Bay Area Queer Zine Fest: A Celebration of Expression

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On September 16th in Berkeley’s Gilman Theater, people from all over the Bay Area gathered to celebrate one thing: zines. Back for its sixth year, the 2023 Bay Area Queer Zine Fest (BAQZF) took on a hybrid model this year. From the 13th to the 20th, the event’s website held links to the websites of artists and zine makers- or zinesters. On the 16th, the fest hosted an in-person event where people gathered to buy everything from zines to stickers to patches from a variety of tablers, the fest’s vendors. 

At the in-person fest, inspiring art is everywhere. “A lot of the art I make is based around catharsis. I pull from personal experiences and making art is a therapeutic practice,” said organizer Elyse Carley. Co-organizer Caroline Walters said, “I take a lot of inspiration from the people around me, so surrounding myself with these people is inspiring. They’re very inspiring.”

A zine is described as a self-published, non-commercially-printed work of literature, art, or anything else. Typically, they take the form of a small booklet or book filled with words, art, or both. Like many artworks, there are many interpretations of zines and no right way to make them. There are zines filled with art, ‘fanzines’ made for or by fans of a piece of media, mini-comic zines, political zines, and countless more. 

Zines have been around for decades. The Comet, a science fiction fanzine from the 1930s, is believed to have been the first. In the ‘60s, zines featuring political commentary, music reviews, and literary experimentation began to emerge. These were followed by the punk rock zines that started appearing in the ‘70s, along with zines from the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement. In the ‘90s, Riot Grrrl (a subculture movement that combines feminism, punk music, and politics) zines became popular, and online zines began to appear. 

BAQZF is one of many zine celebrations in the Bay Area, and it is unique in how it focuses on both zines and the queer experience. Founder Maira McDermott said, “I organized at East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, and I thought, ‘What if this was gay-er? I love zines and I love queer community, so I wanted to bridge those because the Bay Area–despite its history as a queer location–didn’t have a queer zine fest.” McDermott founded the fest six years ago, and they’ve been organizing it ever since. “My favorite thing about the fest is just seeing everyone come together and enjoy themselves. I take a lot of pride in that.”

Walters said, “My favorite part of the fest is being able to talk to people and connect on something.” They became involved in the fest this year after attending in the past. Another co-organizer, Sophia Sobko, said,“If I could only use two words to describe Bay Area Queer Zine Fest, it’d be ‘connection and affirming’,”  “Especially right now, there’s so much anti-trans and anti-gay legislation and rhetoric, so having a space that is so beautiful and affirming is really special.”

“It’s a really wonderful space where you can feel included with a ton of people who also defy the status quo or have unconventional interests. That’s something really beautiful,” said co-organizer Kavya Jolly. “We have a lot of tablers who are people of color and a lot of tablers who are disabled, and I think that’s extra important in terms of spaces like this.” Co-organizer Carley said, “When I lived in Florida, the queer spaces I would see were often dominated by white people. This space is very unique to me in the sense that I can look around and see a lot of faces that look like me.” They went on to say, “I think this space in particular is really important just because it provides queer people with a space to publish and put art out in a way that is much more easily accessible.”

With BAQZF offering such a creative and supportive community, it’s hard to not want to get involved. And while the next BAQZF isn’t for another year, it’s never too early to reach out. “Send us an email and I will get you involved,” said McDermott. “We could always use more hands on deck.” 

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Logan is a senior at M-A. This is their first year in journalism, and he hopes to write about art and music, as well as a variety of other topics, in the school and surrounding community. In his free time, they enjoy playing drums, art, and reading.

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