Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Alex Nall, organizer of Chicago Zine Fest, which runs Friday and Saturday.

First off, what is Chicago Zine Fest?

It’s an annual festival of small presses and independent publishers. Our mission is to showcase the cultural accessibility of zine-making through workshops, panels, and readings. People can come up and trade zines with artists from Chicago and all over the country.

What’s on the docket this year?

On Friday, at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, we have a panel discussion on using zines for self-care. It features zinesters JC, Rinko Endo, and Kevin Budnik. After that we have an exhibitor reading with nine local artists: Natasha Hernandez, Bianca Xunise, Eryca Sender, Sage Coffey, Javier Suarez, Fiona Avocada, Jim Joyce, and more. Some make comics, some do music, and some are more traditional.

Saturday is the main exhibition day at Plumbers Union Hall. There’ll be workshops going on all day. We’ll have HalfWit Coffee. Busy Beaver Button Company will be making buttons. We’re also having a panel on the history of Quimby’s bookstore.

There’s going to be an after party on Saturday at the Learning Machine in Bridgeport, from 8 to 11 p.m. We’ll be doing karaoke. We try to make the weekend just a big party for everybody who comes.

Any events you’re particularly excited for?

I’m moderating the panel on Quimby’s. The original owner of Quimby’s will come talk along with current manager Liz Mason. That’s going to be a great discussion. They celebrated 25 years last year. We want to take an hour to just talk about the importance of independent bookstores in Chicago. It’s going to be a great talk.

I take it Quimby’s is pretty important to the scene here.

I don’t think we’d have a zine fest if it weren’t for Quimby’s. It’s a statement to the power that they have that they’re still up and running. I came to Chicago five years ago to make comics and find community, and Quimby’s is where I found it. I was able to walk in with this really crappy comic book and say “Can I sell this here?” and they said, “Sure.” To have a place where your work is seen and sold is great.

How has the landscape changed over the years?

I wasn’t there for the first zine fest. The other organizers, who’ve been around since the start, describe the first one as more of a gathering than a festival. There were maybe 30 or 40 exhibitors and now we have 200 signed up. I think that growth shows not only how much the culture is growing, both in the city and nationwide. I’m seeing zine fests taking place in cities I never thought I would—Oklahoma City, Boise. The culture of people writing and drawing and making self-published books has always been there, but all of a sudden these festivals are popping up all over.

Why do you think that is?

People who create comics and write want exposure and feedback. Zine Fest is the perfect place to get that. You can go in with zero dollars in your pocket and walk out with a bundle of zines, because people are so willing to trade for them or just hand them out for free. The culture is just a very welcoming and hospitable group of people.