Festival celebrates vibrant Olympia zine scene

In a digital era, the good old-fashioned zine — a do-it-yourself publication, generally made by hand — might seem about as relevant as the rotary phone.

Actually, though, zines are better compared to records, which have retained their appeal and gained in coolness long after they’ve been replaced by new technology.

One piece of proof: Olympia’s first Zine Fest begins Thursday.

If you thought Olympia already had a Zine Fest, you’re not alone.

“People are like, ‘How is it going this year?’ And we’re like, ‘How is it going, period?’ ” said Kelsey Smith, a librarian at the Lacey Timberland Regional Library and one of the festival’s organizers.

“Most people are surprised it’s the first one,” said Ally Mackey, the zine librarian at the Olympia Timberland Library and another organizer. “It seems like something that should have been happening all along.

“When you think about Olympia, especially in the ’90s with all the riot grrrl stuff that was happening here, you might assume there used to be one,” she added. “ ‘Oh, you’re resurrecting it?’ No.”

Rather, Mackey and Smith — along with fellow organizers Sage Adderley, Chelsea Baker, Naomi Bell, Carrie Born. Alyssa Giannini and Nicki Sabalu — are hoping to resurrect a major zine scene here.

Really, anyone can make one. There are some really amazing zine writers who choose to go that route because they have complete control. It’s a little more personal. It’s a lot more raw.

Kelsey Smith, festival co-organizer

“There are definitely some Evergreen kids who go through phases of making zines,” Smith said. “But there are not a lot of people who are hardcore making zines all the time in Olympia right now. There’s still a really good community like that in Portland and Seattle. We’re trying to build that community.”

“Having annual zine fests will keep that alive, because people will make stuff for the zine fest the next year,” Mackey said.

“The day before the zine fest,” Smith added, laughing. “It’s always incredibly last minute. It’s hilarious. I might be doing that this year.”

The Olympia library, where Smith started a zine collection, hosts frequent zine workshops and readings, and recently opened a small zine library inside Obsidian, a downtown cafe, bar and event space.

But Olympia has never had anything approaching the scale of the festival, which includes four days of events from films to a full-scale expo where zinesters from as far as Chicago will show and sell their wares.

“Usually, zinesters sell zines for as low as $1, $2, $3, or they’ll trade,” Mackey said. “It’s not uncommon for someone to come with a stack of zines and trade with everybody.”

Mackey will also be at the expo with zines from the library’s collection that those attending can browse and even check out.

The library’s events and resources have already inspired new zinesters, many of whom use typewriters and photocopiers to create the books, which might be hand-stitched or have letterpress covers.

Among those new to do-it-yourself publishing is Born, 64, who discovered a passion for zines after attending a library event. She makes poetry zines and collects typewriters.

“Really, anyone can make one,” Smith said. “There are some really amazing zine writers who choose to go that route because they have complete control. It’s a little more personal. It’s a lot more raw.

“It’s almost like having a conversation in a written format,” she said. “Someone will write an essay about their father, and then it’s like, ‘Here’s a recipe I made last week.’ 

Zines began before the days of the Internet as a form of communication, but these days, they are more of an art form.

“The aesthetics of the zine can be really beautiful,” Smith said. “There is a craftsmanship aspect to them that wasn’t there before.”

Zines also might appeal to younger people in part because they are, in a sense, private — at least as much as something that’s distributed to strangers can be.

“I grew up in the age of the Internet,” said Mackey, 27. “There’s something about the surveillance state that freaks people out. Zines, especially if you make them off the computer, are not traceable and can be completely anonymous. There’s something really appealing about that.”

Does Mackey make zines?

“I have,” she said. “Nothing you can find under my name.”


What: The first annual fest celebrates zines —small-scale, self-published booklets or magazines, usually created without the help of a computer.

When: Thursday-Oct. 25.

Where: Movie night at the Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia; fest kickoff at the Olympia Timberland Library, 313 Eighth Ave. SE, Olympia; expo at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW, Olympia; music show at Obsidian, 414 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia; workshops at Obsidian and Le Voyeur, 404 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: For expo and workshops, free. Movie night is $7, $5 for Olympia Film Society members. Music show is $5

Information: olympiazinefest.tumblr.com or facebook.com/olympiazinefest.


Movie night: 6:30 p.m. Thursday. “Subversion: W.S. Burroughs & Noise Experiments” features experimental films by Marian Wallace and a post-show question-and-answer with Wallace and husband V. Vale, a seminal figure in the zine world.

Festival kickoff: 7 p.m. Oct. 23. Vale, Milo Miller from the Queer Zine Archive Project and author Imogen Binnie will participate in a panel discussion presented by the Olympia Timberland Library. Filmmaker and musician Joaquin De La Puente will facilitate.

Expo: Noon-5 p.m. Oct. 24. About 70 zine makers and distributors will show and sell their wares. There’ll also be a zine-making table with supplies and typewriters.

Workshops: 12:30-3:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Oct. 25. The free workshops include one teaching kids how to make comics, one on caring for a manual typewriter, and a panel discussion on zines and music.

All-ages music show: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24. The Fabulous Downey Brothers, Fruit Juice and Mutiny Mutiny will perform. Doors open at 7.