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Festival celebrates the do-it-yourself zine

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  • Jamie Theophilos, one of the organizers of the Pioneer Valley Zine Fest, displays zines Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jamie Theophilos, one of the organizers of the Pioneer Valley Zine Fest, displays zines Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Zines on display Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Zines on display Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Zines on display Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Zines on display Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jamie Theophilos and Matthew King talk about the upcoming Pioneer Valley Zine Fest Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jamie Theophilos and Matthew King talk about the upcoming Pioneer Valley Zine Fest Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jamie Theophilos, one of the organizers of the Pioneer Valley Zine Fest, displays zines Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Zines on display Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Zines on display Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jamie Theophilos and Matthew King talk about the upcoming Pioneer Valley Zine Fest Thursday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

The common wisdom is that the Internet has radically altered the publishing world, making printed publications, from books to magazines to newspapers, endangered commodities, or at least weakened ones.

But supporters of zines — short for fanzine — say there’s still a thriving world for the small, do-it-yourself publications that people create on a wide range of subjects, from politics to art to fiction to underground social movements.

“There’s something about making and designing your own zine and holding it in your hands that you can’t get from something online,” said Jamie Theophilos, a Mount Holyoke College student who’s been reading and making zines for years. “There are lots of things I read online ... but that’s not a substitute for a zine.”

And, Theophilos says, zines are — and long have been — part of a larger, grassroots movement of artists, musicians, writers and others who are more interested in creating community than making a profit from their work. That’s a major theme behind Pioneer Valley Zinefest, which takes place this Friday and Saturday at Food for Thought Books in Amherst and the Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton.

The Zinefest, now in its second year, will bring some 30 zine publishers and related organizations, including some from the Valley, to Food for Thought on Saturday. Related events included readings and workshops. Flywheel will feature a variety of music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, as well as a record fair on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Theophilos, one of the event’s key organizers, says participants are coming from across the Northeast and from further afield — Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Canada — and include representatives from Papercut Zine Library, which maintains a volunteer-run lending library of some 15,000 zines at Lorem Ipsum, a Cambridge bookstore.

Zinefest has been organized in large part as a fundraiser for Food for Thought Books, a worker-owned collective where Theophilos has volunteered her time over the past few years.

But Matthew King, one of the collective’s members, says this weekend’s events are also a celebration of the independent spirit of producers and readers of zines, who see the publications as important vehicles for sharing ideas and information beyond the parameters usually determined by the publishing industry, academia and other established sources. Prices are kept low — generally from $1 to $10 — to make them accessible.

“Zines were the forerunner of the Internet,” said King, who stocks a number of the publications at Food for Thought. “The earlier zine writers were like the bloggers of today, and they’re still around, still using print in a viable way.”

King, who previously worked for a collective bookstore in Seattle, said he’d once put out a zine himself, on old speeches and essays on anarchism, as a way of keeping that material in print. And though the rise of the Internet had seemed to put a dent into zine publications perhaps 10 to 12 years ago, they seem to have made a comeback in more recent years, he said.

“I used to trade zines and subscribe to a whole bunch of others back in the 1990s,” King added. “There really was nothing like finding your mailbox full of a stack of unique, exciting writing and art that was produced independently.”

A simple format

King and Theophilos say zines date roughly from the 1930s and 1940s, when science fiction writers and enthusiasts began publishing them. The field expanded dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s with the rise of punk music, and again in the 1990s with the riot grrrl movement of women-led punk and rock bands.

A zine itself might be loosely defined as an underground publication that’s independently produced and published, generally on a minimal budget, and often with as simple a format as hand-written text and photocopied pages. Theophilos says one of the appeals to her is the wide range of formats used, including zines with more elaborate art and graphics.

“It’s just a great way to share information and stories,” said Theophilos, who first came across zines when she went to a Food Not Bombs rally in her hometown of Chicago when she was a young teen. Now a senior at Mount Holyoke, where she is majoring in film, Theophilos was inspired to create her own zine, which included her essays and thoughts on issues like feminism, animal rights and political activism.

She notes that some zine writers and publishers have thousands and thousands of followers. Cindy Crabb, an Ohio writer, has published her hand-written and illustrated zine, “Doris,” since the early 1990s on a national basis (it’s available at Food for Thought). Anthologies of her writing, which covers her personal reflections and issues such as sexual assault and prevention, have been published in book format.

“Cometbush,” a popular fanzine by California drummer and writer Aaron Elliot, has chronicled the punk rock scene since the early 1980s. Locally, students and staff involved with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Permaculture Project publish a zine that includes vegetarian recipes, and Sara Smith of Greenfield writes about dance and movement in New England in her zine, “Kinebago.”

Theophilos and King note that Pioneer Valley Zinefest is also about giving underrepresented groups more of a public forum than they typically get. To that end, most of the music that will be featured at the Flywheel Arts Collective as part of Zinefest will feature women-based bands, playing a mix of punk, indie rock and other sounds.

Local groups include Potty Mouth, a group of recent Smith College graduates; Christian Businessmen, a punk band that Theophilos plays in; and Funsuck, a Northampton/Brattleboro,Vt., trio.

The music has been largely organized by Meghan Minior, an Amherst artist and musician who also designed the flyer for Zinefest.

“All of this really is about empowering people — artists, musicians, writers, anyone — at the grassroots level, and getting together to share that spirit,” Theophilos said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Pioneer Valley Zinefest begins Friday at the Flywheel Arts Collective at 5:30 p.m. Zine exhibitions and workshops take place Saturday at Food for Thought Books and a nearby space from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and are free. Music continues at Flywheel Saturday and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Donations for musicians will be accepted.

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