I love hanging out at The Independent Publishing Resource Center, a six-room space in downtown Portland that smells like photocopiers. The Independent Publishing Resource Center is the world’s largest zine library. Its clientele is a diverse cast of total weirdoes. The best thing ever happened on Thursday: I am now a volunteer staff member there.
In the front room of Portland's zine library, a giant bookshelf stretches floor to ceiling, stuffed with six thousand zines, each of them individually wrapped in plastic and lovingly catalogued. Six thousand might not sound like a lot of zines for "the World's Largest Zine Library" until you realize there's just no way to collect the millions that are out there—all those self-published, side-stapled, punk rock rants about society, like the ones you saw the time you walked into that anarchist bookstore looking for a bathroom.
Zines were sort of revolutionary back in the 90s, a place for the fringe to share their political ideas, stories about corrupt cops, and high-quality vegan recipes in the days before Livejournal. Now (for me, at least) zines share the same purpose as homemade mini-comics—just creative people letting strangers in on their art. Other rooms in the zine library have long worktables, squishy chairs and boxes of glue sticks and art pens. People talk about their work and swap photocopy tips.
Thursday night was the night a girl much cooler than myself trained me how to work the center's front desk. I'm used to people being cooler than me when it comes to issues like television or rock climbing or sexy shoes but, man, this girl was way cooler than me on all my own turf. Last week I was talking up how I went on a date to a party in a geodesic dome, well, this girl actually lives in a geodesic dome. That she built herself. Out of recycled materials she scavenged around town on her bicycle (the bike she's going to ride across the country this summer).
The enviable dome girl taught me how to enter paperwork into the library database and what keys worked in what locks and set me loose to re-shelve zines. I swiftly wound up curled in the squishy chair at the end of the bookshelf, paging through the small works I had intended to put away.
The thing I realized there in the chair, devouring a stack of random zines, is that someone, somewhere, has taken the time and energy to make a zine about everything. "Whoosh" is a zine for whale lovers. There is a zine about the Eastern Oregon hardcore scene. There is a zine—one of my favorites—that chronicles a girl's best text messages over the course of a year.
I was taken back to the first time I picked up a self-published comic. I was 15 and my dad had very kindly driven my friend Katharine and I all the way to San Francisco to attend the Alternative Press Expo. For two days, Katharine and I wandered around a metal warehouse filled with cheap folding tables and desperate, small-time artists and our minds were blown. Or at least mine was. I would draw comics and maybe show them to a few friends, apologizing for the poorly inked faces and lame text. But here, from out of nowhere, were rows and rows of people making and sharing their work that was just as bad as mine. I was jealous of the artists' bold, irrational pride, and inspired.
A man entered the zine library door and startled me out of my reading. He reeked of booze and wore a once-dapper fedora over his thin, jowly face. We stared at each other with startled deer eyes for a moment. "Do you want a tour?" I asked, not knowing how else to deal with the encounter. He nodded. I stood up and while I launched into the details of the zine collection, the drunkard seemed to have a question just waiting to reel off the tip of his tongue. I paused and he let it roll. "Do you have any machines?" he asked. I showed him the two photocopiers and he nodded sagely and then wandered back out again, seemingly content.
It was time to lock up then and I put back the text messaging zine and helped take out the trash. At the end of the night, the cool girl changed into a huge poofy petticoat and set off to go dancing at Soul Night. I rode my bike home and blogged.