Amidst the flurry of hatchling conventions and festivals vying for big names and even bigger turnouts, this past Saturday’s Paper Jam Small Press Festival was a welcome arrival to the growing list of comics and zine fairs. Nestled within Bushwick’s multi-functional arts and music venue, The Silent Barn, Paper Jam marked a refreshing intersection of underground self-publishing and the increasingly visual uptick in the world of zines.
The scene at Paper Jam, an intimate gathering of local Brooklyn cartoonists and artists alike, emulated the productive and communal nature of the DIY ethos, and it was this intangible spirit that set the festival apart from the current surge of popular self-publishing events. The event was positively an all-things-Brooklyn affair, featuring familiar indie faces like Lala Albert and Alabaster, along with Booklyn Artists Alliance, and even included an indie game cabinet from Babycastles. I spoke with two of the shows curators, Robin Enrico and Paige Bradley, about the development of Paper Jam and the nature of its unique place within independent zine shows.
JL: To start, what was the initial process for bringing Paper Jam to life? I know you work with Robin for the Ditko zine library, but was there a particular reason to curate your own festival?
Paige Bradley: Robin and I wanted to extend the Ditko Zine Library into more of a community affair, as so far we’ve mostly just been cataloguing, organizing, and figuring out what material we had in the collection. Since it’s a project affiliated with the Silent Barn, it’s also subject to the organization of the Barn itself, with some things in flux at the moment we wanted to see if we could try expanding the library’s activities into a more of a community rallying and supporting role. In collaboration with Nina Mashurova at the Silent Barn, we wanted to have a day of hosting the social community of zine makers and small press publishers, giving them exposure and support for their work, and also creating a fun day program type of event at the Barn, where many events tend to be evening music shows.
JL:Was there a specific origin point or moments of inspiration that inspired you to start putting together the fair?
PB:In our initial conversations, we kept returning to this idea that we wanted to make a deliberately small zine fair, with a casual atmosphere, one where you’d feel comfortable just dropping by to hang out. There are many great zine and comic fairs already, multiple ones in New York, and we like those a lot and go to them every year, but at the same time we felt, and have heard from our friends and other people who go to those things, that they can sometimes be a little overwhelming. There’s a feeling of ‘too-muchness’, maybe mixed with a little social anxiety (I know that’s true in my case) about looking at books or checking out new comics and zines when you’re pressed on all sides by a huge crowd of people. I’m glad comics and small publishing is popular, in its own niche kind of way, but we wanted to make our event different by keeping it small, which was also a requirement of the space we were holding the event in, thereby allowing people more time and space to really take in a few people’s work and appreciate it, as opposed to maybe just glancing at a ton of different things and then trying to figure out what you have money to actually buy. Also, from what exhibitors told me after Paper Jam, they seemed to make out well, and I think that’s likely because they weren’t competing with too many other people also showing stuff.
Robin Enrico:I feel like my desire to put Paper Jam was in the back of my head ever since I started working with Silent Barn. Jordan Michael had done a similar event (Comics 101 at the Silent Barn) via the Ditko! ‘Zine Library years ago that I wanted to replicate. I remember it being a fun, cool event and one of the few times I went to the old space. There were talks, exhibitors selling their books, Babycastles games and later that night Anamanaguchi played the in the show space. So when things came together enough at the Barn, I proposed the idea of doing another similar Zine Fest.
JL:How did the name ‘Paper Jam’ come together?
RE: Paper Jam is just a joke coming out of the message I’ve seen time and time again in my decade plus of printing my own comics. It the sort of lame joke I enjoy. A clever pun, much like the titles of many of my comics.
PB: Like Robin said, about the constant paper jam in printers you have to deal with when you make zines or other digitally printed material, but I also think it probably came out of Robin’s own “Jam in the Band” comic series. It’s a good title, and it also made me think of a bunch of people getting together to jam out on the idea of paper product and zine culture, in the ‘culture-jamming’ sense of the term, or like how a band gets together to just ‘jam’ and freak out, be themselves, do whatever.
JL:On the Tumblr page, you expressed an emphasis in bringing together the music and small press world—how big of a role did Silent Barn play in tying these two together?
PB: The Silent Barn is definitely crucial in that, I think it can at best be a meeting point for freaks from all sides of the table. They gave us the space to hold this event, and having it run right up against a music show is interesting, it’s like when you’re at home and you read or write during the day and then play hardcore records and get drunk at night. Activities all of a same world I think.
RE:Being into the Brooklyn music scene as a fan over the last several years I’ve always wondered why I don’t see more of my comics and zine friends at shows. And having put a lot of my heart into the Silent Barn over the last few years and I really wanted to share that with my friends from the comics and zine scene. I feel like, they maybe feel like I did back in the days of the old space, that they might not be “cool” enough to come hang out. Or maybe they are just not into shows. I don’t know. I wanted to use Paper Jam as a way to break down that invisible wall and get them to come out to the Barn. I also feel like Silent Barn is much more than a show space and that’s why I was really happy to have a lot of the studio and gallery space open during Paper Jam so that exhibitors and attendees could see all the cool things we do there.
JL: In regards to other small press comics and zines festivals, especially within Brooklyn, where does Paper Jam fit in? Nowadays, there seems to be a zine fest/symposium in most cities with a lively zine subculture (L.A. Zinefest, Portland Zine Symposium, and Brooklyn Zine Fest come to mind).
PB: We think Paper Jam fits as a calm, more casual, dare I say ‘chill’, zine festival happening in between the annual bigger comic, zine, or publishing events.
JL: Were there any thoughts to organizing the fest specific to Bushwick, and if so, what elements of the Bushwick comic and zine community set it apart from material coming out of other cities?
PB: We specifically asked only local people to show at this event, because there is a great pool of talented, hard working self-publishers and zine makers working in New York and Brooklyn, and we wanted to showcase that and support them. Some of them live in Bushwick I’m sure, but Bushwick is in my opinion somewhat incidental. The Silent Barn is in Bushwick certainly, but I find creative people are spread out all over the borough(s). I’m don’t see a lot of the content or style of the zines or comics people make here as being specifically a ‘Bushwick style’. Particularly because if they were around 10 years ago they might have been centered in Williamsburg and then people might have been talking about a ‘Williamsburg style’. Geography isn’t so important to what I see coming out of creative people here.
JL: Do you think the internet has played a role in affecting its practice today, and have you seen any progression to its form? For instance, is there any new work coming out that play with the zine as tangible object, or perhaps, do you believe creators are more purist in maintaining the design that zines originated with?
PB: I think some people are influenced by the internet in how they go about making their zines, Olivia Fox does this sine about singer/songwriter Josh Groban that’s totally wackadoo and incorporates a lot of images of tumblr and twitter layouts with their design and embedded images or text intact. I also feel like Matt Leifheit’s Matte Magazine is in a way, whether he intended it as such or not I mean, a response to that ‘too-muchness’ of the internet, where there’s just a cornucopia of images and information to digest and his magazine just focuses a whole issue, every issue, on one single photographer and just explores their work in a focused, singular way.
JL: How is zine-making and self-publishing kept a vital part of contemporary culture, far away from that of the world of painting, sculpture, or printmaking?
PB: The impulse just always seems to be there, it’s relatively cheap and easier way to disseminate your work or information about your work as compared to a static exhibition.
JL: Since Silent Barn had limited exhibitor space, how did the curating committee go about choosing which artists got to show? There was a nice mix of artists who have been involved in the scene for a while (Robyn Chapman) as well as publications other than comics and zines (like MATTE Magazine).
PB: Like Robin, I’d say we took a leaf out of the SUNY Purchase Zine Feast book, and we also wanted to have a few different perspectives throwing in names to try and get a more diverse cross section of makers involved. We’d like to keep pushing that in the next edition, and we do want a wide variety of voices to be represented. We don’t ever want it to be only comics, or only photo zines, or only political manifestos, or only men, or only white kids, etc.
RE:I am also really pleased with the collection of talent we had on hand. The space issue meant we would have to have a small intimate show. But I generally prefer this to the flea market atmosphere of other conventions. Events such as last year’s Zine Feast at SUNY Purchase have really convinced me that this is more the way to go. That said I think the best decision I made in the whole process was allowing Paige, Geoff and Nina to help me pick the artist for this event. I didn’t want the show to only reflect my tastes (comics), or only be filled with my friends, plus I was trying to check my privilege as a straight , white, male curator. I honestly wish I had more time during the fest to check out exhibitor tables, because everything on display looked amazing.
JL: Do you intend, for future festivals, to open up the number of exhibitors along with the variety of creators shown?
PB: The number of exhibitors will, as long as we continue to generously have the Silent Barn as host, be limited to how many people we can fit in the main room, or main room and yard outside if we hold one in the summer. We will continue to curate it, just to keep things manageable for ourselves as organizers, and also because we do it ourselves and basically pay out of our own pockets for anything except the Barn space in order to make Paper Jam happen. We will always be on the lookout for more variety to show, so just introduce yourselves to us if you see us (Paige K. Bradley/Robin Enrico) around.
RE: For the future the festival will remain what it is, small and curated. Their physically is no way to fit more than 12 tables in that room and even that was a tight squeeze. Hand picking the artist we have on display allows us to create a good mix as well as a good synergy of talents. I am not so secretly pleased with the way certain artist I felt should meet each other during the festival did and then made friends. I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome than that. I am certainly open to suggestion for potential exhibitors, but really the best thing to do is to come get to know us. I want Paper Jam to help build the small press community, so if you see me at convention, come say hello. Especially if you are young up and coming creator, or even if you are an older creator and still producing vital small press work. All of us on the Paper Jam curation committee want to see what you are doing, we want to get to know you. We want to give you a platform to hopefully reach a new audience.
JL: Tell me more about the Babycastles’ indie games. You don’t get to see a ton of indie gaming in small-press comics and zines festival (I can only recall TCAF in 2012 having some gaming available), but there is definitely a crossover relationship to both cultures.
RE: The inclusion of a Babycastles cabinet was all my doing since I also do work with Babycastles. As I said, I wanted to capture the fun casual feel of the old Barn at the new Barn. Curating a game into the mix seemed like just the thing to do to make Paper Jam different. That’s also the reason I had my friend Sam Johns set up her cartoon photo booth. Anything to separate Paper Jam from the standard small press festival. Not to knock those type of events, but the Silent Barn is a different space, I have to think differently about how to run this type of event there. This is also the reason there was no programing. I wanted this to be a hangout. Not a sit a listen to someone talk event. Again, those have a place, but just do not work in the kind of space the Silent Barn is. Also, the more I planned this event, the more I wanted to avoid any big “names” or creation of hierarchy within the event. Every artist at Paper Jam is meant to be equally important. So we will probably never curate a more established artist in an attempt to drum up attendance.
JL: Was there a reason why there wasn’t any programming or workshops to accompany the festival? Is that something to endeavor for in the future?
PB: We just weren’t interested in trying to replicate or compete with bigger, more established fests that already do that. We wanted this to feel more like going over to your friends’ place, or party. I love lectures and talks, but it’s not something we want to incorporate into Paper Jam right now. As Robin said, those have a place, and we didn’t think it would work so well here. We definitely want to avoid the ‘special guest star’ type of attraction, we want it to be more like a roulette, like ‘oh here’s a new batch of people to check out this time around’
JL: On that note, what can we hope to see from Paper Jam Festival #2?
PB: Paper Jam #2 should run this summer in late July / early August and be much the same, just different exhibitors. Our aim for the next event is to better integrate all elements of the Silent Barn (galleries, studios, shows, and other projects) into the event so that we can basically have the whole Barn open and available to attendees so that they can be a part of the incredible thing we are trying to make happen there.
(Photo Credit: http://paperjamfest.tumblr.com/)