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Poster Politics

A Canadian Queer Zine Art Show

by Sonia Edworthy

Poster-size pages from queer zines are on display at Venus Envy in Halifax.
Poster-size pages from queer zines are on display at Venus Envy in Halifax.

As part of a two week Artist in Residency program at Anchor Zine Library and Archive in Halifax, Christopher Wilde, co-founder of The Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP), a web-based digital archive of past and present queer zines, curated SPEW Fo(u)rth: A Canadian Queer Zine Art Show.

Using the street style art format of wheat paste posters, Christopher combed the collections at Anchor and QZAP to bring to life over 35 queer zine highlights from the 25 year history of a phenomenon that originated in Canada and quickly spread throughout the world in an era before the Internet. Using pages from the first issue of Dr. Smith from 1984 up to zines published in the summer of 2009, he sought to contextualize marginalized groups within radical queer culture by enlarging their original work as it appeared on the printed page to appear in large format poster size.

SPEW Fo(u)rth is being displayed in September and October at Venus Envy in downtown Halifax and will tour other Canadian cities in 2010.

Sonia Edworthy interviewed Christopher Wilde about his show. 
What are queer zines?

Zines are self-published magazines that are typified by small print runs, commercial-free content that is independently generated. As a subset of zines, queer zines are identified by the fact that either the creators or contributors identify as part of the LGBT community or the content is relevant to queer folks.

Why do you think zines were used as a medium of communication/expression in the queer movement?

The urgency and energy needed to get messages out to queer folks on the margins of society I think fueled what Larry-bob deemed the "queer zine explosion." Look back into the history of the struggles of sexual minorities, and there have always been self-published magazines out there to try and not only reach a queer audience, but to educate and inform others as well. The Daughters of Bilitis created "The Ladder," The Mattachine Society had their Review in the 1950s, and in the surge of political activism after Stonewall, we see publications such as The Body Politic from Toronto, as well as the smaller, limited circulation of newsletters and hand bills by Lesbian activists and Gay Liberation groups around the world.

When we reach the 1980s, queerness is simply more visible but with no real corresponding societal change, and no broadening of the meaning of what it is to be a sexual minority other than limiting labels. In the era that ushered in cultural and musical change through punk rock, and with more affordable access to printing equipment, this begat what we think of as the modern queer zine age starting around 1984.

What changes have you noticed over the past 25 years in queer zines?

I believe the changes that have happened have really been in the notion of 'What is queer?' Early queer zines from the 1980s strived to be inclusive and this is echoed in how transgender, bisexual, polyamourous, asexual, and intersexed folks fill out the ranks of those who are creating queer zines. These were people invisible to the mainstream at that time, and to some degree even throughout the 1990s. Despite advances in technology, zines pretty much look the same as the always have, it's the ideas and images in them that evolved.

Why did you decide to do the poster show?

I'd had the idea initially in 2007 about making artwork from enlarging pages from queer zines, based on a concept I developed in the early 1990s. Back then, I worked for a copy shop and used their large format printer to make a poster from one of the pages of an issue of Holy Titclamps. That poster is still hanging around our house, and in passing sparked the idea in 2007 to take images and words from our favourite queer zines in the Archive, pair them with essays and queer zine reviews I was writing at the time for a Milwaukee area LGBT newspaper, and put them all together in a neighbourhood artist studio for display. The positive reaction was overwhelming and we were asked to remount a portion of that show for the Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival later that year. I knew there was a beauty and power to this format. I'd been interested in the Anchor Zine Library and Archives Artist in Residency program for a few years now, and it seemed like a good fit. It was also timely this summer insofar as one of the first zines recognized to be queer, Dr. Smith, first published in Toronto in 1984, making this the 25th anniversary of its creation. While there are other publications that are queer and slightly predate Dr. Smith, I went with it as a starting point for the context I created.

Can you describe some of your favourite examples in the QZAP?

I'm often loathe to pin down things under the heading "favourite" but what I can say is that I'm drawn to queer zines by people I've met in person over the years who have powerful things to say, and do so with energy and enthusiasm. Zine titles and people that come to mind are the Shortandqueer series by Kelly Shortandqueer, the Borderlands series by Nia King, comics by Sina Shamsavari and Rachael House. I'm also a big fan of zines that pull off a good style mixed with amazing content. The Cascade AIDS Project in the Pacific Northwest has a series of comic zines geared toward queer youth peer-based sexual health information. Rio Safari draws comics in a simple style with cute, sigh-worthy tales of living life outside the queer mainstream in Homobodies. The editor of Nothing About Us Without Us, a self-identified queer crip from Vancouver, channels anger into an educational critique of the organizing efforts of Queeruption. In general, if I have a response on multiple levels or find myself vocalizing my appreciation of or emotions about the zine topic, I would consider it among my favourites.

Why tour in Canada?

Canada is where queer zines began and where there are still dedicated zine creators and fans to this day. Initially my idea was to simply create this show in Halifax, using the combined resources of the collections at Anchor and QZAP, but when I made announcements on the QZAP website and through other means, I received several invitations from people, groups, and organizations from across Canada who expressed interest in hosting the poster show once it was completed. I also chose the name "SPEW" because originally, the SPEW events were a queer zine convergence, where zinesters got together to not only talk zines, but also to hear bands, see films, and meet socially. The SPEW Fo(u)rth tour will consist of zine readings, screenings, and other events with the poster show as the main event.


For further information please contact http://www.qzap.org

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