By Olivia London

Artists and writers from all over Pennsylvania and the surrounding states flock to Pittsburgh for the second annual Zine Fair, an event to share their work with both the zine community and general public. Tables wrap around the Carnegie Mellon gymnasium covered with stacks of zines, comics, books, and artwork.

Ashly Nagrant sits at a table displaying black and white feminist zines made from cut out text and photos printed on folded up white paper. The low budget production of zines should not fool anyone; their creators are serious about what they are doing. For Nagrant the zine, which requires no outside publisher, offers complete control of her work and the freedom to discuss feminist issues related to young girls without censorship.

Ideas of freedom and empowerment pervade zine culture. Whether the content is feminist, anarchist, or just plain humorous. Andy Scott, the project coordinator of Zine Fair, says zines are about being able to get your work out in the world faster and without meddling from publishers. Scott started his own zine making Xerox copies of his comics at home. With no plan in mind, he says he distributed his zine in guerrilla fashion, handing it out to friends, leaving it on buses, and tucked into library books.

Working on his own zine and meeting other artists, Scott realized the potential for collective empowerment by promoting all of Pittsburgh’s zine-makers at the same time. With this in mind he started his comics anthology “Andromeda,” which has been gaining a larger audience throughout the Pittsburgh region. The Zine Fair, the only event of its sort in Pittsburgh, works like his anthology, bringing artists together in one space to promote and share their ideas.

Caitlin McGurk has come all the way from Columbus, Ohio to talk about the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, the largest cartoon library in the world. Part of her job she says is to counter the perception of comics as “low art.” Though comics originally were made for the masses, as a means of selling more newspapers, in the minds of those present comics are an art form and a reflection of the culture that produced them. McGurk speaks mainly about comics, but the sentiment holds true for zines as well. Comics and zines both represent aspects of society otherwise underrepresented or underappreciated.

Everything from computer-printed zines to polished illustrated books are represented in the gym-turned-bazaar. Mary Tremonte and Shaun Slifer of Justseeds Artists Cooperative are here to represent a variety of professionally published books dealing with topics of social and environmental justice from artists and writers in their collective. They describe themselves as “too artsy for activists and too activist for the art world,” saying that’s why they fit in here. One of the books they have on display, geared toward recent high school graduates, is a collection of biographies of leftists and activists students don’t learn about in their history classes. For Tremonte and Slifer, zines have power in their ability to connect a wide array of people.

Throughout the day, Scott walks busily through the crowds of artists, writers, prospective zine-ers, and people who have just wandered in by chance. Awareness of zine culture is growing in front of his eyes. Hopefully, says Scott, some of these people will walk out inspired to create and share with the world their own work, whether through zines or some other medium. After all, as many of the artists here point out, it’s not the form of the zine that matters, but the content.