“The best things in life are free” is probably the guiding motto of Caitlin Kenney of SEEK + FIND Boston, which is a project dedicated to bringing new, fun, and zero-point-zero-zero-dollar-admission events to our Commonwealth. If this is true, however, then why did I spend all my money at New Zineland?
New Zineland is Caitlin’s greatest success to date: A weekend of free access to the best zine vendors of New England and beyond, with panel discussions (featuring the likes of venerable no-wave photographer Julia Gorton), make-your-own tables for bookbinding, watercolor, comics, zines and stamps, and two floors of zine and craft vendors. It’s a lot. And it’s all good.
And, of course, you can’t beat the ticket price. Which was the premise under which I hopped a bus to Central Square to check the whole thing out. I was of the mindset on the way over that I’d be saving my dough because, after all, does anybody really need a zine? I’d be laughing at myself on the bus home with a backpack full of new merch.
The feeling that comes over you at an event like New Zineland is one of “patronization,” in any definition of the term. You don’t go to an event like this to observe, praise, donate, and feel smug. It’s not a place to keep your distance.
After walking through the front door of our beloved Cambridge Elks Lodge, you’re immediately greeted by three huge craft tables covered in magazine snips, pieces of construction paper, glue sticks, and scissors. And, of course, dozens of smiling faces. You’re reminded of that chubby chef from Ratatouille and a variation of his famous tagline comes to mind: Anyone can zine.
Well, I admit it. I was swept up in a feeling of community participation. Except I didn’t try my hand at zine-construction because I’m the kind of person who would be still cutting tiny, exact paper hearts as folks were sweeping the floors and turning the lights off. So instead I found myself tugged around magnetically to table after table, chatting folks up, and feeling real warm and fuzzy.
I can never stay cool and aloof at events like this. I always intent to, yet I always find, accidentally and against my own will, I’m making friends left and right by sincerely gushing over everyone’s work. I don’t think I’ve gasped and whispered, full of awe and inspiration, “this is awesome” so many times in a single afternoon.
Golden of Diasporan Savant Press was in the middle of a sandwich when I approached them and started ooh-ing and aah-ing over their table. It was no sooner than they’d sold me a shimmery purple badge stamped ACAB that I was whisked one table over to the occult jewelry and autobiographical zines of Holy Crow.
Meff, running the booth in Eowyn’s absence, noticed my new badge.
“Golden is awesome,” they remarked. “They do a zine about ball culture.”
I quickly wracked my brain for what that meant. I almost said something about how well you know ball is life after all when, thankfully, Meff clarified that they meant drag balls.
“Like Paris is Burning?”
“Yeah, like that.”
Meff and I talked about Twin Peaks for a bit, and they told me that their partner Eowyn, who usually did readings at the Holy Crow table, was missing today.
“They always tell me they feel like the Log Lady,” Meff said. “Like, they have this gift, and it can be exhausting when people don’t believe them or don’t listen. Even when they do believe them and they do listen. Here,” they said, and put a zine in my hand.
“This is Eowyn’s. They made this about living as a magick person.”
The mysterious Eowyn is also responsible for Holy Crow’s impressive line of jewelry, all displayed in an antique suitcase. You like skulls? Bones? Eyes? Snakes? Crystals? Who doesn’t?
Meff is in charge of the botanical side of things. Fat parcels of sage sat stacked in a shallow dish, next to a row of balms and salves.
“Once I started using shea butter the whole game changed,” they confided. The salve was a rich green color and a buttery texture and my hands smelled good all day, which i’m sure is more than some of you can say.
Downstairs I met Matt Emmons, who makes comics, illustrations, and graphic tees. I stopped to admire a pink shirt with a graphic of cupid getting beaned in the forehead with his own arrow.
“He causes a lot of trouble, that guy,” Matt said. I had to agree.
I told him his shirts reminded me of a tee my mom once had of Emperor Napoleon, silks blazing around him, leading a charge while riding a tiny beach cruiser.
“Yeah,” Matt said. “For some reason, old people really like my shirts.”
“That’s probably a good thing, right?”
“So far, so good.”
I picked up a zine from a guy in a plastic Party City crown who asked to be referred to here as Emperor Joey. Joey is an illustrator and comic artist who also runs the site www.socialismisgood.com, which aims to teach the basic tenets of socialist philosophy to hapless layfolk like me. I stopped in my tracks when I spied a zine on his table called “Nuclear War is Good Actually” which prompted a quick and good-natured lesson in Posadism from the Emperor.
Allow me to now impart that knowledge on you, my dear sweet readers:
Okay so like apparently in the 60’s there was this guy named J. Posades who was super into Trotskyism, but like, with a twist. So his new agey school of thought, which was actually like wicked popular among disenfranchised Lefties with nothing left to lose, was that the only way to save the world from Capitalism was to just blow everything up to shit. Or that, under Capitalism, it was inevitable that things would just get blown to shit. Either way, sounds like he was sort of looking forward to it.
Anyways, I bought the zine.
The last guy I met, Chris of Romero Item, is a silk-screener and illustrator who designs creatures and images with a vibe I can only describe as chaotically adorable. There’s some Japanese influence in there for sure, but being a total n00b who doesn’t even know who J. Posades is, I can’t say who or what, specifically.
“What’s his name?” I asked Chris, of a tiny musclebound genie he was selling as a sticker.
“No one’s asked that yet,” he said. “His name is Pocari.”
“I love him,” I said.
“Yeah,” Chris said with a sigh. “He’s not doing too well. Nobody’s bought him yet this weekend.” True enough, there were about twenty five Pocaris still wrapped in their plastic.
And that’s how I wound up going home with him. Pocari, I mean. For my troubles, Chris threw in a free drawing of some Mortal Kombat character with multiple arms and a tiny lil loinloth. Chris told me the gentleman’s name, but I’ve since forgotten.
The best things in life are free, indeed. Which is to say, it’s not about Pocari or Nuclear War is Good Actually or ACAB or any other impulse buy I snapped up at New Zineland, against the stern judgment of my wallet. It’s about the event itself, who it brought together, what it supported, and who it made happy. Take that to the bank.
Sincere thanks to Caitlin Kenney for putting together such a positive, irreverent, and community-building experience. And as for the pals I made along the way, I truly hope to see you next year. Until then, it’s just me and Pocari.