At a recent event, the presenter asked those in attendance to go around the room and name a hobby they enjoyed. People named activities like jogging, reading (big surprise!) and quilting. However, one participant said, “Zines.” We all looked around, a little confused and curious, but there wasn’t time for much explanation. So we tracked down Violet Fox (Metadata Librarian at CSB-SJU libraries),who very graciously agreed to answer our questions on the subject!
Q: What is a zine?
A: A zine (pronounced “zeen,” like magazine) is a noncommercial, small-circulation work that is self-published. Zines can be handwritten, hand drawn, typewritten, or computer printed, and are usually photocopied and bound with staples. They’re a part of DIY (Do It Yourself) culture; zine creators (“zinesters”) are motivated by passion and the desire for self-expression, not making a profit. Zines can consist of any genre you can imagine: they can be personal or educational or humorous or politically controversial, featuring topics such as art, music, history, culture, and more. A common feature that zines share is that they’re outside the mainstream—by reading a zine, you’re probably hearing from someone who doesn’t have access to traditional publishing. Importantly, zines provide unfettered access to often underrepresented voices, including those of young people, poor people, people with disabilities, and people of color.
Q: How and when did you first get involved with zines?
A: I encountered zines here and there while attending college in Boulder, Colorado. Local bookstores or record stores would occasionally have a shelf or two dedicated to selling local zines.
But I really got involved at the end of 2008 when I started volunteering at Seattle’s Zine Archive & Publishing Project (ZAPP). ZAPP has one of the largest collections in the world with over 30,000 items—helping preserve and share them was a great way to connect with smart, creative, fascinating people. Since my library background is as a cataloger, I’m very interested in the ways that libraries and archives catalog and organize zines—pigeonholing zines into categories can be tricky and traditional library classification is often woefully inadequate or inappropriate.
Q: Do you have a favorite zine, or zine subject matter?
A: I’m a big fan of zines that teach me a new skill or new information. Learning from regular people about their interests, whether SCUBA diving or taxidermy or hip hop music, is one of the delights of reading zines. I’ve got too many favorite zines to name, but two that I’ll mention are Giant Robot, which introduced me to the wonders of Asian and Asian-American pop culture, and Homos in Herstory, a series of zines by Elvis B. who shares historical tidbits in comics form about homosexuals in various time periods such as the nineteenth century, the 1920s, and the 1970s.
Q: Have you written any zines?
A: Though I mostly like to facilitate others in making and organizing zines, I’ve written a few myself. One was about the history of Bigfoot/Sasquatch-type creatures in folklore throughout various cultures. I also coordinated a yearbook-type zine for the members of my MLIS cohort at the University of Washington—it was fun to pull together shared memories, photos, and inside jokes into a physical memento. Recently I contributed to a friend’s zine by discussing and rating the various Paul Bunyan (and Babe) statues I’ve visited since I moved to Minnesota last summer.
Q: How has technology impacted the zine culture?
A: I often explain to young people that zines were what people had before blogs or social media: a way to communicate their thoughts to others when they didn’t have access to traditional publishing or mass media. In the early 2000s, the zine movement lost some steam—why bother making a zine when you can write a blog to get more exposure? But gradually zines have made a comeback as people discover the joy in making things with their own hands. When you post something online, you don’t necessarily control it: Facebook can delete posts, your website hosting company can remove content it doesn’t deem appropriate, you don’t own the servers for your cloud storage, etc. But a physical printout is yours. Most zinesters aren’t anti-technology, in fact, many sell their zines online through sites like Etsy or via “distros” (distributors). But all zinesters recognize the value and beauty of creating something physical.
Q: Any advice for someone starting their own zine?
A: The beauty of zines is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to make your own zine—just do it! There are plenty of tutorials online for making zines: some of my favorites are listed at ZineLibraries.info’s “Intro to Zines” page. You can even make a one-page “mini zine” that requires only a piece of paper, a pair of scissors, and a pencil. My advice would be to ignore any inner voice that tells you that you’re not creative—find something you’re passionate about and share that passion with the world!
Q: What can we expect when attending a zine fest?
A: A zine fest is any place people gather to sell, trade, and talk about zines. They can be any size from a dozen tables set up for a few hours in a community center to a multi-day event featuring workshops, readings, and panel discussions. I’ve helped organize the Chicago Zine Fest for the last two years, where there are over 250 exhibitors and nearly 2,000 attendees. This year I’m also helping to organize the 12th annual Twin Cities Zine Fest, which will be held Saturday, September 24th at the Walker Community Church in Minneapolis. We expect to have about 70 people there selling their zines. It’s free for anyone to attend and it’s a great way to support the local zine scene (and get inspiration for making your own zine!).
Q: Any additional information you feel is important to share regarding zines?
A: I love to talk to librarians about zines because they can be a powerful tool for engaging the community. A zine-making workshop, whether for children, teens, college students, or adults, is a low-cost way to draw people in and help them see the library as a place of content creation/makerspace. Asking participants to donate a copy of their zine to the library can then be the start of your libraries’ zine collection! Seeing their own work in the collection is an invaluable way for people to feel invested in the library. I help run ZineLibraries.info, a great resource for librarians including information on teaching with zines, sample collection policies, and ideas on how to shelve and display zines. I’d love to see zines flourish throughout Minnesota!
Thanks again to Violet Fox for telling us all about zines and allowing us a window into this creative community! Feel free to email her with zine questions you may have.
If you are feeling inspired and create your own zine, share your work with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.