By Julie Landers
During the first lockdown, I made a zine about toast. It was something small, nothing that would cause a seismic shift in bread-eating discourse. But it was the act of concentrating on something that I liked, slowly cutting and glueing together a small handbook of sorts, that provided a sense of profound comfort at a profoundly uncomfortable time. I did not make it because I knew I was the world’s leading expert on toast. I made it because I just really like toast.
Of course, the scope of what constitutes a zine and its contents stretches far beyond what I have just mentioned. Zines have been used as sites of appreciation and sites of agitation since the early twentieth century. The first ‘fanzine’ was created by the Science Correspondence Club in Chicago in the 1930s, titled The Comet. Over time, the topics of these fanzines (gradually shortened to ‘zines’) became increasingly varied and technological advancements of the 1970s made the printing and distribution of zines an easier and thus more common practice.
Zines have been used as a medium to create community and proliferate ideas for years. In the 1970s, the Queercore movement in America and Canada grew through the sharing and publishing of zines sharing ideas of queer joy, anarchy and community, zines like J.D.s, created by GB Jones and Bruce LaBruce. In making the zine, Jones and LaBruce aimed to recognize a queerness beyond that which was socially acceptable at the time. The pair stated that “It is our belief that freedom of communication shall not be denied to any segment of society even though that group may be anathema to the so-called ‘normal’ majority”. Many other Queercore zines were established and as they were shared and crossed boundaries, so did the music of Queercore, which evolved from sharing cassettes with zines. Bands like Team Dresch, Pansy Division and Tribe 8 were all part of the Queercore movement. Of course, zine culture itself was not relegated to the US and Canada and spread to other countries throughout the twentieth century.
In Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, Stephen Duncombe wrote in his opening chapter about the medium: “zines (…) celebrate the everyperson in a world of celebrity. Losers in a society that rewards the best and the brightest. Rejecting the corporate dream of an atomized population broken down into discrete and instrumental target markets, zine writers form networks and forge communities around diverse identities and interests. Employed within the grim new economy of service, temporary and ‘flexible’ work, they redefine work, setting out their creative labour done on zines as a protest against the drudgery of working for another’s profit”. The words bite with as much force today as when they were written back in 1997.
There remains a significant absence of diversity within the publishing industry. According to the Diversity Baseline Survey published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books in the US, 76% of publishing staff, literary agents and review journal staff were white, 81% identified as straight, 74% were cisgender women and 89% self-identified as non-disabled. Undoubtedly, major systemic change must occur within the sector and this work should not fall solely on the shoulders of those who are underrepresented. As consumers, I feel like we also have a responsibility to demand more.
Through becoming increasingly interested in zines I have found narratives and voices that I had not opened myself up to hearing previously. There are people writing and creating in the margins and through zine-making, their work can reach more people. Once we start listening to those voices, we shouldn’t stop. By consuming zines and turning to publishers who give platforms to underrepresented writers, we make a clear statement that we want more from exclusionary publishing houses.
Zines can exist as sites of critique and, similarly, of celebration. The ideas and the lives contained within them can reach anyone who picks one up out of interest, anyone who sees something that resonates with them. If you decide that you want to start making zines, it can be a little scary trying to figure out how you want that to look. Whilst there are organisations and libraries that are dedicated to collecting and preserving physical copies of zines, some are still in the process of creating online catalogues of these publications. There are some really wonderful online archives and shops dedicated to zines on a variety of topics and from a variety of communities that you can turn to for inspiration.
In the Special Collections here in UCC there is an archive of zines collected by Cork Zine Archive, following on from their 2019 exhibition in Boole Library: ‘Publish and be Damned; Cork Zine Archives 1975-2005’. Cork itself has a rich zine history, with each publication acting as a snapshot into the counter-cultures that have rippled through the city at various stages.
The POC Zine Project is a volunteer-based grassroots entity founded by Daniela Capistrano in 2010. They describe themselves as “an experiment in activism and community through materiality” and strive to collect and make accessible zines created by POC (People of Colour). On their issuu they have multiple publications available to read online.
Annie Forrester is a Cork-based artist and it was her work that initially got me interested in zines. On her Etsy, amongst a myriad of lovely things, you can find her zines that draw from specific moments and entities for inspiration, like baths and Missy Elliott.
There are so many ways to make your own zine, and a manifold of subjects you can build your zine around. A tool that has made me laugh and also taught me more about using different zine formats is the wonderful Electric Zine Maker, available on itch.io. The lo-fi graphics that are reminiscent of the early days of the internet and vibrant colours make it a forgiving and enjoyable way to get into zine-making.
Zines are outlets for passion and politics and conductors for the community. Anyone can make one, including you. Your zine can be as basic or as grandiose as you desire. The great thing about zines is that there is no standard format or prescribed way of making one. There is only your way.