Meet the Dream Team Behind Chicago Zine Fest: Abby Sheaffer Interviews Johnny Wawrzaszek & Alex Nall


This weekend marks the return of Chicago Zine Fest, one of the best festivals for indie zinesters and artists in the country. Starting Friday at 5pm and ending Saturday evening, zinesters from all across the country will gather at Local 130 Plumbers Union Hall for workshops, seminars, and to sell their wares. To get in the spirit of this great festival, I took the opportunity to speak with organizers Johnny Wawrzaszek and Alex Nall, the dream team behind this incredible festival.

John, this is the sixth year for Chicago Zine Fest, how much has the CZF evolved since it was founded?

It’s funny to think how the fest coordination was in 2010. That was the first year of Zine Fest, and even though I wasn’t an organizer, I was a volunteer. I helped book and bring the fest to Columbia College (with support from the college’s Fiction Writing department, which as a department doesn’t exist anymore), coordinated some of the promotional printing, and picked up and delivered over a half a dozen tables (on loan from the now closed store Uncle Fun) in my van (which I also don’t have anymore). That year the fest’s organizers had dozens more tables delivered to their apartment, on loan from a local school and then brought to the fest in a Uhaul. I had a mustache then and well, I currently have one again.

It’s funny to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. This fest marks the first year we will not be at Columbia College. We are extremely excited to work with our new venues at Access Living on Friday and Plumbers’ Union Hall on Saturday. Along the way we learned some other lessons that have made it easier putting on the fest. Like we don’t have to pick up tables ourselves, in our vans, or store tables in our dining rooms. That’s a huge plus.

Alex, What special events will take place at this year’s CZF that differ from prior fests?

This year the exhibition day of Chicago Zine Fest will take place in a new venue- Plumber’s Union Hall (1340 W. Washington Blvd). This is an important distinction to make because in the past we’ve had to separate exhibitors on two different floors at Columbia College, whereas now everyone will be in one location! This new location also allowed us to add many more exhibitors than previous years before. More zinesters means more zines, which is pretty awesome in our book. Our workshops this year include a discussion on the influence of European comics lead by Marco Cosentino and Annalisa Vicari of the International School of Comics followed by a hands-on illustration demonstration in the style of many famous European cartoonists, a Make-a-Button workshop run by Busy Beaver Button Company, a discussion on “resisting assimilation into white racial culture” led by Bad Bitches, an all-ages performance led by the students of the Teen Creative Agency from the Museum of Contemporary Art, and finally a workshop/discussion led by Danielle Susi on how to create a “new literary canon that breaks away from privileged and oppressive narratives.”

CZF’s contribution to the independent publishing community is huge, Alex, do you have any special stories you’d like to share of the success zinesters have found due to your festival?

It’s always nice when people come back and say that Chicago Zine Fest is their favorite fest, but it’s really cool to see where people are coming from to attend. This year we have zinesters coming from the east and west coast to attend the fest and join in the exhibition day. We’re also going to have a reader from our youth reading from last year participate again this year, which is great because we as organizers get to see the impact the fest has had on their craft and their motivation to keep zine culture alive. Having people come back year after year is always a huge compliment in of itself, and seeing just as many new exhibitors table or read for the first time ever is even more encouraging.

John, you’re the founder of the CHI*PRC, a publishing resource that aids indie zinesters and cartoonists in Chicago, what’s it like to wed CZF with the backing of CHI*PRC?

I can’t lie, at times it is tough for me to be a big part of both organizations. All this is really time consuming so I look for where the two can mesh perfectly. A reoccurring issue in the past we had with Zine Fest was finding spaces and partners we could consistently work with. I recall one time we were struggling to find a place to host a simple meeting. At CHIPRC, Zine Fest has been able to host our annual Hallowzine fundraiser reading, hold our weekly organizer meetings, book community feedback meetings and volunteer work parties. Those are the types of events that I envisioned CHIPRC being used for. I am glad that I am able to marry these two interests. It makes sense for the community too. The fest acts as the annual get-together for self-publishers. For the other 364 days a year, CHIPRC is here to work with the community.

Alex, Using six words, describe Chicago Zine Fest.

Old friends. New faces. Zine Life.

Alex, What can we look forward to with Chicago Zine Fest in the future?

We’ll be coordinating some summer fundraisers in the upcoming months including partnerships with incredible organizations such as the International School of Comics, the Comfort Station, and many more. And of course, more zinesters coming to Chicago and sharing their work!

Chicago Zine Fest is this Friday from 5pm to Saturday at 6pm. It’s free and open to the public. It will be held at Local 130 Plumbers Union Hall (1340 W Washington Blvd, Chicago, IL 60607).