Arts & Culture

Queen City Zine Fest Makes Its Return From Pandemic Dormancy

'All of us weirdos back together again'

Queen City Zine Fest
The Queen City Zine Fest returned to Rock Hill on Saturday.

At a small coworking space in Rock Hill, Scott Hensel of the creative duo Percydewd was enjoying his first in-person zine festival since COVID-19 hit in early 2020. It was here that Queen City Zine Fest made its long-awaited return on Saturday, June 26. 

“It’s like finally, all of us weirdos back together again.”

Queen City Zine Fest, the latest of which organizers called “iteration 2.5” (it’s usually held twice a year, hence the decimal), celebrates all forms of self-published works and art. Artists, designers and collectors from Charlotte and throughout the southeastern United States come together to sell their works and swap ideas. What unites them all is the zine, a small DIY publication that can feature drawings, narratives and any other kind of media. 

Hensel and his partner Caroline Smith, who drove in from Greenville, South Carolina, refused to miss it. 

Over a table of colorful stickers and tiny comic books, Smith related her feelings on the return to in-person festivals. 

“We were both nervous, but really excited to be doing this again,” she said. “We get to talk about what we love, and meet people who make similar things.”

The atmosphere was collaborative. Artists from all backgrounds — skaters hawking graffitied Joy Division tees, Dungeons and Dragons fans passing out digital monster art, an elementary schooler selling moose drawings — milled about, paging through chapbooks and discussing their methods. In the center of the room sat a communal crafting table where people designed their own zines from newspaper scraps and construction paper. 

Zine Fest 2.5 was the first time Robert Banker, who curated the Tip Top Daily Market bookshop I’ve Read It In Books, attended. His interest in local zines stems from his work at the shop, which specializes in radical literature and has deep ties to Charlotte’s arts community. 

“I think it’d be great for people to see how active the zine culture still is,” he says over his collection of leftist anthologies. “People are doing some really, really creative work. There’s lots of opportunities to learn from each other and help each other out.”

At one point, Percydewd stopped to chat to an artist at an adjacent table about different book-binding techniques. Kenneth Raudales, one of the event’s organizers, has fashioned a zine with deceptively simple weaving. Hensel mentions that Percydewd favors a simple yarn-bound process, but also experiments with different methods of paper folding and tucking. It’s obviously a very technical conversation — one that a layman like myself had trouble following — but I got the sense that it had been a while since these artists talked shop like this. 

In fact, Raudales got out of what he calls a “two-year zine hiatus” that same week. 

“Over COVID, I was one of the people who was not super creative … As opposed to those who were creative all the time,” Raudales said, pointing across the room. “Like those guys were drawing every single day during quarantine, and I didn’t draw. At all. I was so burnt out.”

Raudales had always been passionate about art, but it was his mother who suggested he try making zines. As he delved deeper into that new hobby, he grew more and more familiar with Charlotte’s bubbling zine subculture. Then in 2018, he figured: Why not turn it into a festival?

“The culture has always been here — it’s just that when we had an event, that’s when people really came out of the woodwork for it,” Raudales said. “It totally blew up. I think we had almost 50 vendors.”

The original Zine Fest 2.5 was scheduled for March 28, 2020. When the world went into lockdown in early March, Raudales and the team had to cancel the event. Amidst the uncertainty, they scrambled to keep their vision alive. They promoted local artists on Instagram, they advertised online events and patiently waited for the state to re-open. 

Now, in spite of the leaner vendor list and continuing anxiety about COVID-19, they feel this one has been a hit. As the day wound down, Raudales paged through his newest zine and took it all in. 

“It’s been awesome to see all these old and new faces,” Raudales said. He paused. “And it’s been nice to make things again.”

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