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Arts

3rd annual St. Louis Small Press Expo breaks from white patriarchal norms

A flip page of a book.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
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One of the zines you can find at the St. Louis Small Press Expo comes from local art duo WORK/PLAY. It explores things stolen from people of color.

Independent publishing projects are the name of the game this weekend at the third annual St. Louis Small Press Expo. Saturday the Grand Hall of the St. Louis Public Library's downtown location will host over 80 vendors with everything from lit-mags about architecture, art books about sexuality, publishing collectives run by Mayan artists and anti-oppression zines.  

Last year, Danielle and Kevin McCoy attended the St. Louis Small Press Expo as guests. The couple has been together for 13 years — eight of which have been dedicated to their art practice as WORK/PLAY. This year they’re presenting sketch books for artists and screen printed zines. They're also organizing the panel "Inside the Law with Glen Rogers," a retired police officer with more than 20 years of experience in the region.

“This is not really about art, it’s about information,” Kevin McCoy said. “Zines are a really quick and fun way to spread awareness on issues. It’s our responsibility as artists to speak or enlighten people on ways to minimize those issues and this was the perfect marriage between art and information.”

McCoy said Rogers boasts a “neutral perspective” as a person who has experienced racial profiling first hand, and worked on the force. He and his wife will facilitate a discussion with Rogers on tips for staying safe when interacting with law enforcement.

Another flip book.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Kevin and Danielle McCoy sat down with Glen Rogers ahead of time to distill down the points he plans to discuss at the expo. The zine (above) lists a few tips for having safe interactions with law enforcement.

WORK/PLAY has also created a small zine with key points from Rogers. They include “Understand that cops are NOT hired to be your friends, but to enforce the law” and “Internal affairs is a joke and the only people laughing are the police.”

“Obviously it’s is not going to guarantee that you won’t get a ticket, or that you won’t get cited or pulled over or arrested,” Danielle McCoy said of the instant books they will hand out at the talk. “But it was part of the effort to implement the whole zine culture — it’s a very simple instant book; one piece of paper, folded a certain way, cut, and easily distributed.”

Rogers’ talk stands out from other programming at the Small Press Expo. While there are practical trainings for self-publishing  — like how to bind books, create fantasy maps or format comics for print — one could argue that "Inside the Law" is the only panel with practical everyday life advice.

Including such discussions is part of the event's  focus on welcoming all perspectives to the independent publishing scene, said Jen Tappenden, an expo organizer and editor for Architrave Press. That's a far cry from what the expo was like the first year.

“We felt it was too white,” Tappenden said. “In so many industries that’s what happens, white people are the first through the door and they stake territory and then don’t give it up. We thought we’ve have to work on this because so many people in our crew are not white, and not male. We have an obligation to find projects that are from communities that don’t have equal access and make that space.”

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A lot of things have changed from the first expo in 2014. The number of vendors has continued to grow. People from out of state and out of the country are participating. More non-binary narratives are being highlighted through zines on cultural appropriation or comic books with trans characters. 

"That is my hope, that we keep making this stuff, that we keep having those conversations,” Tappenden said. "People will realize that maybe what they thought of as diversity is actually tokenism, and step up."

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Credit @oheysteenz | Twitter
The expo comes on the heels of a local milestone for the zine community. St. Louis Public Library has just curated and opened its own zine collection that can be viewed at the Central branch.

WORK/PLAY's "Things Stolen From POC" is just one of the zines addressing that idea. It artfully calls out cultural appropriation with clever, simple but complex images. The last page pokes fun at the "Parental Advisory" warning found on explicit recordings. Instead it reads "Cultural Advisory Explicit Truth."

McCoy said it's all to spark conversation, followed by solutions. He jokes that the zines they will pass out at "Inside the Law" are not the “grandest things” but they are a starting point.

“We’ve endured a lot here in St. Louis, racially, politically; we’ve kind of been run through the ringer,” McCoy said. “I think it’s all communities to work together and speak on some of the issues that we face — because if we can’t come together and discuss it then how the hell are you ever going to ever solve it?”

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn

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