Last weekend, we attended the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, taking along a stall from which to sell copies of our little publication.
Anarchists of different stripes had come from far and wide, and plenty of likeminded and interested members of the public came along to see what we were up to. I don’t think I’ve seen an Anarchist event so well organised and well attended. Inspiring all round.
I have to hand it to the non-Anarchist members of the public for showing up in such impressive numbers. When I mention Anarchy to new friends, I’m often met with bemusement: either such a bold political stance seems out of place on such a mild-mannered individual as myself or the very concept of Anarchy in the modern day seems absurd to the average person. Yet here we were.
The fact that so many non-Anarchists attended the event meant that we (and presumably the other stall-holders and presenters) weren’t preaching exclusively to the choir. I spoke to plenty of people with conventional jobs who were beginning to consider various escape routes.
The New Escapologist stall sat between an American electro/punk band called Realicide and a semi-ironic Québécoise organisation called Front d’action stupide. I’m very glad I sat with the people I did because they were excellent company for the duration of the weekend, trading horror movie and music recommendations and discussing the nomadic lifestyle.
As the first morning progressed and I spoke to more and more people, I began to develop a sort of sales pitch for the magazine. I found myself describing the magazine as “a humour periodical from England” (at once explaining my accent to the largely Canadian audience and slightly adjusting their expectation that we’re a hardened political organisation) but that we offer “sincere advice and discourse on the art of living and how to escape the mindless drudgery of conventional career life”. I told them that we’re “pro-laziness and anti-work and we ask people to consider working less in favour of a low-impact, post-consumerist lifestyle”.
Whenever I used the expression “mindless drudgery” in my pitch, the Mohican-topped Robert Inhuman would chime in from the next stall with “As opposed to mindful drudgery!” knowing very well how much hard work has to go into producing zines and making money from indie exploits.
“Mindful drudgery” reminds me of my friend Tim who inverted the popular “Spiritual but not religious” maxim to “Religious but not spiritual”, admitting that he enjoys ritual and adhering to a strict code of ethics but refuses to believe in a spirit or to give himself over to a poorly-defined cause.
I’m glad I managed to explain the magazine so concisely: partly for the practical reason that I’d only have around two minutes with any potential reader, but also because I worry about Einstein’s words of wisdom: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. Did I definitely understand the nature of our harebrained scheme? It was now evident that I did.
We had been asked to work out of the zine room as opposed to the main books hall, which was fine, but I worried that our high cover price (by comparison to typical zines) would result in a lack of interest. I reduced our price as much as reasonably possible and told people that “we’re dedicated to making things of quality and have a pretty unique style of typography.” This technique proved fruitful and we managed to sell almost our entire stock over the course of the weekend.
On the second day, I was joined by Samara, our illustrations editor and frequent contributor, who had fun doodling personalised sketches on the reverse side of her business cards for people to take away. We also gave away sample content from Issue Three in the form of a new pamphlet designed by our usual typesetter, Tim.
People were invited to write their email addresses on a specially designated part of our tablecloth so that they could join our mailing list. In fact, they could write whatever notes or recommendations they liked on the same tablecloth. It was funny how many people commented on this idea but as a minimalist it seemed natural to me: I didn’t want to keep the tablecloth after the event and I didn’t want to have a bundle of note papers to cart sift through later. The contents of the tablecloth are now safely typed up into my computer.
I didn’t take any photographs beyond one of our own stall because I met a rough reception from a staunch off-gridder when photographing the crowded main hall, but I see that a few have made it onto Flickr.
Thanks to everyone at the bookfair for putting together such an impressive event. Whenever I organise a comedy show or an Escapology event, people always seem amazed that someone acheived something beyond the norm, yet these are always far smaller affairs than this one. Kudos to all.
I’d love to do another event like this soon. The next one I can identify as having a similar flavour is Expozine, for which I will be sure to register but doesn’t happen until November. If anyone has recommendations of similar events (anywhere in the world), we’d love to hear about them.