In the crowded basement of Saint-Dominique Cathedral, it seemed as if every possible genre of author, publisher, illustrator, artisan, and their devotees were in attendance at Expozine, Montreal’s annual small press fair. It showcased 300 distinctive French and English exhibitors, ranging from established publishers like Drawn and Quarterly to obscure zombie-themed poster artists.
Upon arrival, I initially felt comfortable perusing the orderly displays of the glossy books provided by the more established publishers. These books, although beautiful, are easily found and purchased online or at a local bookstore, so I headed toward the smaller tables displaying homemade graphic novels and modernist French poetry. Flipping through a comic strip, conscious that the artist was sitting close by and watching for my reaction from her peripheral view, was a surreal—if not intimidating—experience. “It’s my life,” the author professed to her customer as she handed her a handmade card. She laughed as she spoke, but her emotions were genuine.
Another vendor was selling an eclectic collection of literature. The title of a small handmade book on her table read: “Look Inside this Book It is Interesting.” The book contained miniature photos of her silk screen artwork and some graffiti photos of a lion. After exclaiming that I had seen this graffiti around the city, she smiled and explained, “I did that 10 years ago—I’d wondered if it’s still around.”
Amongst the authors and publishers that lined the hallways was a vendor with a collection of framed pages ripped out of classic texts to which she had added her own expressive illustrations. On a page from Ezekiel, she had neatly circled the word Satan in red and drawn an immaculate skull and heart across the page. And on another work, which now hangs proudly in my living room, she underlined the word “darkness” on a page from a Psalm, and drew an old-style television over the center of the page, which seemed strangely fitting. “Nothing sacred here,” she remarked wryly, and, I assumed, a little ironically, considering Expozine’s location in the basement of the hallowed Catholic cathedral.
But I can’t quite agree with her claim. Despite the avant-garde merchandise—ripped out bible pages, morbid comic strips, and proudly displayed ‘F*ck Patriarchy’ t-shirts, there was something sacred there. That ‘something’ is the appreciation for individual artisans, and the sincerity and authenticity of their work. Whether one enjoys printouts of Yeats—seemingly—translated in Japanese script, edgy ’90s television-themed Christmas cards, watercolor posters of the streets of the Plateau, or elegant poetry from the finalists of the Canada Council for the Arts competition, there was a palpable sense of unity between artisans and art appreciators in the crowded basement.
The fair-goers had come to support their local authors and artisans because, with the omnipresence of ‘art’ and ‘culture’ that feels produced solely for profit, it was refreshing to be amongst those for whom art isn’t a means to an end but the end in and of itself.