Culture  Small press is a big deal

A look at Expozine, Montreal’s independent publishing fair

Last weekend, over 300 creators of printed matter and thousands of members of the public came together for Expozine, the eighth annual small press, comic, and zine fair. The event took place at the Église St-Enfant-Jésus, located in the Plateau. Organized by Arcmtl – a non-profit organization that dedicates its services to the promotion of independent culture on a local level – Expozine features a remarkable variety of unique and hard-to-find items, including books, zines, posters, and graphic novels, in both French and English. The event holds relevance both in the local community and beyond Montreal’s borders, as many participants and attendees travel from elsewhere in Canada and the United States to attend.

Considering the limited number of bookstores willing to carry the products of small presses and self-published authors in Montreal, Expozine provides an essential opportunity for these authors to gain exposure and sell their creations. The fair attracts many authors publishing for the first time and who are often self-publishing their work.

Beyond serving as a marketplace for illustrators, authors, and artists to showcase their work to an eager public, Expozine also provides an opportunity for these participants to connect with one another: “There is lots of networking that goes on at Expozine – magazines have told us they found illustrators there, authors have found publishers, more established publishers have picked up and republished self-published works they’ve found there,” noted Louis Rastelli, one of Expozine’s organizers. The event has encouraged a sense of unity among participants: “Before Expozine, I wouldn’t say the community was very tightly knit, but it’s become so since we began gathering them all in the same room once per year,” Rastelli claims.

An opening party, a panel discussion, and readings by various participants were new additions to the event’s roster this year. Rastelli explained: “We often heard from exhibitors, in past years, that it would be nice to take advantage of all these publishers being in the same room, to do something more than just sell books and mingle with each other.”

Indeed, this year’s fair did exactly that. Most notably, Saturday’s panel discussion, titled “Printed Matter or Printed Doesn’t Matter?” provided a forum for discussion centred on current issues facing the small press community. One of the principal issues under discussion was the impact of the Internet on the publishing industry, and the subsequent question of whether this shift has the potential to force printed matter into obsolescence: “The panels were trying to tackle how the print community uses the Internet to its advantage, and at the same time trying to point out what the disadvantages may be, and how it can never replace print,” explained Peggy Burns, the associate publisher at Drawn and Quarterly and one of Saturday’s panellists. Rastelli also commented on this issue: “The argument that a new form of communication will render past forms obsolete is often wrong. History has shown that past forms may change as a result of new forms of communication, but they rarely disappear,” he explained. He emphasized that “books, magazines, and newspapers are not just a repository of information, they are cultural artifacts. They’ll remain long after someone’s web site hosting arrangements have expired.”

Rastelli also stressed the often overlooked point that the Internet and the dissemination of technology have been democratizing forces in the publishing industry, by making its means more accessible to the general public: “Someone with a computer, printer, and software worth less than $1,000 can now produce a publication of a quality that would have cost several thousand just 15years ago.” It was argued that this is demonstrated by the increased quality of self-published works presented at the fair over the past several years.

Expozine has become a wildly popular event, its venue barely large enough to contain the magnitude of crowds that flocked to it. By mid-afternoon, people stood practically shoulder-to-shoulder as they navigated through rows of tables to mingle and peruse artists’ wares.

Rastelli lamented the dual problem of an increasing demand for the event, and an inability to expand its scope: “We often liken organizing Expozine to trying to ride a wild horse, because of the ever-increasing pressure to expand from all sides.” With the demand for the event, but a finite amount of resources, the organizers find themselves turning away a significant number of prospective publishers each time around. This is not to mention the public who have only two (extremely crowded) days to sift through all the material Expozine has to offer. In light of the recent recession, a number of past sponsors chose not to renew their commitment to the exposition, and tracking down new private sponsors was a difficult task for the organizers this year. A reliance on the efforts of volunteers rather than full-time employees adds to the problem of Expozine’s limited resources: “In fact, we purposefully limit our marketing and promotion efforts, simply because we don’t have the resources to expand much further than we have,” Rastelli explained. There is hope of gaining operational funding for the organization in order to relieve this problem, but gaining access to this limited arts funding may be difficult. Much of the provincial funding for the arts is already accounted for by more mainstream events, such as the Salon du Livre de Montréal.

Despite challenges, Expozine remains one of the most popular events involving Montreal’s independent art community and has proven itself invaluable to both participants and those who choose to attend. Stay tuned for the Expozine Alternative Press Award, a follow-up to the fair that recognizes its most promising contributors, which is slotted to take place sometime in the new year.