Prominent in Tulsa’s underground literary scene, Broken Thumb Press hosts Tulsa Zine Night annually in an effort to bring zines to the forefront of Tulsa’s art culture.
The pH Community House is tucked away at the end of a neighborhood on Phoenix Avenue. Featuring a mural of a koi fish on its north wall, the building is small and unbecoming, easily mistaken for a house were it not for the bewildered fish and the eclectic paint job. Its interior sported one large room with a bar off to the side and a bathroom tucked in the back. The focal point of the room that night was a small, slightly elevated stage at the end.
The room was filled with candles, both lit and unlit, giving the impression that we were stepping into a seance. A chest stood off to the side with two ornate hourglasses sitting on either side of a large, oval mirror reflecting the ceiling. A clock in the back of the room seemed to be permanently stuck on 8:05, but closer inspection revealed all the numbers replaced with “now.” Seating was sparse, but that proved to be a non-issue, as the event seemed rather niche to begin with.
Broken Thumb Press hosted Tulsa Zine Night at the pH Community House last Saturday, January 27. The general idea for the night was a zine carnival of sorts, or a place to meet interesting people and discuss Tulsa’s flowering literature scene. The venue’s speakers hosted a nonstop playlist of modern prog I didn’t recognize, and several piles of zines lay scattered around the room.
On their Facebook event page, Broken Thumb Press links to an article hosted by Barnard College that defines a zine as “[s]hort for magazine or fanzine, zines are self-publications, motivated by a desire for self-expression, not for profit.” Present at the Zine Night were an array of publications from Tulsa and beyond, mostly various volumes of “Broken Thumb Press” (their eponymous zine) and the new volume of “The No Tulsa Sound,” for which the Zine Night doubled as a release party.
Jessica Sanchez, along with her husband Ricardo, run Broken Thumb Press. Jessica, a graduate from Northeastern State, started zine printing in college and never looked back. They are incredibly active: printing art, poetry, music, body image and even dream-themed zines. Their printing style is charming, aesthetic and grungy at the same time. Compiling cut-outs, maps, assortment of images, religious pamphlets, Cherokee-language cartoons and other miscellaneous art, the press laminates the pages and photocopies them before silk-screen printing the zines.
Despite the humble turnout, the room was without want of interesting characters, all overflowing with personality. Each person casually placed their zines on the bench and picked up a few others had left. One person owned a press in Kansas City, Missouri, working as a FedEx driver to make ends meet. They plan to move to Toledo, Ohio, to start another press. Their approach to conversation was eclectic at best.
The conversation lasted for about 45 minutes and touched many subjects, including the underground literary scene of the Midwest, law school and pornography. They asked us what we were doing with our lives and we each replied that we were just three English majors trying to make it.
“Terrible idea,” he said. After a few remarks about our inevitable careers of cab-driving, he took an earnest tone. He embodied the punk-rock writer aesthetic that Broken Thumb employs, but he also seemed to meld perfectly with his own zines that he’d brought from Kansas City.
“At some point, I was working three jobs,” he said, “and I ran out of time to write.” Balancing work with managing a zine proves difficult for many writers. Getting submissions, compiling them, and finding a press takes dedication, and all before a writer can start getting their own works out there.
The event was rather small, but it seemed that with each person that came in, the stack of zines in the corner grew. One person brought in a large box, out of which they pulled a brightly colored, glitch-art zine called “The Youth of America Today,” interspersed with random scenes of manga and a print of a Buddhist-looking temple taken from an odd angle and displayed without context. There are no words in the zine, and it seems to exist just for its own aesthetic reasons.
On the tail-end of the night, another person hauled in another box, this time filled with dozens of inch-long mini-zines. They said they were a substitute teacher and excitedly recounted that they’d had some of the children they taught make their own zines to help spread zine culture and awareness. Of these, our personal favorite was one titled “Jazzy Flowr,” which featured only the line, “I love you so much.”
Through its casual renditions of Tulsa Zine Night, Broken Thumb Press hopes to gradually bring back the Tulsa Zine Fest from 2015. It’s certainly a niche art form, or at least in Tulsa it seems to be. Sanchez expressed the troubles she’d had in getting submissions, and the amount of time between volumes is indicative enough of the volume of submissions.
All the same, zines are a passion project at heart, and the Sanchezes clearly enjoy their craft. They’re working to spread the word about their zine, in addition to zines in general. It’s worth a shot; from Broken Thumb Press or not, zines range from cheap to free and provide a truly varied view into the heart of our city and the people who live here.