachers to pot-smoking superheroes. It also featured live music, spoken word performances, a kids’ area for lil' zinstas, an exhibit of local publications and the presentation on Space City News (later renamed Space City!), Houston's first underground newspaper and first recognized alternative publication.

Most of the creators represented were from Houston and other Texas cities, but Heather Rector came all the way from Sacramento by bus with five issues of her zine, Dreams of Donuts, which features autobiographical comics about dumpster diving, communal living, relationships, silk screening, zine making and freegan living. She said she enjoyed Houston and plans to do her next zine about Zine Fest Houston.

MC Miller and Jen Hernandez of Austin will also be including comics about Zine Fest Houston in an upcoming zine. Their autobiographical humor comic Buttersword appears both online and in print form. The Zine Fest episodes of Buttersword are already up in the web version and can be found here, here, here, and here.

Another Austinite working in both online and print comics who attended was Dylan Edwards. This was the second Zine Fest for Dylan whose comic, Politically Inqueerect, focuses on the relationship of a gay couple with conservative poitical views. He also does Tranny Toons and Outfield (a series of one-panel sports comics with an LGBT theme) which have appeared online and in syndication. Dylan, a very busy person who is a commercial artist by trade, also does sculptures of little monsters called Feeping Creatures (Feeps for short) and has a nonfiction graphic novel coming out next year that deals with personal stories of people who are both gay and transgender.

Variety is definitely the spice of Zine Fest Houston. Among titles like Political Inqueerect, the Green Reefer and Bad Ass Zine, you could also find Dave Nelson's Finding Elim, a wholesome comic about a fictional small town, focusing on a Presbyterian pastor and his more liberated granddaughter. When Dave contacted me about tabling at the Fest, he cautioned that his comics might be a bit tame for our tastes. Nevertheless, Dave fit right in with the other zinstas and told me his comics received a better reception at Zine Fest than at a comics convention he attended two weeks earlier.

And while we're on the subject of variety, I should point out out that Zine Fest Houston had more to offer than just comics. John Rittman's MPH was pointed out by many attendees as an example of how a zine can be about anything. MPH, now in its tenth year, is described as “a magazine for disgruntled couriers and asshole bartenders.” Literary publications such as Panhandler and Nano Fiction offered poetry and short fiction and Hank Hancock read from his zine, Broke, which is a serialized novel.

Underbelly Printing presented hand-made, silkscreened books. Lauren Trout of Arcade Distro had a wide assortment of zines to offer and Sedition Collective brought samples of some of the publications available in their infoshop. Music distros were also represented. Walter and Hannah of Straight Up Distro sold international anarchist music and Team Science Records showcased music by local indy bands.

There was also an exhibit of zines and alternative media published in Houston. The exhibit curated by Jo Collier and myself included zines going back to the early 80s and underground newspapers dating back to the mid 60s and an archive of gay publications.

The highlight of the festival was the Space City News panel presentation by Thorne Dreyer and Sherwood Bishop.

Thorne Dreyer was founding “funnel” of The Rag, Austin's original underground newspaper (it was one of the nation's first and longest running, and was also distributed in Houston), a member of SDS in Austin, a founder of Space City News (Space City!), Houston's first alternative newspaper, a member of the editorial collective at Liberation News Service (LNS) in New York, and a former station manager at KPFT, Houston's Pacifica station. He currently serves as co-editor of The Rag Blog and as director of the New Journalism Project in Austin.

Sherwood Bishop has been active in alternative media since 1969, when he joined the Space City! collective. In the 1970s and 80s he worked at and/or wrote for numerous other publications, including the Dallas Notes from the Underground, Liberation Magazine in New York, and several Houston publications, including Houston City Magazine, In Art, and Art Scene. He was also an early pioneer in the web media, having established one of the first internet sites at the University of Texas in the early 90s. He currently teaches economics at Texas State University in San Marcos.

The two spoke about Space City News, late 60s and 70s radicalism in Houston and Austin and underground media in general and discussed how the work they were doing is relevant for activists and journalists today. The presentation served as a reunion for the paper which turns 40 this Friday. They were also joined by other Space City! alumni including Chris Tebow Smith, who sold Space City News out of her locker as a student at Westbury High School, Russ Noland, and cindy soo. A recording of the discussion can be found here.

A workshop on writing for alternative media, to be hosted by Houston IndyMedia was planned to follow the Space City! presentation, but was canceled when strong winds and the threat of rain forced the outside portion of the festival to move inside, displacing the workshops and the exhibit.

Some people, including a few exhibitors left at this point, but a small crowd remained, more people continued arriving and the festive atmosphere went on until after the planned ending time.

[Shane patrick boyle is the founder and primary organizer of Zine Fest Houston.]

Oldtimers in flowered shirts! Former Space City staffers at Zine Fest Houston: Sherwood Bishop, cindy soo, Rag Blog co-editor Thorne Dreyer and Chris Tebow Smith.
Space City News at Zine Fest: No ‘fusty ramble down memory lane…’

By Chris Tebow Smith / The Rag Blog / June 2, 2009

Recently, I went to Zine Fest Houston for a presentation by Thorne Dreyer and Sherwood Bishop about Houston’s underground newspaper, Space City News (later renamed “Space City!”) and the underground press movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Thorne was one of the founders of Space City News and Sherwood was a longtime collective member.

Rather than a fusty ramble down memory lane, it was a great and refreshingly relevant presentation on Space City News, Freak culture, (we weren't apolitical hippies with flowers in our hair) the KKK’s violent opposition, police oppression, Pacifica radio, The Rag, the underground press, that led into a discussion of activism and progressive politics in the blogosphere today. In addition to a lively give and take with Thorne and members of the audience, Sherwood provided the Show and Tell, bringing a collection of vintage underground rags to display.

I am honored to know these guys and lucky to have spent some of my formative years at their feet during a politically-charged, socially convulsive, historic moment when civil rights, the anti-war movement, gay rights, and feminism formed a Voice that changed the world.

Space City News was the lighthouse in Houston for others like me who came from far and wide to join the growing family of activists gathering at the base, happy to find other counterculture freaks. Thorne mentioned how easily identifiable we all were to each other -- and to the “straights” -- wherever we traveled. It was like having a new skin color in common.

I was still in high school, getting called to the office regularly for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, wearing a black armband to protest the war in Vietnam, and wearing a flag shirt sewn by my best buddy Robin Zank. (Abbie Hoffman later had Robin make one for him after he saw my flag shirt while speaking in Houston.)

I devoured every issue of Space City! and decided that I had to be a part of it. When I called to find out how to sell the paper, the person I spoke to was Sherwood Bishop, who immediately took me under his wing as my Space City! mentor. I still remember a few lines of the Cuban National Anthem.

In those days, the New Left reeked with male chauvinism, but I remember the Space City collective as a group of equals, and the sharp, strong women in it demanded respect and got it. These were the early, exciting days of Women's Liberation, and I looked up to them as role models.

I started selling Space City News from my locker at Westbury High School, which led me straight back to the office and almost caused my expulsion from 11th grade, but I kept at it. Kids were hungry for the truth and the paper was very popular. Copies passed from hand to hand all over the school, and its influence was evident. The high school version of the college campus group SDS soon sprang up. It was called SUDS -- Student Union for a Democratic Society, and we protested ROTC recruitment on campus among other things. At Bellaire High, Harrell Graham started one of the growing number of high school underground papers, "The Plain Brown Watermelon." And we all marched, again and again, against the war.

Those were heady times, full of righteous outrage, meetings, outrageous fun, meetings, passionate activism, and more meetings. It was a sweet treat to reconnect with my two old friends and mentors. I have missed them, but not the meetings
Space City! display at Zine Fest Houston. Photo by Rob Block / Houston Independent Media.

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