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Atlanta Zine Fest is back and bigger than ever

A preview of the city's annual celebration of DIY and handmade media

The golden age of zines — self-published, small-circulation books and magazines — is often considered to be the punk movement of the '70s or the feminist wave of the '90s, but one could argue that right now these publications are more popular than ever. The DIY, cut-and-paste, handmade medium has experienced a serious resurgence in recent years, and its following continues to grow. In 2010, Chicago and Washington, D.C., launched zine fests, becoming some of the first major cities to have large-scale, zine-specific events. Los Angeles was soon to join in with its own fest in 2012. Austin and Atlanta jumped on the bandwagon in 2013, and the list of cities grows with each year.

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Prior to 2013, Atlanta's zinemakers were mostly confined to their bedrooms, chronicling their beliefs and experiences with the aid of a trusty sharpie and distributing the information within their isolated circles or via Tumblr. But since the Atlanta Zine Fest (AZF) kicked off, these creators have enjoyed a common space to learn, share, and formulate projects together.

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This year's AZF may be the third edition, but it's shaping up to be a totally new event. Whereas the inaugural fest brought in more than 300 visitors, attendance has nearly doubled with each edition. The 2015 conference is expected to draw more than 1,200 zine enthusiasts from around the city and beyond.

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And as AZF's audience has grown, so has its team and resource pool, creating a fertile environment for expansion and experimentation. Attendees can expect to see many firsts — from a brand-new location to more exhibitions and more panels than ever before.

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A major change for AZF 2015 is the presence of a theme. Though previous fests have not focused on a single idea, this year's conference will spotlight girls and "grrrl zines." With the advent of other feminist events around Atlanta, such as the first Ladyfest, it's no surprise that this concept has resonated with locals. AZF Founder and Murmur Executive Director Amanda Mills was thrilled by the number and variety of submissions her team received.

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The theme was so popular it has even inspired mini-themes within itself, such as the "urban beach summer" aesthetic created by AZF Art Director Madeline Friedman. All of the event posters, programs, and on-site installations feature a neon-colored, bikini-clad lass lounging in a trippy, slightly ironic beach landscape. "I want it to feel like you're walking around Fort Myers, Fla., but with a 'home, sweet terminus' twist!" Friedman says.

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Of course, not every interpretation of "girls" is so light-hearted. Mills cautions that nothing will be censored at AZF, and visitors will be confronted with provocative images of sexual assault, oppression, violence, and trauma experienced by women. This is vital to the spirit of the event as she sees it.

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"When you are dealing with fringe and experimental media, things that might be unsavory or difficult to traverse in mainstream media are brought up," she says. "People use it to get things out that they don't necessarily see anywhere else, and we have to honor that."

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Mills and other AZF organizers don't want to scare anyone away, but rather encourage them to see alternative perspectives. "You have to step outside your comfort zone a little bit," says David Stedman, who's in charge of outreach and initiatives for AZF. "Just that first step into a discussion that's not centered on you or something that you identify with is very important — hearing and absorbing what other people have to say."

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And gender won't be the only topic covered at the event. Roughly 50 percent of the programming will be more general, spanning from tutorials on printmaking, bookbinding, and circuit bending to live poetry readings and panels on other marginalized groups. A much-anticipated roundtable on DIY and Diaspora will focus on the ways that people who are separated from their homeland engage in DIY practices as a means to understand and construct identities.

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Plus, for the first time, AZF will offer concurrent programming in separate rooms. So visitors can opt into whatever interests them the most, whether it's the panel dealing with abortion or the workshop on cootie catchers next door. There will also be two stand-alone gallery shows in conjunction with the fest, as well as more than 50 vendor booths to stop by. "We organized the schedule so there's something for everyone at every moment," Mills says.

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All of this is happening in South Downtown at Eyedrum Music and Art Gallery, Mammal Gallery, the Broad Street Visitors Center, and the future home of Murmur's crowd-funded community center at 100 Broad St. The festival will function as a soft launch for the new headquarters, which will eventually house laptop and printing stations, a button press, a zine display case, and a supply shelf stocked with zine-making materials. Once this space is fully operational, Atlanta's zinesters will have a place to meet and exchange ideas year-round. It'll be like Zine Fest every day.



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