Jan 10, 2009

Expozine and other Autumnal Dispatches

This guy got my vote for most creative display.

Twice in the past few years, I had signed up for Expozine in Montreal, and twice I had chickened out at the last minute. It had long been a desire of mine to attend this zine fair and spread the gospel of ESR at a new location, and partially what deterred me from going in the past were overhead costs and scheduling. But since they made the fair a two-day affair for this year (to accommodate the ever-growing number of presses), it was never a better opportunity to check the event out, and therefore I turned the excursion into a weekend-long trip. But I was also compelled to attend the show this time due to the disappointing sales I've had in 2008 at my regular venues. This could be attributed to people's frugality due to the economy or the sad notion that small press, while more prolific than ever, is dwindling from interest of the public eye, or simply, I need to find some new blood. And since it gets ever harder for me to promote and distribute ESR properly (without putting myself further in the hole), I felt that it was never a better time to expand my operation however possible.

Even now, people ask me why I don't put my stuff in stores. The simple, if perhaps no less longwinded, response to that is: I started in the zine scene way too late. In 2001, the zine world was still thriving, as desktop publishing became more prevalent in homes, and the internet hadn't yet replaced a lot of the printed material. But in short order, a lot of consignment places like Towers, review publications like Factsheet Five, and independent distros, who all were instrumental in promoting awareness of zines, had closed up shop. In the following years, film publications even more professional, and obviously more widely known, than mine have closed up shop due to financial considerations. The greater the overhead, the greater the loss. I much prefer the direct approach, where I can communicate with my customers in person, on the road and at shows. As such, I value all the more any new comrades I pick up along the way. Case in point, this fall at Canzine, when Brian Random and I had tables together, we befriended writer-musician Robert Dayton, and found quick allies in Katie Durant, who was launching the first issue of her zine, "So Bad It's Good Movies", a refreshing, irony-free pub that I hope continues to grow.

Still, I knew that this scene was waning, and wanted to stake some new ground elsewhere. Therefore, on to Montreal.....

Two consecutive traveling companions had opted out of accompanying me to Quebec due to other commitments, and so I nervously made arrangements for myself. (I sheepishly admit that I have never been to Montreal before-- one of my greatest regrets is that I did not travel when I was younger and had more time and money to do so.) Since I had was up until the wee hours the previous couple of nights printing stock for the show, most of the train ride up on the Friday was spent sleeping, but was excited to have arrived at this unfamiliar location.

My hotel (a rather no-frills, but homey establishment) was a fifteen minute walk from the fair, and despite the cold, we were blessed with sunny skies for both days, as I would leisurely explore the neighourhood on the way to and from. The architecture of my surroundings was awe-inspiring. 13 years ago, friends of mine would say that if I ever I went to Montreal, they would never get me out of there. They were 100 percent right. On the Sunday, it hurt to leave the funky bohemian location I had inhabited for two days. My hotel was right beside an excellent Vietnamese restaurant which I sampled on the Saturday night. And within a one-block radius, there were quatre depanneurs for those last-minute beer runs. Since I had more time to kill on Saturday evening, I explored the immediate neighbourhood. Perhaps it was the quiet ambience, the velvet neon, and the retro decor which was an amalgamation of historic buildings and remnants of 60's counterculture, which had strangely reminded me of downtown Hamilton at night.

Expozine is held in the basement of the Eglise Saint-Enfant-Jesus, holding a whopping 250 exhibitors over the course of two days (many vendors -including myself- set up shop the full weekend, but there were a few new faces on the Sunday). There was also room for a lunch counter (which sold beer! in a church! Eat that, Ontario!) Out of tradition at Canzine, I took my roost right in front of the stage, as DJs from a local radio station played a (forgive me) eclectic range of music over the weekend, and unlike Canzine, not at decibels so loud that we have to scream to speak to customers. After returning home and doing a count, I realized I had sold less than I thought. I don't mean this detrimentally, because traffic was constant at this show-- as far as I was concerned, there was seldom time to take breaks- whereas every other fair this year I've usually spent half the day waiting for people to arrive. Customers would customarily buy something and then chat with you for about ten minutes-- no wonder it felt like I sold more, because I was so busy.

And despite being six hours from home, I hardly felt like a stranger in a strange land. Familiar faces from Great Worm and Toronto Comic Jam were among those who travelled from the big smoke. Also, ESR was happily received by warm patrons (to my surprise, there was really no other film-related pub at the fair), and I discovered that my French wasn't too rusty (as long as people didn't speak too quickly). Although the fair went to six o'clock both days, I had to cut out an hour early on Sunday, in order to catch the train back to Toronto. It actually hurt to leave, as even one hour prior to closure, there were simply no signs of letup. I had booked a cab to pick me up at 5:15, and I just had enough time to wolf down a sub and hop on the train back to Toronto.

On the six hour ride back to the big smoke, I managed to watch three movies on my handy portable DVD player, and remarked to myself that this chunk of time was the most relaxed I had felt in ages, as being away from home or the office thusly didn't make me compelled to be doing a hundred different things. After arriving in the city at midnight, and getting home an hour later, I was still so excited that I couldn't sleep until about three in the morning, and then still had enough of a natural high to wake up (as planned) at six to head to the office for the big day I knew would be happening.

I'd gladly do it all over again in '09!

At these events, customers and exhibitors alike suffer from sensory overload, as there is simply too much stuff for sale, that we can't take it all in. For that, and for obvious financial reasons, we can only be selective. Because I was so busy, I didn't have a chance to chance and explore like I had hoped, but will report on a couple of interesting finds. I picked up a zine by Warren Hill, where every issue (filled with short stories, poetry and music reviews) comes with a mixed tape of rare 45's revolving around whatever theme surrounds that issue's big record review. But the thing I was perhaps most excited about cost me a whopping two dollars and twenty-five cents in total. These vintage "citizens band postcards" (seen below) are just the coolest thing, a refreshingly lo-fi artifact from yesteryear. God bless the underground.

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