Ottawa Canzine takes place this Sunday at Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo: Broken Pencil

Zine fair offers a place for local zine creators and consumers to meet

This Sunday, Broken Pencil magazine is hosting the second annual Canzine Ottawa fair at the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG). The fair celebrates zine culture and local Ottawa creators, and is one of the best ways to meet local artists.

A zine is a mini-magazine — a self-published, do-it-yourself, physical object. All three of those ingredients are essential, said Jonathan Valelly, the editor of Broken Pencil and organizer of Canzines across the country. The zine exists outside the literary industrial complex and as a physical object (and frequently online too, given the important role of social media in the lives of many artists).  

“Over the last five years, we have been realizing the importance and the benefit of using our platform and bringing our tried-and-true model of a low-cost table and first-come-first-serve zine fair to places that didn’t have zine fairs,” said Valelly on how the fair first came to Ottawa.

The diversity of zines is astounding. They range from poetry chapbooks to underground comics, radical political pamphlets and experimental fiction. The definition of a zine hinges on the format, not the content.

Valelly said Canzine Ottawa spans the full breadth of what a zine might be, from poetry to illustrations, punk to anarchist. There are over 35 exhibitors signed up this year.

“Canzine Ottawa is an exciting festival because it spans the whole range of zine production,” said Valelly. “Ottawa has a super strong chapbook and literary self-publishing history, you definitely have a couple punk zinesters, as well as a few radical political projects, and of course folks who are illustrators or comic artists who make beautiful zines.”

Valelly described Ottawa Canzine as a project close to his heart because the fair does a lot to dispel myths of Ottawa as a dry bureaucratic town.

“Ottawa is a meeting ground for all kinds of culture. There’s an interesting arts community happening in Ottawa that really bucks the stereotype of the city being bureaucratic or sterile,” said Valelly. “If you just scratch the surface, you’ll find so many wonderful projects.”

Broken Pencil, who leads the organizing of Canzines across the country, acts as the magazine of zine culture, featuring reviews, excerpts, think-pieces, interviews and profiles. Their first zine fair took place in Toronto in 1995.

“Broken Pencil’s mandate is to be a resource and platform for independent creators, folks making work outside of the traditional institutions of power, whether that be because of institutional oppression or discrimination or because of a political stance,” said Valelly. That definition fits the ethos of zine-making well.

Despite the increasing digitalization of our modern world, zines remain a staunchly print medium. Valelly says there has been a renaissance in self-publishing and zines in the last five or 10 years because of disappointment with the democratic promise of the internet and increased surveillance risk.

“Zines are a print medium, and this renaissance has come around the same time that a lot of folks who believed in the democratic promise of digital media — that anyone can have a voice, anyone can have a platform — started to see how those media were being monopolized in the sense that all of a sudden nobody will find your website and everyone will go to the same four or five,” said Valelly. “Also, there’s this increased surveillance, this increased security question, so for folks who have a bit of a strain of independence or like to question those systems of power, taking the means of the media into your own hands is a natural go.”

Zines have also flourished because of a growing interest in comics but a lack of established comic book publishers in Canada. Many comic creators, with the help of inexpensive printers, meet the demand by self-publishing.

Whether you’re looking for poetry, radical politics, inclusive spaces, or underground comics, Ottawa Canzine is the place to be this Sunday. The fair will also feature a few talks and exhibits, special guided tours of the OAG, and an afternoon party at Club SAW.

“There’s nothing like being at a zine fair,” said Valelly. “For folks who have never been, it’s like opening a treasure chest.”

 Ottawa Canzine takes place Sunday, Oct. 6 at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Find more information on their website