The Riso EZ 220 printer looks like any ordinary piece of office equipment: a gray hulk of plastic. But the risograph machine is long favored by boutique print shops and zine-makers for producing rich colors and ink textures. And Leila Leder Kremer and Juana Meneses, founders of the publishing operation Portable Editions, haven’t spent the past year-and-a-half carting a mere photocopier around.
In Riso printing, images are burned onto a stencil, which is then wrapped around a single-color ink drum and rolled onto the page. As with screen-printing, different colors can be added to the final product by combining stencils. What distinguishes risograph from screen-printing is its affordability.
“It’s a high-volume machine. You make a book and you can have up to 1,000 copies. Once you have the hardware, it’s relatively inexpensive to run,” Meneses says.
In a city with a reputation for glossy productions, the proliferation of an instant-bookmaking experience — in this case, from a machine marketed to schools and churches — is both a throwback and a step forward. “We love books,” Meneses adds. “And we do love beautifully [bound] limited-edition books, but that’s not really what we’re about.”
This Saturday, Meneses and Leder Kremer will take to HistoryMiami's plaza for the largest Miami Zine Fair, hosted by Exile Books and O, Miami. In only its third year, the fair has grown from a modest event to something of a blowout, with multiple DJs, workshops, food, T-shirt printing, live demonstrations like the one Meneses and Leder Kremer will give, and exhibitors from as far away as New York, Latin America, and the Basque region of Spain.
Organizers say the growth has come as a surprise. “We put out an open call [last year], and it was wild,” says Lauren Monzon, operations manager of Exile Books. “We were picturing this sort of small-scale event, and it really turned into something with a life of its own.” Last year, the fair included more than 76 tablers and 1,200 attendees. With more than 130 tablers signed up so far and registration open until Friday, Monzon says they expect to double attendance this year.
“So often,” she says, “history belongs to the people... who have the luxury of archiving their voice,” and zines offer a chance to record alternative perspectives. This year’s fair includes zines focusing on issues of race, environmental awareness, feminism, and intersectionality, the critical concept used to describe the overlap of systems of oppression.
“It’s incredible to see the number of people who come out of the woodwork,” adds Amanda Keeley, Exile’s founder. “I heard we’ve got someone involved with cooking. I’ve heard we’ve got someone who’s bringing an air mattress. Last year, we had surrealist puppeteers.”
Keeley attributes the fair’s popularity to the multiform nature of zines. The amateur publications have evolved, and their affordability and ease of access make them a favored platform for marginalized groups. “There’s a lot of freedom in zines, so it gives people a space to explore whatever they want to explore,” she says. “It’s very accessible because they’re so easy to make.”
In a city whose artistic tastes have evolved from a fascination of glitz and glamour to projects that are closer to the ground, the growth of a zine-making community makes perfect sense.
“The thing about Miami,” Keeley says, “is that it’s very much in a building stage... It’s one of these windows of opportunity where there’s a lot of resources, a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. If you’re producing good projects, it’s a very positive situation here.”
The Exile Books founder compares contemporary zines to the avant-garde art periodicals of the '20s, '30s and -40s — a topic she studied as a printmaker. Like the zine-makers of today, artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz often flew by the seat of their pants when it came to publishing. “Those art publications, they were not big runs. They would do like a thousand, tops... and they would do it in a very fluid way.
“There were no editors, and they weren’t doing it to reach a mass commercial or consumer audience," Keeley says. "It was really just for themselves.”