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Are you zine friendly? Tales from the Alternative Press fair

August 20th, 2009 · post by Gareth Brookes · Make a comment

Gareth Brookes, one of the organisers along with Jimi Gherkin, Peter Lally, and Saban Kazim (Shabs) of the recent Alternative Press Fair, gives a personal account of all the work that went into getting the week up and running, and some tips if you want to do something similar!

All photos by: Saban Kazim

The whole thing started for me around Easter. Jimi told me about this idea he and Peter had been chewing over about having three events (back then it was only three) at some point in the summer. I must admit, at first I doubted there was enough interest in small press to be able to fill three events on the same weekend. But as we talked it over I began to get excited. The idea was to do something to try and broaden the small press community by bringing in stuff that I was into; fine art, poetry, zines, and trying to get new people interested by doing something a bit different from the standard comic mini-con formula I had been used to.


Jimi embarked on an insanely outsized Collaborama! banner which regularly fell to bits

One of the first and most central ideas of the Festival was to have a book which we could bring together all these different creative practices and show they were not that different after all. None of us had ever put together a book before and some of our central preconceptions; that it would only take a few hours to put it all into InDesign, that people would send things in the format we asked for, that we would all naturally agree on the books content, were exploded fairly quickly. For about three weeks our activities were limited to going over and over the 400 pages that had been submitted and trying to agree on 70 pages that represented what we thought was going on in these different scenes. Then it was down to Shabs to design the entire book in under two weeks in a programme he didn’t know.

A few weeks before the Festival we met up to make the decorations and banners. We wanted everything about the festival to have an accessible DIY feel to it. I had assumed we would just do it all in someone’s front room but Jimi managed to get us access to a pretty large studio space in some obscure part of London. We spent the day getting covered in paint, glue and glitter. Jimi embarked on an insanely outsized Collaborama! banner which regularly fell to bits, refused to dry and gathered all sorts of filth until, exhausted by wrestling with it we put it away and wrote it off as a disaster.

Publish You

I press-ganged my flatmate and girlfriend into helping out

The Publish You Book Launch was at Housmans Radical Booksellers. The organisation and promotion of the other events had somewhat overshadowed it, so we were pretty late in planning what we were going to do with the time. We held a discussion based on the ideas that underpinned the festival and as it turned out everyone who came along seemed willing to contribute. We had spent enough time discussing our ideas before hand, which helped a lot, and Housmans radical books as a setting was important because people seemed more inclined to make strong statements without the usual apathetical disclaimers or ironic footnotes.

The next day was Are You Zine Friendly? When we got to the Foundry, Jonathan told us that downstairs was empty and we could use it if we liked. This was an unexpected boon and allowed us the space to do everything we wanted. The idea of the event was that no one could book tables, they could leave their zines on communal tables which we would man, and they would be free to look around and see what kind of work other people were making. It became pretty evident early on that the response was greater than we had anticipated. We ran out of the coloured stars we’d bought to write prices on, and the list we were using to record sales became a hefty and confusing document. I press-ganged my flatmate and girlfriend into helping out, and several others took pity on us and rolled up their sleeves. Foolishly I had neglected to eat anything, and with no shortage of drinks being bought for me I was pretty slow at distributing the money to the zine makers at the end of the night. Peter Lally’s background in accountancy would prove invaluable again and again.

Spoken Night Out

Friday would be more relaxed because the event was in the capable hands of Ceri and Chris. This was the ‘Spoken Night Out’ event at the Griffin pub, which involved performances of small press writing. Despite my nerves I read from my zine ‘The Smell of the Wild’. As I was reading it I wondered why I’d never done it before. There were things I had never noticed about my own text and it really made the piece fresh for me again. There were some really great performances by writers, and people I knew from the zine and comic circuit who turned out to be secret poets.  I heard some of the poets who didn’t know much about zines talking about getting involved in that side of self-publishing. It certainly brought the two scenes closer together, but that’s what the Alternative Press Festival was all about!


Of all the events ‘Collaborama!’ at the Miller in London Bridge was the most logistically troublesome. It was conceived as a kind of small press mini con / collaborative zine project / avant-garde performance. Morning found Jimi up a ladder hanging his gigantic ‘Collaborama!’ banner (which he’d somehow fixed and was looking amazing) and me and Peter hunting in the basement for old pub tables many of which didn’t look like they’d been moved for generations.

Finally the pages of the book were printed we harangued hapless passers by into the labour intensive business of collating the zine

The Footprinter Co-op kindly brought down their tremendously heavy Risograph machine which we then installed in the corner of the Pub. It was then a matter of getting the exhibitors, who were at that point setting up, and in fact anyone else who felt like it, to contribute to the zine which the Footprinters would then print. Whilst this was going on there were screen-printing and comic drawing workshops upstairs followed by an animation show reel and a gig by the Anti Folk collective. As the Footprinters began to print the first pages of the zine, two teams of small press creators plus a team of actors and the Resonance FM Radio Orchestra were upstairs rehearsing a script written by Ed Baxter. Finally the pages of the book were printed we harangued hapless passers by into the labour intensive business of collating the zine, then as soon as it was stapled we began to sell them around the pub.

At this point I began to feel very clammy and odd, four days of not eating properly, drinking too much, not sleeping properly and stress, were taking their toll. I had to go and sit on my own for a quiet quarter of an hour before helping pack everything up and take it upstairs ready for the performance. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival. The combination of the gritty somewhat surreal play, the intense music and the mesmerising visual effect of watching the teams of artists draw, add, rub out and create the images on overhead projectors made for an potent psychedelic and rather Pinter-esque experience.

Back to St Aloysius

The really difficult stuff was behind us

At last we come to the final event, the Alternative Press Festival back at St Aloysius Social Club. In many ways this was the nicest event of all. The really difficult stuff was behind us, and the sense of achievement was evident in everyone that was involved. It was relaxed and friendly and seemed to go by in a flash. People who had been at the other events popped along to say hello, and as in the book, I think we achieved a nice balance of different stuff represented on the tables.

And then we were left in an empty St Aloysius, feeling an odd mixture of happiness, sadness, elation, exhaustion and relief.

Its difficult to impress on someone who hasn’t organised an event just how much work can be involved, to explain and enumerate the thousand little problems, worries and uncertainties that we lived with for months, and the weird gap that’s left when its all finished. As I write over two weeks after the events I confess I’ve only recently managed to get a full nights sleep without waking up convinced that some urgent job needs doing which is of critical importance to the success of a festival which is already past.

For other would-be event organisers…

Despite this I would urge anyone involved in small press to organise their own event, not only is it a tremendously fulfilling experience, but we all rely to some extent on someone organising and promoting an event which helps get our work out there. I would even go far as to say that every creator who feels in any way committed to small press, should feel a responsibility to put something back into the small press community by either helping to organise or helping out at an event that will benefit us all.

The number of people whose help was vital to the Alternative Press Festival (and who really deserve a mention here) is too large to enumerate. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and good will waiting to be tapped.

So if you fancy organising something then do it, but take heed of my tips

  1. If you are going to make a book, try and find out what’s involved first, and give people a deadline well in advance of the books deadline.
  2. Meet regularly but do it round each others houses, not in pubs, they are not conducive to deciding things sensibly
  3. Make sure you visit the venue you are going to be doing your event at lots of times before the event, even just hanging out there will give you ideas.
  4. Make fliers and programmes but not more than you need, don’t get carried away!
  5. Contact some people who have organised event before you, we couldn’t have done our event without advice from the London Zine Symposium and Handmade and Bound organisers (amongst others).
  6. At your event remember to eat enough and don’t drink too much!
  7. When it’s all over have a rest! Don’t try and start planning another event the next day!

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