Chris Lever has been involved with organising the London Zine Symposium – in one way or another – since it started in 2005. Here he recounts the happy headaches the Symposium has given him and why he keeps doing it. It’s one of the many stories and comics that are in the London Zine Symposium book, Tales from the first five years!
Can I convey how it feels to contribute to the coordination of the London Zine Symposium? To facilitate the fun of the fair for thousands. Greeting and fingering each other’s wares. Disseminating their DNA across London and beyond. Fuelled by our own volition…and sugar. Happy migraines always ensue. Teary, tired eyes brighten the hue to observe a seething mass arrive; build; consume; and disband. The cultivation of a vibrant, slowly blooming flower that ultimately outgrows the incarnation in which it first took root.
Can I portray life at the periphery of the Zine Symposium’s organisation? Tales of the unexpected that rouse my unquestioning return to Last Hours HQ year after year. Frayed tempers frenetically folding to Kimya Dawson and stapling to Sonic Youth’s take on Superstar as the Juno soundtrack spins for the seventh time ce soir. After baking brownies for 200; awakening to the Spring throes of Edd and Natalie’s neighbours; sneaking into Central St. Martins to retrieve posters; and being given an hour to single-handedly curate an exhibition of zine artwork and photography: being instructed to ‘type something unique’ on 50 manilla envelopes no longer warrants an eyebrow’s raise.
Can I recount memories of each Zine Symposium since its inauguration? How two rooms; 12 or so stalls; $100 and a T-Shirt begat motley affairs at the Rag Factory with 60+ distros; enough 1” badges to cover ten cat suits, photocopied sheets sufficient to wallpaper an abandoned Woolworths, and bunting! In 2005, the basement of The Institute for Autonomy at 76 Gower Street welcomed us with an air of stale ale; après the squat party deluge; and a promise of daylight for those willing to prise it from sodden shutter barricades. We desperately needed tables. After four were hastily procured from a nearby hospital skip we desperately needed air fresheners. I learnt that the bristles of council brooms are the best for picking locks with. The venue was intimate and centrally located. Somebody had to guard the front door at all times.
In 2006, The Square Social Centre provided another post-benefit hangover, this time in ‘Radical Bloomsbury’. I fondly recall the garden, the fish room, and the radiator that fell off the wall when someone stood on it. In 2007 we were literally corralled into the single-room stable that is The Horse Hospital. When I finally broke free to graze, and preside over my Zinesters Legal Aid Clinic, on the grass outside, my copyright diagnoses were – unsurprisingly – legal diatribes to the effect of ‘don’t fence me in!’. But 2007 was also the best year for vegan cake. 1 chocolate fudge cake, 2 lemon and ginger cakes, 2 trays of chocolate brownies, 1 chocolate orange cake, 1 carrot cake, 2 cheesecakes and a box of gingerbread zinesters, to be precise!
2008 was our first year at The Rag Factory, half-housed in a massive room, which – like Mary Poppins’ bag – we slavishly emptied of furniture; lighting; heavy machinery; marble busts; Grecian urns and one battered engineless Mercedes estate with the aid of another, equally battered Mercedes estate. Very few writers can resist an invitation to read aloud. I will never forget the zine reading I delivered with Phil Chokeword and Itch Fox. My voice a little shaky with stage fright and enthusiasm. 2008 also marked the biggest injection of craft and colour, transcending info-shop monochrome with polka-dots a plenty.
By 2009 we were hiring, and hauling, tables and chair by the hundred. As now customary, I manned the individual zine table for the fifth consecutive year. I also chaired a discussion, and partook in a riotous zine reading with Alex Wrekk, Kathleen, and Chella Quint. 2009 also saw the welcome inclusion of pre-printed programmes, savoury vegan food, and the Footprint Workers Co-Operative. Our microcosm appeared complete. So can I describe both my contribution and participation in the events of the last five years with sincerity and conviction? Surely that can be done in a few simple, honest sentences? I try and try to write them and have almost glimpsed how to do it when I see the time is 11 pm and I have to go to bed!