Late last year, I decided I wanted to attend as many zine fairs as possible in the coming 12 months. Flights from Melbourne to pretty much anywhere are cheap, and I figured I have a big enough back catalogue now to warrant at least half a table’s worth of zines.
I applied for a bunch of them in January, and managed to have Issue 8 ready for the Sticky Institute zine fair in February. I didn’t have a table for that, but I was lucky enough to have people offer to sell my zines for me. Thanks… you guys. I am bad with names. Overseas travel, recording a couple of EPs with my band and publishing a few photo zines this year were also on my 2013 do-to list. Since I also like nice things such as food and shelter, I realised I might have to put my relentless zine fair-ing on hold.
Not long after I decided to cut back on my spending, I received emails confirming I’d been selected for the inaugural Canberra Zine Fair in March and the annual MCA Zine Fair in Sydney in May. The Canberra trip was cheap and easy, plus I got to see family, make new friends and hang out with some old friends who’d moved to our nation’s capital from Brisbane a few months earlier. I sold a bunch of zines, bought many more and saw the friends who I was staying with spend up big too.
Two arseholes stole my phone from Sticky Institute six weeks out from the MCA Zine Fair – a financial kick in the teeth I really didn’t need. I was ready to pull out of my spot at the zine fair, but amazingly one of my Twitter followers gave me his old iPhone 4 for free. I tried to give him money for it, but he said he’d just upgraded and the old one would’ve just been gathering dust on his desk anyway. Anyone who says internet randoms are all weirdos and creeps is still living in 1995, and can keep their stupid opinions and fax machines to themselves. Thanks @robcorr!
So I booked tickets to Sydney at the last minute – a red eye flight on Tiger Airlines and an overnight train trip back to Melbourne later that night. Pro tip – don’t plan to fly to or from Melbourne on Jetstar. The main Jetstar terminal is out at Avalon, which is actually Geelong’s airport and around 90 minutes drive. The Jetstar terminal at the main airport at Tullamarine is an old shipping container beneath the Qantas gate lounge. You really feel like the scum of the earth – even the Tiger terminal is better.
I think it’s fair to say I had no idea how much of a big deal the MCA Zine Fair is. It’s held in the beautiful Museum of Contemporary Art on Sydney Harbour, halfway between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. It’s part of the annual Sydney Writers Festival, and – I think – the biggest zine fair in the country. It’s also quite exclusive. I know people who only got accepted on their second or third application, but by dumb luck I managed to get a spot on my first try.
I got to the MCA an hour before doors opened to the public, and got to work setting up. There were more than 60 different zine and comic stalls there, selling zines, comics, prints, badges and even jewellery. I shared a table with a lady named Tamara Lazaroff, who sold really interesting zines about her time in Macedonia, her ancestral homeland.
Doors opened at 10AM and it took around 10 minutes for the hall to be totally packed out by shoppers. The MCA says around 3000 people came through the doors, and they were still kicking people out half an hour after doors closed at 4PM. My friends and seasoned zinesters Elouise and Jeremy were there too with their pop-up zine trailer, and they say the crowds were so big because unlike Melbourne, there are no shops in Sydney where you can buy zines year-round.
As well as my zines, I had badges for sale for $1 each and $5 A3 prints of the logo. I also had a couple of big piles of stickers and more than 50 copies of a mini-zine of book reviews that I gave away for free. Some zine fairs are really strict about selling things that aren’t zines, which I think is a bit shit. Sure, don’t rock up to a zine fair with 5 different kinds of cupcakes to sell, but I think badges and prints are ok. Plus, a lot of people are confused by the whole “zine” thing, but can appreciate a print or a badge. One of my favourite customers was a posh and plummy-voiced woman in her 60s who burst out laughing at the evil antichrist Tom Waterhouse badge and bought three of them.
People also love free stuff. I lost count of the number of times people smiled at the “I Am Very Busy & Important” name badge stickers, and then thanked me profusely when I told them they were welcome to take one and a mini-zine for free. I reckon at least half of the people who purchased things from me did so after being drawn in by the free stuff. I brought much more stock than I thought I needed and sold it all. I managed to sneak away from my table a couple of times and bought some great zines and prints from Urban Pancakes, Canberra Zine Emporium, Take Care Distro, The Rizzeria, The Heavy Collective and more.
It was amazing, but really intense. People always scoff when I say this, but I am an introvert. I might be friendly and talkative when I’m out, but it takes a lot of mental and emotional effort. As a result, I had my first alcoholic beverages in months when I met up with my friend Anthony after the zine fair finished. The two schooners I drank had the same effect on me that a carton would have on a normal person. I ate three large serves of onion rings from Hungry Jacks and slept through the entirety of the train journey back to Victoria.