Few would dispute Montreal is a starburst of artistic expression, offering a cornucopia of film, street festivals, theatre, fine art, performance, dance and song. But what about the small press publishing scene? Where are the creators of art books, small books, magazines, comics, experimental fiction, illustrated poetry and other novelties? Where are the works of self-publishers and home grown publishing houses with special focus and local character?
With the greatest of effort, some do manage to obtain limited visibility in certain independent bookshops, such as The Double Hook, The Word and notably, Casa del Popolo’s Distriboto, an ingeniously re-purposed public vending machine.
It’s true to say, however, that this represents just the tip of the iceberg. Many other bookshops are rarely, if ever, seen.
Enter Expozine, Montreal’s second annual daylong event showcasing the talent and originality of the local micro publishing scene. In contrast to Toronto, whose small press fair has been established for over twenty-five years, for Montreal this is a new happening.
It’s all due to the determination of organizers such as Ian Ferrier of Wired on Words, David Widgington, of Cumulus Press, Andy Brown, of Conundrum Press, Billy Mavreas, shopkeeper of Monastiraki, and Louis Rastelli, of Distroboto, who together thought the time had come for such an event in Montreal.
Thanks to their combined efforts, the public can now come to discover the works of the rarely seen independent presses, author-publishers, poets, digital, graphic and fine artists, cartoonists, singer-songwriters, music producers and more.
The public will also be able to sample a plethora of word and art creations in French, because in Expozine’s lively cosmopolitan ambiance, Montreal’s two famous solitudes mingle comfortably side by side.
“Thirty per cent of exhibitors were from French presses last year,” says Widgington. “We’re trying for more this year.”
One of the benefits of a Montreal Expozine for small publishers is to showcase their works. “Not everyone engaged in small press activity has the means to participate in the big Salons du Livre or expensive book fairs that do go on,” says Rastelli. “Also, our fair crosses many types of publishing from established publishers such as Vehicule Press to one-person operations who have just begun photocopying their own small publications. It also crosses many genres, from comics, graphic arts, literary, political, and music to non-fiction publications of all kinds.”
Fellow organizer Widgington agrees. “Basically it’s the underground alternative publishing scene in the city.”
From its very debut in 2002 Expozine was a runaway success. Over 60 Montreal-area publishers exhibited their wares last year, and organizers estimate that close to 1,000 visitors attended the event throughout the day.
“We expect a few thousand people to visit this year,” says Widgington. “[This is] a marked increase from last year, which was in itself a solid crowd.”
Therefore, the beautiful grey stone monastery building, directly beside the Mont-Royal metro station, was chosen to allow for even greater participation all around. About 90 exhibitors are expected to host tables, and there will be much more breathing space for visitors to browse.
“Many of the folks who were there last year are returning this year,” says Rastelli. “As a new aspect of this year’s event, there will also be contingents from Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Chicago and elsewhere.”
Organizers hope to attract more French publishers and those from other cultures. “This may take years to develop,” says Widgington, “but we hope eventually to achieve a huge cross-cultural, trans-neighbourhood, multi-faceted mix of people interested in books, zines and comics of whatever language, as long as they are independent and small and a fresh alternative to the mainstream.”
According to Rastelli, most zines or chapbooks sell for one or two dollars, and there are dozens of alternative voices on display. “Presses such as Vehicule, Conundrum and others typically sell their books for less than the cover price at these events.”
Best of all, publications can be bought directly from the author or publisher, and so useful networking exchanges can also be made. When Sandra Phillips and Stan Posner were promoting their familiar annual bestseller for bargain-conscious Montrealers and city tourists, they discovered more than even they had bargained for.
“It was at Expozine 2002 that we met the graphic designer we hired to design our brand new Drive I-95 Travel Guide,” says Phillips, co-publisher of Travelsmart and Smart Shopping Montreal.
Leila Peltosaari, Publisher of Tikka Books, was also on hand with a stack of cookbooks especially created for students on limited budgets, appropriately entitled College Cuisine.
Invisible Cities, a networking support group for author-publishers, musicians and artists, hosted a display table for its members such as Barbe Silverman who represented the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, a very active, eclectic group within the city.
“Last year’s event was crowded, which wasn’t a bad thing,” says Max Salgood, an artist and self-publisher who will be exhibiting again this year. “I’m going more for the fun of it than anything else, but I do think it helps a bit to be present at events like this if you want to part of the local community.”
Cristina Perissinotto, assistant professor of Italian studies at Concordia and a published poet, was a visitor at last year’s fair.
“I met Ian Ferrier, one of the organizers, and I met face to face with all these people [publishers],” says Perissinotto. “I liked speaking to some of them about my new poetry book and the ins and outs of getting it published. In general, I found the fair was an excellent way to get to know the small and big publishers in town.”
Montreal’s 2003 Expozine 2003, 2nd Annual Small Press, Comic, and Zine Fair will be held on Saturday, October 25, from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Relais Mont-Royal, 500A Mont-Royal East near Mont-Royal metro station. The fair is free to the public. For additional information you can visit the web site at www.expozine.ca.