Calgary's zine scene gives a home to those 'fed up with the city's corporate ethics'
The first edition of the Calgary Canzine fair is celebrating the city's flourishing small press community
Since its 1995 inception in Toronto, the iconic Canzine zine fair has taken place in cities from Halifax to Vancouver. And this year, the first Calgary festival launches on November 4, ready to showcase the wave of small press activity that's been flourishing in the past few years in the city.
Kyle Flemmer, an assistant editor at Calgary literary journal filling Station, is organizing this year's festival, coordinated by both FS and Toronto's Broken Pencil magazine. "The managing editor of filling Station, Nikki Sheppy, wanted to have a small press fair...It's an idea we've been tossing around," Flemmer explains. "Calgary has a relatively small zine scene compared to say, Toronto or Montreal, but it is growing all the time. A lot of it is fuelled by the Alberta College of Art and Design, where a lot of makers are emerging. There's a strong queer artist scene as well, and I get the impression they find self-publishing a really good way of getting their work out there without having to go through the mainstream channels."
"There are well-established figures. For example, Derek Beaulieu, who's been here with House Press and now No Press for over a decade — he's published hundreds of authors. Calgary is becoming its own little hub for small press and zine making. It's very exciting."
No stranger to small press publishing, Flemmer also runs his own small press, The Blasted Tree, a four-year old press that publishes poetry and fiction in both digital and print formats. "I've been a vendor at other markets, including at Expozine in Montreal — and as a born-and-raised Calgarian, I thought that translating something like that over here would be a great idea," Flemmer says.
I think there is a huge portion of Calgarians who are fed up with [the city's] corporate ethics and are refreshed by the subculture of zine making and self-publishing — and see it as a means to combat the capitalist structure that Calgary is often associated with.- Bronson Smilie, artist
While the oil boom has declined in Alberta, the small press and zine scene has grown. "Most of the other small publishers I'm in contact with don't rely on funding at all, but the oil boom declining creates space for people who want to work outside those structures," Flemmer explains. "And having a pro-arts mayor" — the freshly re-elected Naheed Nenshi — "has really made a big difference over the last several years...Even the amount of people who are interested in the arts, the kind of major exhibits that are being attracted to our museums like the Glenbow, changed and seems to have ramped up a bit."
The growth of Calgary's zine scene is being fuelled by creators eager to connect new artists and give people a venue to publish or exhibit their work. Photographer Elyse Bouvier launched her archive project Independent Study in September. A "pop-up art book fair," Independent Study takes a collection of self-published artist books, art books and zines to events for sale and for reading.
First exhibited at Calgary's Market Collective arts market, Independent Study is partnering with Canzine to exhibit a collection of art books, zines and small press material that festival attendees can sit down and read. "The idea is to start inspiring a local art book culture in Calgary, reaching an audience outside the traditional art circles," Bouvier says. Her focus is on work by Calgary and Alberta artists, material that's independently or locally published. "It's a work in progress, building relationships in the city as I do more events," Bouvier says. Her hope for the future is to run more pop-up events and eventually run workshops on art books and photo books.
Artist Bronson Smilie organized the city's first queer zine fair, "We Are Not an Island," this summer at the Sled Island music festival, wanting to provide an alternative to the bar scene for creative-minded LGBTQ Calgarians. "Comics and zines are my passions, so I dreamt of finding a way to unite both of these things that are important to me. This gave birth to We Are Not an Island Queer Zine Fair, and with the help of Sled Island Festival we were able to bring together over 25 artists," he says. "There is so much talent in Calgary and these events really encourage creators to make new work and give them a platform to showcase it."
"I think there is a huge portion of Calgarians who are fed up with [the city's] corporate ethics and are refreshed by the subculture of zine making and self-publishing — and see it as a means to combat the capitalist structure that Calgary is often associated with."
Canzine Calgary 2017. Saturday, November 4. Memorial Park Library and Arts Space. Calgary. brokenpencil.com