“It's the perfect medium,” artist, musician and educator Lawrence Lindell said over the phone from Oakland, Calif., where he had just returned home after participating in Maryland's Small Press Expo. “There's a wide range of what you can do with zines, you can experiment without too much pressure.” And Lindell himself has used the medium for many years to explore topics that relate to identity, mental health, accessibility and representation—
Lindell is a teacher, but travels most weekends to zine fests around the country—leading workshops, participating in panel discussions and tabling with his many titles, like “From Black Boy with Love,” “Couldn't Afford Therapy, So I Made This,” and “Hey, People of Color.” This weekend, he heads to ABQ Zine Fest 8, the oldest zine fest in New Mexico, to be held on Saturday, Oct. 6 from 11am to 6pm at Three Sisters Kitchen (109 Gold St. SW) in downtown Albuquerque. Admission is free.
Ahead of his third year tabling at our local zine fest—along with dozens of other creatives of all stripes—Lindell unpacked the role zines have played in his life and what he has observed traveling around the world observing zine culture.
Alibi: What does the act of creation return to you?
Lindell: I'm pretty prolific, and that is because I'm bipolar. The depression hits me, but not as hard as the mania. Comics are kind of a way to control my manic episodes. So, if I'm spazzing out … I have enough knowledge to say, OK, I'm going to sit down and draw. I've ended up drawing comics for 17 hours straight. … Without that, if I had manic episodes with nothing to channel it into, it doesn't end well. It's nice to have something to balance that out.
Was it a process to discover this outlet? Or were you always creating?
I realize it now that comics saved my life. My parents got divorced and I was depressed. I was 12, I found a comic shop, and that was where I spent most of my time and money, and I started making my own comics. But I didn't see it as self care when I was younger. … I look at it now [and know] that that was my escape. Now I have the vocabulary and mindset to put it to use.
What attracts you about the medium of comics in particular?
I went to school for animation and I love cartoons. I used to paint and do graffiti. I love all the arts, but for some reason, it's comics. I think it was because of when I was young and my parents got divorced—comics were there. I think subconsciously, everything I've learned about art pushes me towards that medium. You can do anything with comics—small, large, 1 page, 2 pages, 300 pages. It could be paint, digital. I like texture, because I fold and staple at home. It's freedom. … [With] comics I can sit in my room and focus and give my mind a break. It allows me to just be me in my purest form.
How have you decided what stories you want to tell?
I always say—I make comics for black women, black people, people of color, folks with mental health issues and queer folks. … I wrote a zine called “Couldn't Afford Therapy, So I Made This,” that's explanatory—it was literally me not being able to afford therapy, so the comic was like my therapist. I really want to write things that I would like to say to my community, or folks I interact with or the kids I teach everyday. Just resources for people to feel good. I love my work, I want people to feel good when they read it. To know that life—it's worth being here. I just tell the truth. My truth. The thing about comics is that they can be kind of self indulgent, … the medium is perfect for that, but if I can write a story that helps me and helps you, then we both win.
What was your first introduction to zine making and zine culture?
I've always made books and comics, even when I didn't know them as zines. … My first official zine fest was the first year of LA Zine Fest in 2012. … It was great to see all these folks there for one reason. It wasn't too pretentious like a comic book convention usually is. Like—oh, there's a person with a folded piece of paper and staples, and that was perfectly fine. There was someone else selling cassette tapes. It was everything I already did, but in one room. I had never seen that. All those folks together. It was usually separate—the punks with the punks, the hip-hop heads with the hip-hop heads. But at zine fest was hip-hop artist next to a punk next to a graffiti artist next to someone making comics.
Do you ever find that sharing your truth makes you feel vulnerable?
It's freeing. I always like to say I had the privilege of growing up in punk and hardcore where the attitude was always—we don't give a fuck. It was never an issue to be vulnerable. … I'm very comfortable with myself. I just like to tell the truth, and through that I am empowered, because people say, thank you for being vulnerable, you empowered me to be open too.
How does it make you feel when you facilitate someone's engagement with zines through workshops or panels?
I love it. It makes the work worth it. It is great to get praise and be good at making comics, but I honestly do it for the people. Folks say that, but they don't mean that shit—I mean it. I really mean it. I can't not mean it. I teach these kids, I see what they go through, I remember what I went through. To have someone say, “I didn't know I could make a comic,” or “I didn't know I could draw someone that looked like me in a comic,”—that is why. … Giving power back to the people that they don't even know they already have because they've been told they need this or that to access it.
Is there anything about ABQ Zine Fest that has brought you back again and again?
I love Albuquerque, for one. I usually drive there or take the train, so I really like the way into Albuquerque. It's beautiful. … Something about Albuquerque, every time I go, I learn something new, or I have met so many folks that live in LA ... or even people living in Oakland that I had never met before, but we met at Albuquerque Zine Fest. That has been ground zero for connecting me with folks, that's the vibe for me every time I've been to Albuquerque. It's very home-y. … It's nice that something like that is the reason we are there together, and we're meeting at that point in time. There's some magic in Albuquerque.