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Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Act of Creating at SF Zine Fest Blows Away Any Mass-Produced Sales Pitch

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Shayna Yates of
  • Shayna Yates of
Small-press publishers don't slack off. Over the weekend at SF Zine Fest, the County Fair Building's two halls and a reading room were filled with independently produced artwork and literature. And if that weren't testament enough to their productivity, many of the artists passed the time with notebook and pen or paintbrush in hand. Although we don't know what the final numbers were on sales, this offered a much more engaging selling technique than any "pitch" could be. Nothing's more awkward than being sold to by someone who not only cares about what they're selling but who's also the one who created it.

The perfume spritzers at Macy's can be a nuisance, but you know that when you decline to buy a bottle of the latest Eau d'une Nuit Régrèttable from Tommy Hilfiger you're not rejecting their babies. There is perhaps no more poignant consumer experience than to have to pass over work presented to you by the artist who made it, and this colors the interaction that begins the moment you hesitate right as they catch your eye.

One needs a Puccini to capture all the doomed optimism of that initial, "And how are you doin' today?"

Cameron Forsely of DC Tattoos
  • Cameron Forsely of DC Tattoos
Watching an artist at work, calmly concentrating despite the din of the surroundings, instantly makes him or her as well as the art itself leagues more interesting. In their actions, these artists are not trying to impress or persuade you to do or buy anything. They're making something, and their activity, not their strategy, draws you forth.

This is probably based on the same principle that makes people more attractive when they're ignoring you, or when they're with someone else, but it's probably also because so much of what we buy is made either by machines or unseen people across the sea. Seeing an item evolve into being at the hand of one person, right in front of you, is increasingly unusual, and therefore fascinating.

Art from Red Letter Day
  • Art from Red Letter Day
So-called "snail mail" provides a good example. The U.S. Postal Service might shut down in January, and the act of sending postcards has seemed quaint for a while -- especially when you can easily just update your Facebook status, or, if you're really considerate, take the time to e-mail friends individually.

Jennie Hinchcliff has raised to an art form the increasingly rare -- and now imminently threatened -- tradition of sending letters and postcards. She creates beautiful letters, postcards, and "fake" stamps, and she encourages people to create their own and send them to her as part of the Red Letter Day project. The examples at her booth were enough to make us prematurely mourn the demise of the Postal Service (and no, UPS will not deliver your postcards, however lovingly watercolored they are).

Charlene Fleming's "Sketcht San Francisco: Citizens"
  • Charlene Fleming's "Sketcht San Francisco: Citizens"
Charlene Fleming provided works of art in book form. The only part of San Jose State-trained Fleming's "Sketcht" books she doesn't do at home is the spiral binding. Her drawings of San Francisco and its inhabitants evoke a sense of place and mood better than any fussily filtered Instagram album ever could (although we are fans of Instagram, for better or worse). Oddly, the books Fleming makes show how far technology has come, that even the computers, scanners, and printers we have at home can produce attractive, sellable art objects such as these. Considering the talent, time, and energy put into creating them and the quality of the booklets themselves, we hope she raises the price soon from the current $8.

B. Magnolia of Mystic World Press
  • B. Magnolia of Mystic World Press
This booth didn't get much traffic the times we passed by on multiple laps around the exhibition halls, and was a mystery at first. The large landscape format books of 13-40 pages were visually pleasing, stab-bound in Japanese silk book cloth, and they felt good in the hands (an element that is important to book lovers). Plus, the booth was tended by this man with French philosopher hair and a poet's scarf (even though it's nearly Indian summer), reading a dog-eared vintage Penguin edition of something foreign. What's not to like?
Then we figured it out -- this publisher prints its book titles in Curlz MT font. Since its inception in 1995, Curlz MT has remained one of the most disdained fonts, used by unimaginative parents e-mailing birthday party invitations from their AOL accounts. Jerry-curled with serifs, it is known for being near-illegible and for indicating a desperation to appear whimsical and possibly foreign. Women who use this font think that Amelie was about them, and men who use it wear drawstring pants and bolo ties on dates.

Part of the condemnation is a reaction against the ersatz flamboyance its use represents: You want to appear kooky and original, but you are having a ubiquitous computer program such as Microsoft Word provide the kook and originality you lack, and you're too lazy and cynical to muster it on your own. So it was strange to see this font used at an event celebrating originality and a bona fide DIY ethos.

It's too bad; the stories within the covers bearing the offending typeface seemed interesting and well-written. Maybe for its future editions, it will jump on the Helvetica bandwagon.
For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Larissa Archer on Twitter at larissaarcher) and like us on Facebook.
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