This weekend, Saint-Enfant Jésus church on St-Dominique Street will have more than its usual share of visitors. The church basement will be the site of Expozine, Montreal’s annual small press, comic and zine fair.
The Concordian spoke with Expozine co-founder Louis Rastelli about the fair’s growing popularity, activism in the independent press and the future of “printed matter.” The veteran of Montreal’s independent arts scene is the founder of Fish Piss magazine, the Distroboto machines, and the new novel A Fine Ending, about a group of young artists and musicians living in Montreal in the 90s.
The Concordian: Expozine continues to grow since it was founded in 2002, and this year the fair will be expanded to two days. Is the increasing popularity of the fair a reflection of the growth of alternative press in Montreal and across North America?
Louis Rastelli: I don’t think there has been any growth, it’s just that they now have a place to gather all together, which makes one realize how many small presses and zines there are. The alternative press has always been somewhat quiet in its niche, connecting through the mail to kindred zines and fans, as well as through blogs and the web. I think the number of zines that start and stop each year has been about the same for a long time. Some people outgrow their zines, and new generations of young people step in to start their own, just like us Expozine organizers did in the 80s and 90s.
When we started, some people said “Why are you doing this just as everything is moving to the Internet? Aren’t blogs about to replace zines?” This was six years ago, and lo and behold, blogs have become more popular, but zines are as strong as ever.
Sure, you can email anybody a link and post anything you want online, but often people don’t follow the link, and rarely come across websites by chance. When someone puts a zine together, it might get passed around among roommates or friends, left behind in a café, or put in a recycling box that someone else fishes it out of. Once you’ve stopped paying for your web hosting, your website disappears.
Once you’ve paid to print your zine, it can drift around for decades. It’s not better than the web, it’s just different, and in fact they go together very well. People rant and rave on the web, but they tend to refine things a bit more before they put them down on paper. Not to mention, it’s now normal to have a high-quality printer in your house, and fancy publishing software is very common — the high technology has helped people make better zines easier and cheaper than ever before. Gluesticks and scissors used to be the only cheap way to lay out a zine fifteen years ago, but now it’s just one of the ways.
TC: What should a first-time visitor to the fair expect?
LR: Be prepared to spend a lot of time there! It’s almost impossible to take a glance at every table in just one day. There are more than 250 different exhibitors, after all. It’s worth moving along and stopping whenever you see a table that’s not too crowded, and go back around later to see what you missed. We just expanded the event to two days this year, so if the crowd is a bit much for you, you can always come back the next day.
TC: In the past, there has been a huge variety of material at Expozine. Do you see an overarching theme to the content?
LR: It’s impossible to stereotype the content that shows up. It is literally anything and everything, in multiple languages, styles, and forms. The closest we can get to summarizing it all is by calling it “printed matter.”
TC: What do you think is the role of small press – whether it be political, cultural, social?
LR: It’s a bigger part of our lives than ever. Again, I thank computers and printers for that. Even within peoples’ families, it’s now normal to print your own photos, lay out your own birthday or Christmas card, print up some relationship or family or job-related thing. Amidst all the attention laid on the novelty of the Internet phenomenon in the last 15 years, the creation and blossoming of the home printing market has been overlooked. More recently, digital printing has been making a lot more short-run books possible, whereas you used to have to print at least 1000 copies for a book to be economical.
TC: Does the fact that they are cheap and easy to produce make for a strong connection between independent publications and activism?
LR: Activism by nature is doing it yourself, even if you coordinate your activism with a lot of other people. I consider anybody publishing their own thoughts, opinions, causes or art themselves as a form of activism. Also, material that is self-published or put out by small independent presses is typically more politically aware or coming from an alternative perspective than what you find in the mainstream popular media.
TC: Can you give some examples of the kinds of activism you see in independent publications?
LR: There are books about activism, such as one coming soon from Cumulus Press (which will be at Expozine) tracing the history of activist posters in Montreal since the 60s; there are activist books, magazines and pamphlets that promote various causes or awareness. The Anarchist Bookfair in Montreal is practically the size of Expozine and almost exclusively features activist material.
Expozine takes place Saturday, Nov. 24 and Sunday, Nov. 25, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 5035 St-Dominique, Église Saint-Enfant Jésus, between St-Joseph and Laurier, near Laurier Métro. Admission is free.