Blogging & Zine-Making in a Post-NOCAZ World

When we first started this blog in January of 2015, I had no idea what I was doing. From a web design, self-promotion, and editorial standpoint, it’s arguable that’s still true in our fifth year of operation. Swampflix is still an exceedingly amateur blogging project – somewhat by choice. I do think we’ve come to properly contextualize what we’re doing as an amateur film criticism collective over time, but our initial months were purely run on impulse. It was a time when all my favorite professional critics were losing their staff jobs on dream projects like The Dissolve (R.I.P.) to enter into the nightmare world of writing freelance, so I had no ambitions to turn this into a lucrative profession. Mainly, I just wanted to write. A few years away from the college classroom (where I l earned a very useful degree in Poetry), I found that I was no longer writing anything creative without the impetus of deadlines or a community to share feedback with, so I created both stimuli as best as I could in Swampflix. After we were all simultaneously laid off from the same call-center job in late-2014, I banded together with James & Britnee to fill our sudden wealth of free time by putting into print what we were already doing on our work breaks: chatting about movies. I set arbitrary goals for myself: writing one new movie review a day for two consecutive years while pushing my collaborators to post as much as they could contribute and both editing & illustrating each post myself. While I can say for sure that my Sharpie-doodle illustrations have noticeably improved over time, I’m not sure the same is true for my writing. I feel like I’ve hit a personal plateau with the quality of my craft in the past couple years and have only continued to produce daily #content out of pure personal compulsion – both the compulsion to discuss & discover movies with a like-minded community and the compulsion to do something creative with my free time. Those early jobless months have gradually given way to a newfound bureaucratic routine that pays my bills, but at least I have a somewhat creative hobby on the side in Swampflix to keep myself sane & entertained.

Even if my personal increase in quality has stagnated in recent years, Swampflix has remained interesting & rewarding to me in how it’s evolved as a collaborative project. Over the years, we’ve expanded the one-movie-review-a-day template into a much more complex routine. A bi-monthly podcast, weekly film-screening bulletins, monthly conversations, recurring features on niche topics, film festival round-ups , and all sorts of collaborative projects have helped define the Swampflix ritual as our initial three-person team has included & cycled through eight contributing writers over five consecutive years of daily posts (with Boomer being our most consistent additional contributor since late in our first year). None of these sub-projects have been as revelatory & invigorating as making zines, which we were entirely inspired to undertake by attending NOCAZ. The first New Orleans Comics and Zines Festival was held in November of 2014, exactly at the time when the original Swampflix trio were about to be laid off & looking for a creative outlet. Without a doubt, I would have started a movie blog that following January even if I had not attended the first NOCAZ; I had already started writing movie reviews in unlikely venues like The Dissolve comment sections and – I kid you not – weekly newsletters Britnee organized & edited for our defunct call center job, so an official blog was somewhat inevitable. I might have even arrived at the zine-like, high-contrast Sharpie illustrations aesthetic without it, given my ancient past drawing up flyers to promote long-dead punk bands I was in a lifetime ago. One thing is for certain, though: there would be no Swampflix zines without NOCAZ. I attended the first NOCAZ fest as a customer, never having made a zine before in my life, and I dutifully distributed Swampflix zines at each subsequent year’s fest until 2019 – the fifth & final NOCAZ. Making movie fanzines for NOCAZ was an intensely rewarding, labor-intensive ritual both because there was a tangible product associated with the work that we obviously don’t get from blogging and because it helped contextualize everything we were doing as an amateur film criticism collective with no chance of ever going Legit. Basically, everything I know about blogging & online self-promotion I learned from physically tabling zines for NOCAZ in the real world.

Self-publishing in the digital hellscape of the 2010s often feels like shouting into the online void. We occasionally receive positive feedback from a reader (or, more often, an amateur filmmaker whose work we caught at a festival), but those exchanges maybe occur twice or thrice a year. Mostly, we publish movie reviews for their own sake – finding enjoyment in the act of writing and the impetus to analyze films on a deeper level than we would if we were watching them purely as passive entertainment. I’ve found the most joy in this project when collaborating with similarly-minded bloggers – We Love to Watch, Luddite Robot, Jean-Pod Van Damme, etc. – but even those exchanges are sparse, as we’re all doing this in our free time outside the jobs that actually pay our bills. What I get from attending NOCAZ every year is a concentrated, amplified macro-dose of my favorite parts of film blogging in a potent two-day span. The New Orleans Comics and Zines festival was an annual opportunity to spend an entire weekend in the nerd-sanctuary of the public library with an overwhelming influx of amateur & outsider artists. Comic, zines, art prints, and everything in-between lined labyrinths of tables in the exhibition room, fostering a powerful environment of pure creativity uninhibited by official publication gatekeepers or access to the means of production. Every year, NOCAZ had the ideal D.I.Y. punk effect on me, the exact spirit you hope to be infected with at any punk community event: it made me want to make art. A lot of work goes into making new zines & buttons for the festival every year on top of our daily blogging, making for the most needlessly labor-intensive form of self-promotion imaginable. Still, it’s a way for us to make sure a few more locals are aware that we exist every year and a way for us to enjoy our own work as a tangible product instead of a shout into the digital void. Most importantly, though, NOCAZ was invigorating & inspiring as a temporary community of artists encouraging each other to keep doing their thing and trading around samples of their wares in conversational creativity.

The fifth & final NOCAZ, held in April of 2019, was a major success for us. We distributed around 40 Swampflix zines, reconnected with zinesters we met at previous festivals like last year’s ALA Conference, and met a real-life fan of the podcast (who is somehow a real human being & not a bot). There was even a sense of accomplishment in finally selling out of some of the zines we made in 2015 for our first year tabling at the festival – bringing our time with NOCAZ full circle in a satisfactory way. I was honestly embarrassed to sell some of those older zines, as I felt like the quality of our work has greatly improved since that first year, but there was still something encouraging about people being intrigued about something we made so long ago. That validation made me want to make more & better art. Talking to strangers about movies all weekend made me want to make more & better art. Being around so many creative, actively engaged artists in such an intimate, real-world space made me want to make more & better art. The final NOCAZ left me feeling the same impulse as every year’s festival before it: the need to do more and to do better. According to their own mission statement, “NOCAZ [was] an attempt to make a space for self-published artists and thinkers to put their work out in the public sphere and be able to reach each other without the constraints and expense of the commercial publishing industry. Zines are a participatory format and we hope bringing multiple perspectives under one roof [created] dialogue and [inspired] more people to express themselves through print.” I can report that, at least for us, the short-lived festival was a resounding success on those terms. I also suspect we were far from the only attendees who started making zines for the first time after attending the fest. The festival ending has obviously sent me into a tailspin of self-reflection and reassessment of what we’ve been doing over the last five years, since so much of our own work has been directly inspired & guided by our NOCAZ experience. There were more than enough people in the library for this last fest to prove that there’s an interest in a new annual zine event to fill that void now that NOCAZ is gone. And believe me, it’s a massive void.

-Brandon Ledet

Spreading Motern Awareness at the Final NOCAZ

Once or twice a year I make zines versions of movie reviews we’ve written for Swampflix to distribute at local festivals & events (with immense help from CC in printing & tabling them). So far, we’ve never sold zines outside the festival environment, so they’re a kind of special-occasion treat for the site – a natural extension of our low-fi, high-effort movie blogging aesthetic. I was inspired to start this ritual when I attended the very first New Orleans Comics and Zines festival at the New Orleans Public Library in our own early stirrings as a blogging collective. Surveying dozens of tables of amateur & semi-professional art in the library was an inspiring, communal experience that really helped put into perspective what Swampflix was even doing as a lowly, localized movie blog. We will never be a legitimate, lucrative film criticism website (or even a self-sustaining one, to be frank; this is a money-losing hobby of an operation), so I sensed an instant kinship with the amateur art-for-art’s-sake vibe of the event. Our high-contrast black Sharpie illustrations that accompany our movie reviews even already looked like classic Xeroxed zines, something that came naturally to me from self-promoting ancient punk shows in hand-drawn flyers for long-dead bands I was in over a decade ago. That first NOCAZ had the ideal D.I.Y. punk effect on me, the exact spirit you hope to be infected with at any punk community event: it made me want to make art. We’ve been tabling handmade Swampflix zines at every NOCAZ festival since (and even branched out to distribute zines at other book fairs & library events); it’s one of the more energizing highlights of our calendar. That’s why it’s so sad that this year’s NOCAZ will be the last.

The fifth & final NOCAZ fest will be staged at the Main Branch of the New Orleans Public Library on Saturday April 6th and Sunday April 7th, 2019. I’ve already been preparing for the festival for months, making zines & buttons in my free time between writing movie reviews, producing The Swampflix Podcast, and just trying to live a normal life besides. It takes a lot of work to finish the zines on-time every year, not least of all because I make it hard on myself for no reason at all. Instead of merely printing the text & images we’ve already posted on the site, I transcribe that work by hand in careful, but microscopic Sharpie lettering. I also make sure to include bonus illustrations beyond the ones we’ve already published. It’s a needlessly labor-intensive task. Not only does it require weeks of manual labor to produce every new zine, but my handwriting is so small, uneven, and littered with delirious typos that the end result is a bit of an eyesore. I could be wrong, but I highly doubt anyone’s ever successfully read a Swampflix zine from cover to cover, no matter their level of interest in what we’re writing about. That doesn’t mean that there’s no point in making them, though, as delusional as that may sound. I get so much out of tabling at NOCAZ every year. One of the main reasons we review movies for the site is because we love to discuss & recommend films to people, which NOCAZ allows us to do tangibly, in person. It’s also the world’s most ineffective, labor-intensive form of self-promotion, but I like to think that it does make at last a new handful of locals aware that we exist every year, which is a plus. Mostly, though, the zines are worthwhile just because it feels good to make anything. The act of amateur art creation is its own reward.

According to their About page, “NOCAZ is an attempt to make a space for self-published artists and thinkers to put their work out in the public sphere and be able to reach each other without the constraints and expense of the commercial publishing industry. Zines are a participatory format and [they] hope bringing multiple perspectives together under one roof can create dialogue and inspire more people to express themselves though print.” I can report that, for us at least, the short-lived festival was a resounding success on these terms. I also suspect we were far from the only attendees who started making zines for the first time after attending the fest.

I don’t think there’s a more appropriate note to end our time with NOCAZ on than the new zine we’ve printed for this year’s fest: a collection of movie reviews I wrote about backyard filmmaker Matt Farley last summer. For the last two decades, Farley has been making microbudget horror comedies and recording tens of thousands of novelty songs with his family & friends around his New England neighborhoods to little outside fanfare. There’s nothing especially “punk” about his work or his demeanor, but Farley’s Motern Media brand is still a microcosmic D.I.Y. operation that feels entirely in-spirit with the NOCAZ tabling experience. I was thinking a lot about Matt Farley last summer when exhibiting Swampflix zines at the American Library Association’s national conference. I spent four consecutive days in a massive convention hall peddling zines to librarians from all over the country. Out of every dozen or so people who actually stopped to talk to us about our zines (or to learn about zine culture in general), there were only one or two who enthusiastically got what we were doing and found great joy in talking about movies with a stranger. It was the exact high-effort, low-payoff amateur art lifestyle Farley details in our current Movie of the Month, 2013’s Local Legends. Tripling as a narrative comedy, a documentary, and an infomercial selling Farley’s various CDs & DVDs, Local Legends is a stunningly bullshit-free, self-aware summation of the minor joys & embarrassments of amateur art production in the self-publishing digital hellscape of the 2010s. It’s Farley’s masterpiece, and I see so much of my own experiences blogging, podcasting, and making zines in its cruel self-satire. Just as much as NOCAZ opened my eyes to Swampflix already being a kind of online zine before we were ever in print, Local Legends helped clarify exactly what I was feeling putting all this effort into go-nowhere art projects with no clear goal beyond the act of their own production.

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I initially wrote a Motern Media fanzine to help spread the word that Matt Farley exists out there, making amateur art for his own amusement (and minor, self-sustaining profit). Since printing the first few copies, NOCAZ has announced that this year’s festival will be the last, which already makes me feel like I’m living out the opening scenes of a Local Legends sequel. I can’t think of a more appropriate note to close our NOCAZ experience on than trying to convince strangers to purchase a zine about a microbudget filmmaker they’ve never heard of before, so that more people might experience the amateur joys of Motern classics like Local Legends, Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, and Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas. In true Local Legends sprit, we’ll also be selling older zines we printed far too many copies of years ago and could never fully get rid of at past festivals. Still, distributing the Matt Farley fanzine will be our top priority. NOCAZ & Motern are easily the two most revelatory influences I’ve had in understanding exactly what I’ve been doing with Swampflix over the last five years, so I’m glad I could find an opportunity to experience them in tandem before that window closes forever.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, Matt Farley’s satirical self-portrait Local Legends (2013), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Get Excited! Swampflix is Returning to NOCAZ Fest This Weekend

Attention, Swampflix readers in the New Orleans area! We will be exhibiting this Saturday (November 18th) & Sunday (November 19th) at the fourth annual New Orleans Comics & Zines Festival along with a bunch of other super cool comics & zines exhibitors. For this year’s festival we made a massive print version of the entirety of last year’s Movie of the Month conversations.

We will be also selling print versions of our “Marabunta Cinema“, “Lugosi Vs. Karloff“, “Agents of S.W.A.M.P.F.L.I.X.” and “Wrestling Cinema” pieces, as well as 2015’s Movie of the Month conversations in their entirety. They all feature dozens of new illustrations & hand-transcribed text from the site and the two Movies of the Month zines are ~90 page whoppers featuring work from everyone who contributed to the site those two years.

We will be tabling from 11am-4pm on Saturday & 12pm-4pm Sunday at the Main Branch of the Orleans Public Library on Loyola Ave. For more info on the festival, check out their website at Nocazfest.com & refer to the poster below.

We hope to see y’all there!

-The Swampflix Crew

Get Excited! Swampflix is Returning to NOCAZ Fest This Weekend

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Attention, Swampflix readers in the New Orleans area! We will be exhibiting this Saturday (November 19th) & Sunday (November 20th) at the third annual New Orleans Comics & Zines Festival along with a bunch of other super cool comics & zines exhibitors. For this year’s festival we made print versions of Boomer & Brandon’s Agents of S.W.A.M.P.F.L.I.X. conversations, spanning the first two “phases” of the MCU in just two zines.

We will be also selling print versions of our “Marabunta Cinema“, “Lugosi Vs. Karloff“, and “Wrestling Cinema” pieces, as well as 2015’s Movie of the Month conversations in their entirety. They all feature dozens of new illustrations & hand-transcribed text from the site and the Movies of the Month zine is a ~90 page whopper featuring work from everyone who contributed to the site last year.

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We will be tabling from 11am-4pm on Saturday & 1pm-4pm Sunday at the Main Branch of the Orleans Public Library on Loyola Ave. For more info on the festival, check out their website at Nocazfest.com & refer to the poster below.

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We hope to see y’all there!

-The Swampflix Crew

 

Get Excited! Swampflix is Exhibiting at This Year’s NOCAZ Fest

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Attention, Swampflix readers in the New Orleans area! Swampflix will be exhibiting tomorrow (November 14th) at the second annual New Orleans Comics & Zines Festival along with a bunch of other super cool comics & zines exhibitors. We will be selling print versions of three Swampflix pieces (“Marabunta Cinema“, “Lugosi Vs. Karloff“, and a collection of our Movie of the Month conversations) from 11am-5pm at the Main Branch of the Orleans Public Library on Loyola Ave.

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That middle piece is a ~90 page whopper featuring work from everyone who’s contributed to the site this year. All three feature dozens of new illustrations & hand-transcribed text from the site and, of course, all three will be dirt cheap.

For more info on the festival, check out their website at Nocazfest.com & refer to the poster below.

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We hope to see y’all there!

-The Swampflix Crew