Over 250 vendors gathered on September 22nd at the Art Gallery of Ontario for the Broken Pencil Canzine: Festival of Zines and Underground Culture. The festival was from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and the large mass of vendors spanning seminar rooms one, two, and three do not compare to the hundreds of people flooding the tiny aisles between the vending tables. A library consisting of self-published zines from all of the world, aptly titled “Global Project Zine” and curated by Publishing @ SFU, also takes up one room.

I arrive at about 2:30 p.m., initially unsure of where to go. Though, the crowd of trendily-clad Toronto hipsters of all ages and nationalities easily lead me to the festival. A tall man with sleeves of tattoos to match his black t-shirt and ankle-length black jeans supported by suspenders greets visitors as they walk down the stairs to the second floor of the AGO and offers them a newspaper style comic. The room is filled with natural light and an ocean of people. Two young women with brightly-coloured hair that matched their vibrant personalities offer a pamphlet and map of the festival as we enter. The body heat from the waves of people that line the aisles complement the warm and welcoming atmosphere. At nearby tables, artists can be seen sketching comics that are hung on the wall when complete.

A quick browse of the room reveals that there is a large variety of items for sale. The merchandise consists of self-published comic books, magazine-style illustrated works, pamphlets, and even full-length novels. It is not a requirement for the work at Canzine to be self-published, but it is recommended as the festival caters to that which is independently created. I talk to one vendor about her goods. Small comic books, about two to three inches in height, are displayed on the table in front of her. The books have a homemade charm but look professionally done. She tells me that “they are printed at a local printing press and I staple the pages together myself! It’s a labour of love.” The large smile on her face and her eagerness indicate her passion and love for her product. She makes sure to hand me a free hand-painted flyer as a reminder to follow her social media handles.

I have many conversations like this throughout my three hours at the festival and amass a wealth of complementary hand-painted crafts from vendors of all ages. The youngest of whom are seven and ten-year old, Noah and Vivian. They display a series of small, hand-drawn and coloured cutout pictures. Someone nearby asks the young girls what inspires them and Vivian says, “Oh, I don’t know. For a lot of them, it was my cat and a lot of favourite foods, trips and stuff.” She gestures toward a small drawing of her cat done with black and white pencil crayons.

While Vivian and Noah use pencil crayons and what looks like Crayola markers for their art, art is on a variety of mediums. Some vendors sell paintings on canvas, watercolour postcards, digital screen prints, art drawn with chalk, laser cut wooden art, hand drawn pins, and many comic-style drawings in the style akin to the likes of Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Sailor Moon. Some illustrated zines also feature written poems and blurbs by the multi-talented vendors. Many of them feature the theme of LGBTQ+ rights and feminism. One particular illustration that stood out is the phrase, “Let’s Guillotine the Bourgeoisie Tonight, Qomrades” written as an acrostic poem with LGBTQ as the framing text.

Another vendor with a political message behind their work is Emanuelle Charaneuf from Sault St. Marie. Her “Queen Street” zine catches my eye as I assume it is based on the Toronto street eponymous with Queen Victoria. Emanuelle quickly corrects my assumption and tells me that it is named after the street she grew up on in her hometown. She goes on to say that she draws inspiration from her mother’s experience as a Filipino immigrant and her effectual experience as a First-Generation Canadian. She goes to say, “We were kids. We didn’t know what it all meant and what it’s like [for her] growing up an immigrant. So, there’s a bit of humour in there, confusion.” One scan of Emanuelle’s zine reveals that it follows the almost ominous nature of the other works at Canzine, which epitomize the ability of art and literature to turn pain and negativity into something beautiful.