• GRRL Zine creator Emily Greenwood (Supplied)Source: Supplied
“The whole no parents, no rules thing is great. You can say whatever you want to in a zine and there are lots of different ways that you can say it too, so I think queer people recognise that freedom, but I also think it’s really important to remember that zines are a platform for sharing radical politics, and they have a long history of doing so.” The tenth annual MCA Zine Fair will take place this Sunday, May 6.
By
Stephen A. Russell

4 May 2018 - 1:34 PM  UPDATED 7 May 2018 - 1:41 PM

Zine-maker Bastian Fox Phelan first discovered the brilliance of the photocopy and staple-job, self-published mags while hanging out at the Wollongong youth centre around 2003, “because there wasn’t really much else to do”.

One weekend it had been taken over by the Belladonna DIY festival, a punk happening packed full of trestle tables bearing zines. With no money in their pocket, Phelan couldn’t afford to buy anything, but one friendly zinemaker gifted them a copy of his homemade effort. “I was so fascinated I pulled it apart as soon as I got home,” Phelan recalls. “I think I actually ended up analysing it for an English project.”

The very next year, a 17-year-old Phelan, who had long been interested in writing and art, returned to Belladonna with their first ever zine for sale, Adventure Time – not connected to the popular cartoon series – after experimenting with several cat-focused efforts that predated the internet’s obsession with feline memes.

“You could make zines about anything you wanted to,” Phelan notes of the freedom the low-fi, low-cost format offers. “It could be funny, it could be serious; it could be political or personal.”

Flash forward 15 years, and gender non-binary Phelan has amassed something of a cult following for their zines Ladybeard - about embracing facial hair - and the How to Be Alone series, which explores issues of identity, sexuality and gender. They inspired the Sydney Writers’ Festival Zine Fair in 2007, which morphed into the long-running MCA Zine Fair the following year.

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Phelan, who now lives in Newcastle, is currently expanding Ladybeard into a literary memoir and is coordinating a symposium of workshops and panels at this year’s MCA Zine Fair, including hosting Fragile Feminisms, a panel discussing how personal and political zines intersect with feminist thought, as seen from the perspective of queer and non-binary creators, and people of colour. Phelan will be joined by fellow zinemakers Emily Greenwood (GRRL ZINE, Monty Hancock (Trolleybride), and Shareeka Helaluddin.

Phelan says self-published zines are a brilliant platform for queer and diverse voices that might not otherwise find easy pathways to publishing. “The whole no parents, no rules thing is great. You can say whatever you want to in a zine and there are lots of different ways that you can say it too, so I think queer people recognise that freedom, but I also think it’s really important to remember that zines are a platform for sharing radical politics, and they have a long history of doing so.”

Having just read Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come pamphlet from 1992, Phelan thinks there’s an argument to be made for it being a zine. “They are an important part of our queer history,” they add.

Zines, and fairs like the MCA, also come with a supportive community network. “If you post something online, people can quite easily troll you, but you can’t do that quite as easily with a zine. If you get feedback, it’s usually positive, because people have taken the time to find your email in the zine and respond that way, or they’ve sought you out at a fair… it’s also maybe not going to go as far as something on the internet would, and it can be quite anonymous too.”

While there are certainly opportunities for zinemakers to speak at festivals including the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle or the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne, the direct focus of the MCA Zine Fair symposium offers a brilliant opportunity to speak out loud about the format and celebrate each other’s work.

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“Being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women – I consider myself to be a free-ass motherf**ker."

Greenwood agrees. Hailing from a graphic design and digital arts background, she identifies as queer and is also mixed-race, with a Tongan background. As a teenager, she really got into Riot Grrrl punk music, and GRRL ZINE is heavily influenced by the zines that sprung out of that wild scene.

“Zines are a really important part of underground culture,” she says. “They give a voice to the voiceless. I don’t have a university degree, so I feel like zines have brought me up to that level, through self-education in the research.”

She’s inspired, too, by singer and actor Janelle Monáe, quoting an empowering lyric from her song "Q.U.E.E.N." on the back of an issue of GRRL ZINE before the American star came out publicly in Rolling Stone magazine recently. “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”

With a focus on feminism and tackling systemic racism, Greenwood says her Polynesian background is seriously underrepresented in mainstream media, with zines a good way to address that absence directly. The community has helped boost Greenwood’s confidence. “When I first started I was really quiet and I never really talked to anyone I didn’t know. Now I’m speaking on a panel. I really feel that the community of zines in Sydney and nationwide has helped me in becoming the person that I am.”

And Greenwood believes in sharing, with her zines available free on the Grrl Zine site. “I’m not really stressed about making money from it, I just want to produce what I want to say, and then I get to hear other people’s experiences and opinions.”

The tenth annual MCA Zine Fair will take place on Sunday, May 6. For more info, click here.