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OC Zine Fest Goes Virtual Amid Pandemic

By Gabriel San Román

Off The Page Series


For the past three years, Anaheim Central Library has given the OC Zine Fest a steady place to call home. The local event celebrating those stapled, indie self-published works of creative writing and art has only grown in popularity. Vendors offering zines, stickers, patches and artwork coiled through all three levels of the library. Breakout rooms hosted panel discussions, workshops and speakers for all to enjoy.

Photos by Anli Chen, Courtesy Anaheim Public Library 

Only this year, with the chaos unleashed by coronavirus, many zinesters wondered if the annual event would be cancelled. A date had already been decided on before the pandemic, but once stay-at-home orders upended everyday life in mid-March, the Anaheim Central Library has remained off-limits to the public ever since.

Chlöe Van Stralendorff, a communications specialist with the library, and the whole event organizing crew took the dilemma on as a creative challenge, one requiring a little ingenuity, especially as they decided early on that an in-person fest wasn’t going to happen in the summer.

“How could we still serve and provide this platform?” Van Stralendorff asked herself. “We saw an opportunity to create a stronger online presence.”

No one seriously wanted to skip having a zine fest. Besides, if anybody could be creative enough to find a way to make it work, it’d be a collaborative group full of zine creators and supporters.

With a commitment to keep the OC Zine Fest alive, only one option availed itself: going virtual.

The announcement for the August 22 event came by way of Instagram in May. “For the most part, everybody was very supportive and excited,” says Van Stralendorff. “With the pandemic, everybody in the zine community has transitioned to online. The engagement will be different, but it will still be there.”

Deciding to take the OC Zine Fest virtual is one thing, finding out how to do it is another.

The library already knows a thing or two about pivoting in a pandemic, too. Staff offered curbside pickup of its inventory well before libraries in other cities followed suit. They’ve also strived to continue offering services to the community online, like live story time and workshops.

“We’re still all working inside the library very safely and offering all kinds of awesome things for the community,” Van Stralendorff adds. “The OC Zine Fest is just a continuation, really.”

But how can such an event, where a DIY zine subculture gathers, chats with and buys from vendors in between programming translate well online? “It’s definitely a learning process," says Edles, who first became a zinester with his GRN+GLD music and art collective. “It reminds me of the early years.”

First, instead of breakout rooms at the library, the OC Zine Fest will spread its programing schedule out through various platforms like YouTube and Instagram live. Turning to its own website, a zine directory offered there hopes to create a one-stop shop for all participating vendors.

The community not only positively responded to the news that the annual event won’t be taking a year off, they’ve also enthusiastically filled out proposals to become a part of it.

“It’s reassuring to know that even though things are seemingly very different and strange, there’s still people creating,” Edles says. “In the zine community, they’re curious to see what it’s going to be like.”