Miss Zine Festivals? Shop at These Distros!

CZF 2020 Art by the incredible Caroline Cash.

I’m not a social person, but I love zine festivals. In a typical year, I would have scrounged up some energy, tamped down my social anxiety and dragged my nervous self to at least a couple events. Despite myself, I always have a good time, and I spend a ridiculous amount of money on zines. While attending panels and readings online has been an awesome way to see people from zine communities all over the world, I really miss those in person experiences. Fortunately, one thing hasn’t changed – I can still buy absurd amounts of zines and continue to live amongst chaotic to-read piles! I just have to do it online.

CZF 2020 Art by the incredible Caroline Cash.

Finding zines to purchase can be overwhelming, and one of the great things about festivals is that you can literally walk down an aisle and browse for creations that suit your interests. Some festivals have offered alternatives, such as Chicago Zine Fest’s Zinester Directory, Canzine’s virtual tables (AKA “Canzine World”), and Zoom tabling panels like the one hosted at the International Zine Libraries Unconference. I’ve enjoyed participating in these virtual options that take inspiration from the nature of an in-person festival, but the best replacement I’ve found is just shopping at an online distro! Distros are great; they provide images and blurbs for individual zines, they often have cute website setups, and they frequently send you cute extras like stickers or even personalized notes.

If you miss buying zines en masse or are new to zines and want to check out a whole bunch, I’ve got some distro recommendations just for you! Some have physical stores that may be open depending on their location, but all have online shops that let you browse and purchase safely from home.

Crapandemic

Crapandemic is, according to the website, “the world’s only goth zine distro,” and it’s been one of my favorite places to shop during the pandemic. Run primarily by veteran zinester Julia Eff, the main appeal of the distro for me is the amount of perzines it offers. Perzines are often made in the traditional cut-n-paste-n-add-clipart style, and tell emotional, personal stories about gender, being a big nerd, fleeing the Midwest, and all kinds of topics. If perzines aren’t your thing, Crapandemic also carries fanzines, DIY zines that teach you to create a daily tea ritual or start a secret society, and general “goth shit.” Seriously, “goth shit” is a tag you can search. I love it.

Stay Kind

I recently watched a panel (on Zoom, of course) that featured Dawn Graham, who manages Stay Kind Zine Distro. I’ve never met Graham but had purchased zines from Stay Kind before, and seeing them on a panel really solidified why shopping at Stay Kind feels so wonderful. Graham has a long career working with queer youth, and the care they show in their work also shines through at the distro. There are several zines about mental and physical health, identity, experiences with incarceration – stories that are intimate and raw, but often connect to concepts of healing and care. Stay Kind doesn’t have a particularly narrow focus – the list of zines they are interested in distributing on the FAQ is quite broad – but in my experience, the stories that the distro attracts are all very much aligned with the name “Stay Kind.” Currently, 20% of all sales from the distro go to Families for Justice as Healing, an organization that draws from the experiences of incarcerated women to work to end incarceration, so it’s an especially good time to buy.

Quimbys

I feel like I should admit some kind of bias before talking about Quimby’s because I love it so much; I used to say that I moved to Chicago to be close to Quimby’s. (That’s only partially true! I did also have housing options and career aspirations, but those are minor things compared to proximity to zines.) However, Quimby’s is a heart of the local Chicago zine community, and has played an important role in keeping that community afloat during the pandemic. They host readings and events like Zine Club Online to help people connect, continued their support of Chicago Zine Fest when it moved online, and even debuted a special quarantine zine package, which Quimby’s staff will fill with recommendations specific to your interests. They ship internationally and they’ll sell your zines, even if you’re not local! Just be careful; you’ll fill up the online cart quickly and will easily spend much more than you intend.

Brown Recluse

Brown Recluse is run by a collective, and distributes zines made by BIPOC creators. Their catalog is smaller than some of those on this list, but it offers zines on a variety of topics and in a variety formats. There are comics made from woodblock carvings, multimedia reflections on the body and gender, coloring books – well, coloring zines – and perzines and essays on everything from sex work to grief to political theory. Looking through Brown Recluse’s catalog reminds of the feeling of awe and excitement you get when standing at a table full of zines – a perfect place to shop when you really miss that zine festival experience.

Radiator Comics

I initially planned to focus on distros that weren’t comics specific, but I’m breaking my own rule because I love Radiator. While they have branched out into publishing – notably with The Chronicles of Fortune by Coco Picard, which I reviewed for WWAC when it was first released – Radiator is still primarily a distro, and they carry a variety of stunning, self-published work. Radiator is run by Neil Brideau, who has had a profound impact on Chicago’s indie publishing community as a Chicago Zine Fest organizer, Chicago Alternative Comics Expo co-founder, and former Quimby’s employee. When he announced he was moving to Florida, I was initially sad to lose the distro – until I started shopping online and realized we hadn’t lost it at all! Radiator has a really lovely, easy to browse online store, and carries several zines I would rank among my all-time favorites, such as Andrea Tsurumi’s How to Pool and Eavesdropper and Sage Coffey’s Wine Ghost zines. Brideau is also hosting several online events for the comics community, such as the Nuts & Bolts panel discussions about cartooning methodology and virtual drop-in work sessions.

Antiquated Future

Antiquated Future was a favorite distro at the iZLUC2020 tabling session I attended, and I am so excited to check it out! Currently operating out of Portland, Oregon, Antiquated Future stocks a wide variety of zines and has a really cute website! If more chaotic shopping experiences overwhelm you, a site like Antiquated Future’s is great option. They feature a different item each week and provide short, snappy reviews – similar to the little shelf talker note cards you might find in a physical bookstore or library – and track bestsellers on their main page. Many of the distros on this list I have some initial connection to – I’ve seen their founders at panels or readings, I’m a regular customer or associate them with some part of my beloved local zine scene – but as a person with absolutely no connection to Antiquated Future, their site feels really warm, welcoming, and even familiar to me. The discovery of new distros like this during a time when we are so disconnected feels really special, and I’m excited to get my first order from them. They’re also offering free zine care packages if you are struggling financially or emotionally and need some care in zine form.

With the holidays fast approaching and a push for people to shop small to further support people in the pandemic, you can’t go wrong with zines! If you have a favorite distro that’s not on this list, please share it with us so I can spend even more money.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.
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