Left to right: Charles Shaver and Chris Reed
Photo by Sarah Reed
Article by Dean Vanderkolk

In a crowded room in Flint, a tangle of hands grabs eagerly for pens, paper, rubber cement, colored pencils and a host of other supplies. Bodies are hunched over tables and chairs as the assembled group focuses on the task at hand. A bearded man stands before the room demonstrating how to fold a piece of paper into an intricate shape. At first glance, it’s the sort of scene one might expect to find in a classroom, but it’s actually taking place in the living room of Charles Shaver, organizer of the Atomic Swan Zine Fest. “When I first decided to hold events to both promote Atomic Swan Films and support local artists,” says Shaver, “it was a natural thing for me to think first of the writers. I am a writer and, more than that, a storyteller. Everything begins with a story. So I wanted to begin with the storytellers of Flint.”

The idea of a zine fest came to Charles over a year ago. Shaver noticed he wasn't the only zinester in the Flint and Genesee county area, and began asking if there was any sort of support system or festival in place. He found numerous writers' events, but nothing specific to zines, despite the large number of chapbooks and zines offered by the participants, so it was a natural inclination for him to propose a zine fest.

Coming into existence in the 1930’s, zines are, in their simplest forms, self-published periodicals with small press runs, often photocopied, frequently irreverent, and usually appealing to audiences with highly specialized interests. As Shaver puts it, “Zines are the most basic, common, grassroots kind of publishing you can do. There's an intimate and personal level to zines you don't get with traditional print media. I think both writers and their audience appreciate that intimacy.”

People will have a chance to experience that level of intimacy first hand on Friday, April 8th, when over a dozen authors and artists converge in Flint for the inaugural event to sell their wares.

Chris Reed, a local writer and cartoonist, appreciates the freedom offered in a zine. “The appeal of zines is that there is no editorial overlord who decides what does or does not get published. There is no one to censor you, no one to tell you that you must meet a certain standard or criteria in order to produce and distribute your art; therefore, there is a certain rawness about zines. In that regard, I suppose there is a certain danger associated with zines because they are not regulated. When you read or look at a zine, you are viewing art the way it was meant to be—straight from the source, the way the artist wants it to be seen.”

This sentiment is echoed by all the participants, including Glen Birdsall, who has been publishing various zines since college: “When I had first gotten into zines, it was based singularly on writing in them. I was going to Mott Community College at the time, and I had a few classes with this guy, Chris Ringler. He and some of his friends were doing a zine, and the crude cover and crazy typesetting attracted me right away. It was for me very counterculture.”

“I think the magic and timelessness of zines is that they truly embody the soul and nature of our love of free speech and tie us to our past,” says Chris Ringler. “What the zine does is allows everyone the opportunity to voice their opinion and to speak to the world at large. You don't have to have anything more than a piece of paper and a pencil, and you can make a zine. Zines allow people with little means and no money to create something personal, something artistic, and something of importance that is only limited by the creator's imagination.”

Perhaps the special appeal of zines is best summed up by Ringler: “Zines, whatever they are, transcend magazines and other forms of expression because they are utterly personal and completely unique to those behind putting them together, and in that they are forever magical.”

The Atomic Swan Zine Fest will be held on Friday, April 8th at 6:00 p.m. at the Lunch Studio, located at 444 South Saginaw Street in Flint.

© Dean Vanderkolk, 2011