Artists, storytellers and community members gathered at the small Arts & Bodega store in downtown Claremont on Saturday for The Packing House Zine Fest. Put together by Curious Publishing, which owns the store and describes itself as a nonprofit featuring “Inland Empire Womxn, BIPOC and Queer artists,” the event showcased new artwork and writing shared via old-fashioned print media, screen printing and other types of hand-crafted design.
Rebecca Ustrell, founder and editor-in-chief of Curious Publishing, discussed her goals for the Arts & Bodega, which hasn’t had an in-person event of this magnitude in nearly two years owing to the pandemic.
“I want it to be a place students consider an extension of their campus,” she said.
“Zines,” an abbreviation of the word “magazines,” typically refer to self-published short pamphlets with limited circulations that are designed less for profit and more for sharing important information or stories with interested readers. Zines draw on a tradition of works by historically marginalized groups and provide an outlet for news and opinion that mainstream publishers eschewed.
The Fest, which extended throughout the inner atrium of the Packing House where Arts & Bodega is located, offered an opportunity for students to learn about different print methods.
“I want them to be able to come and collaborate and bounce ideas off of people, getting some real advice and experience with people that are actually working in self-publishing,” Ustrell said.
Tables displayed picture books, buttons, stickers and photographs as artists answered questions and visitors walked from stand to stand.
“Because artists are putting so much work into these prints and zines, if you buy the most simple print here, you’re gonna learn about a new art practice, whether it’s carved block printing, cyanotype or stitch binding,” Ustrell said.
“Because artists are putting so much work into these prints and zines, if you buy the most simple print here, you’re gonna learn about a new art practice, whether it’s carved block printing, cyanotype or stitch binding. ”
Norman Bentley, a community member who lives just blocks away from the Packing House, came to the showcase for inspiration.
“I’m an old artist, so I come here to see what the young are doing,” Bentley said. “They are rethinking all the tools that they have, and their art and their marketing, in many different ways. It’s just so fun to see that.”
Most of the art was handmade and one-of-a-kind, and many of the artists created work on site on demand. For example, Tania Chaidez Ibarra, co-founder of Errant Press, which publishes bilingual books made by Latin American artists, was creating personalized passports that let the customer choose a name, photo and sexuality. The booklet included sixteen visas with QR codes, allowing readers to travel digitally to other countries.
“Our books try to explore and break the limits of normal books with the square shape — we just think they are too boring,” Ibarra said. “We want to create a book that is actually exciting again and also that makes sense with the content.”
Other artists used zines to work outside commercial limitations. Eli Brandwein, a Los Angeles-based artist who is the author of the zine anthology “Urinal Diaries,” writes, illustrates, prints and assembles his own comics, often with the goal of just making people laugh.
“I’m not particularly interested in making a Marvel comic book or getting any of my work adapted into movie or TV,” Brandwein said. “I like the freedom to self-publish, to make whatever you feel like making even though it may not be the most marketable thing in the world.”
Amanda Millar similarly combines disciplines, using her experience as a creative writer to produce zines offering prompts to help writers with writer’s block.
“Prompts have helped me with my writing in the past,” she said. “It’s an easy way to get started when you don’t have a lot of writing practice.”
Ustrell also sees the Zine Fest as a low-cost way to support local artists. “We’re a 501c3,” she said about Curious Publishing. “We get and write grants and occasionally are rewarded them and then have this income where we can actually pay artists to create their side projects,” she said.
Ustrell hopes 5C students will engage with events like The Zine Fest to gain exposure to art and artists who are part of the varied community outside the classroom.
“I hope that everyone learns something new. I think this event is definitely to bring awareness of the many cultures that are right here in this region.”
“I hope that everyone learns something new,” she said. “I think this event is definitely to bring awareness of the many cultures that are right here in this region.”