Santa Fe writer Bucket Siler has developed an elevator pitch for explaining zines to the uninitiated.
"I've often stumbled through a convoluted essay," she says, "but I've pretty much landed on, 'They're handmade publications.'"
In simplest terms, a zine (pronounced "zeen," like the end of the word "magazine," no matter how badly people want to say "zyne") is a small-run, self-published collection of words, photos, illustrations, etc., most often crafted by hand and exploring any topic its creator wishes. In the heyday of the '80s and '90s, zines covered anything from poetry and punk rock to queer issues, comics, short-form fiction and nonfiction, critique, arts reviews … the list goes on. And though the art form has faded to a degree parallel to the rise of the internet, there's a strong contingent still focused on creating them in just as many subjects. Siler is one such person, having published the dark fairy tale zine Pigtail Girls with Santa Fe illustrator Lindsay Payton in late 2017, among other works. She is also the organizer of the upcoming annual Zine Fest event at the Center for Contemporary Arts, which hits its third year this week.
"I just kind of wanted to test the waters," Siler says of the festival's founding. "I've been making zines since I moved to New Mexico in 2006, and while I knew a few other people who did, I didn't really know about anything that was organized [in Santa Fe]; you couldn't buy zines in a bookstore, for example."
Siler's first forays into organized zine exhibition were with local arts cohort Strangers Collective. She'd seen the group display zines at gallery shows during its early days, and eventually partnered with Strangers co-founder Kyle Farrell for the first Santa Fe Zine Fest in 2016 at the CCA, where Farrell worked at the time. Siler says the 20 exhibitors that first year drew roughly 200 attendees.
"There's been a real resurgence in terms of a new generation of people—who aren't really a print generation—becoming interested in zines," she says.
For the second iteration in 2018, Siler was the recipient of a $5,000 Fulcrum Fund grant, and she grew the event incrementally. Exhibitors moved into a bigger space in the CCA's Tank Garage gallery and submissions from out of town came in higher numbers, though Siler says she prioritized local zine creators.
"When it comes down to it and there's one table left, I'm going to give it to somebody who lives in Española rather than somebody who lives in Chicago," she says. "Not everyone can afford to travel to a zine festival, and the person who lives here, it might be their only chance to show their work—whereas someone who is applying to festivals all over the country clearly has the funds and mobility to make the trip across the country for something that is, frankly, not very profitable."
She's carried that ethos into the festival's third year. Along with making mention of a $5,000 grant from Meow Wolf, Siler says all exhibitors are from New Mexico.
"People make connections, learn about other artists, collaborate with them," she says. "If you have a whole bunch of people from elsewhere, I don't think those connections are as valuable."
"For me, the most exciting thing is that it's local," says exhibitor/writer/artist Jacks McNamara, a 15-year vet of the zine scene. McNamara participated in the first Zine Fest, but took off last year due to pregnancy. For the upcoming iteration, they'll show previous works like Magical Creatures along with a new creation authored in conjunction with their wife, collage artist Katy Medley. Titled Animals, the zine explores McNamara and Medley's journey to parenthood and the events that arise after having a baby.
"There's a tremendous amount of freedom in the genre," McNamara says. "It's so inherently DIY and you don't have to please everyone."
For exhibitor Oriana Lee, that freedom has been liberating. She's a newcomer to the zine world, but with her first-ever effort Queer and Questioning, the former journalist has been able to string together multiple artistic disciplines—another long-sought first in her artistic career.
"Every step has been a labor of love," Lee tells SFR, noting that her handmade zine is constructed with 100 percent recycled materials. "I guess I would describe it as my queer experience, and how I've been inspired as an artist. It's … inspired by [the poet] Nikki Giovanni—most people are unfamiliar, but once you start digging into her work, it's very deep."
Lee says she's become completely obsessed with zines, both creating and consuming.
"When I've imagined myself writing books in the past, this is the vision I had, but I never had a model," she posits. "It's a wild collection, kind of like hip-hop meets art."
Siler, meanwhile, says she's added Zine Fest branded tote bags and the food truck El Sabor Spanish Tapas Y Másss to the festivities, and that she'll continue to organize the festival as long as she's able.
"Every year I try to add a little something new," she says. "I'm just kind of taking it year by year."
Third Annual Santa Fe Zine Fest
Noon-5 pm Saturday April 13. Free.
Center for Contemporary Arts,
1050 Old Pecos Trail,