Starting a Zine Fest with E.Joy Mehr

E.Joy Mehr is a cartoonist and founder of Insert Name Zine Fest by way of Paynesville, Minneapolis/St Paul, and now based in Chicago! Check out E.Joy's insights on organizing a zine fest


Mild Pain

11/12/20233 min read

MP: How did Insert Name Zine Fest get started?

E: Summer of 2019 I was living in Minneapolis and I had been doing comics for 1 year. I remember being super excited that I was finally making comics and sharing them online and making friends etc., but also bummed that there weren’t more zine/comics things going on where I lived. Twin Cities Zine Fest was happening in a few months but I was antsy. So, one afternoon I decided that if no one else was gonna make more zine events in the Twin Cities, then I would do it myself! I was working as a server at a bar with event rooms at the time, so that same afternoon I called my work and booked the smallest room for $100 for 3 hours on some Saturday in August (this was like mid July already). It was like a tiny carpeted space that punk bands would play a lot, and also the cribbage league played there on Thursday nights. My mom helped me set up tables and stuff and I managed to get 8 people to table. My friend lent me a projector and we had a mini comics reading where people sat on the floor because we ran out of room. I had free candy for people and a contest to “name the fest” where the winner got a cowboy hat and a cardboard scepter. It was great!

MP: What are some of the rewards and challenges of starting a zine fest?

E: Rewards: you’re in charge! You have the opportunity to “be the zine fest you want to see in the world”.

Challenges: this all depends on who you are, as a person. My challenges were: no money, no connections or clout, and a complete lack of experience. However! I had a lot of confidence (completely unfounded, ha ha), and the vision of the zine fest I wanted to make was well suited to what I had to work with. If I had tried to make my own SPX or TCAF, I would have completely failed and then been very sad. What I aimed for was something cheap, fun, and silly; and also it was at a bar so we had a big advantage in that food and booze was right there (how many fests don’t have ANYTHING to eat???).

MP: What are some challenges with organizing a zine fest and keeping it going?

E: There will always be people who don’t like how you do things, and you have to be able to not take that personally. You can’t please everyone! Confidence is the biggest challenge. Unrealistic expectations is also a big challenge, like again, don’t expect to be showered with compliments from tablers and attendees- as an organizer you kind of have to put yourself last. It’s a thankless job kind of! Keeping a zine fest going means working within your budget and your resources to make sure you can even DO a zinefest. And honestly you kind of just have to keep doing it every year to build up a base of support and word of mouth.

MP: How do you sustain being an organizer with a fest in a different state? Is it totally volunteerism or do you find ways to pay yourself and the participants? or some combination thereof?

E: Totally volunteerism, no one gets paid. But then again it’s just me and one co organizer! I think when we did our Kickstarter last year we did have a little money left over and we went out and had pizza. I didn’t know people got paid to do zine fests ha ha!

MP: What advice would you give someone who wants to start organizing a zine fest?

E: Research what resources you already have and work with those, and also ask around for advice from like anyone you can. But also you don’t have to follow all the advice you do get. I highly recommend remembering that this is not your only chance to ever make a zine fest! Start with a tiny fest and see it grow- it is great as hell to see!

MP: From your experience, what are some ways you'd recommend for people to keep in mind if they want to get started organizing in their community? Especially if there isn't much of a noticeable scene in their area

E: Sometimes you have to be the one to start a scene. Also, it’s not gonna happen overnight. Change is slow but it does happen and it’s really rewarding to see a scene grow!

MP: What’s one important lesson you’ve learned from organizing?

E: Always send thank you emails!!! Apologize sincerely when you are wrong and move on. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. PROMOTE PROMOTE PROMOTE!

MP: Any other closing thoughts or things you wanna say?

E: Love the Zine Fest Directory you’ve got goin! And we are @insertnamezinefest on IG, we will help promote any zine fest who asks too!

Thank you E.Joy! E.Joy has also been organizing cartoonist retreats and teaches workshops from time to time, so check out what they're doing on Instagram and be sure to follow Insert Name Zine Fest!