By Claire Sosienski Smith
Hello and welcome to my ted talk okay buckle up and keep your hands mostly inside the car but I know we are all impulsive creatures!! What? No one gave me a ted talk? That is a non-problem. I’m going to keep referring to all my extended conversations as ted talks and you cannot stop me!!
This is zine culture to me. It’s self-publishing, including spur of the moment diatribes on whatever you want. I say ‘to me’ not because I love gazing at my own navel but because I’m not entirely comfortable outlining exactly what zine culture is to everyone. Some general definitions are that it is personal and radical and firmly rooted in a DIY ethos. This definition is affected by its history, but that is complicated too: are zines a remnant of 90s DIY punk culture, taking on a life of its own when the RIOT GRRRL movement used zines as a way to get girls to the front of the punk scene? Are they the updated scrapbooks that women have been making and sharing since women weren’t allowed to be in public male spaces? Are they another form of letter-writing, just broadcast more widely?? Zine culture is such a conglomerate messy old thing with a victorious heart and its aim has always been rooted in counter-culture, a way of challenging the mainstream ways of sharing knowledge.
I am going to pause here to suggest that in this moment of brands infiltrating all channels of communication, we need to be aware that there are some things that zines are not. Yes, the term itself is half of the word magazine, but we’re a dissected chunk from them that grew better and stronger!! What are magazines doing jumping on the zine train now? Oh, trying to appropriate a radical aesthetic to sell more things??? Quelle surprise!! If they’re too lazy to say the whole word magazines, then a glossy publication that makes profit is a ‘mag’ not a ‘zine.’ Guess I can be a gatekeeper when I want to!!
Hey, it fits into that messy definition I outlined earlier, that zines need something to define themselves against. Zines are trying to give a voice and way to organise to people who are not represented in traditional media channels. Zines are like that really cool friend who you can’t quite tell whether you are desperately in love with or just want to actually BE. She is a good presence in your life regardless. Zines are about presence, about taking up space, about The Present and the future, nodding to the past that brought us a method that means if you have something to say and access to a printer – or now just the internet – you can get it out. Better out than in!! What you have to say is important and publishing your words in zines reinforces this unapologetic and unpolished action of being here. Zines are tangible, which is important for people whose identities and narratives are so often appropriated, talked over, or completely erased.
Zines are not competitive, zines are not for making a profit (the price for a zine should be recuperating your expenses, including your labour and ideally the labour of those who contributed?? But in this world, zines often end up being voluntary contributions of art), zines are not edited, airbrushed or perfected pieces. Zines are an expression of selfhood and community, of your thoughts and what gives you purpose, feeling your feelings and not apologising for the mess. There is always space for more zines. This brings me to the crux of my ted talk: make your own zine. You can do this by folding and stapling / sewing / just keeping the paper loose, writing on the pages and handing it to another person. Maybe it becomes a zine in that act of handing it to another person. Radical connection in the face of isolation. I leave you with my very simple guide on how to use a Microsoft Publisher template (I know, a brand, I’m inconsistent and complacent) to print your zine. It’s a matter of clicking on the right template, compiling your work and printing it out double sided.
That’s all there is to it. There is no reason why you can’t make a zine. I know I would love to see it, but more than anything, I hope that you will love seeing it, holding something in your hands that you made. That feeling will remind you that what you contribute to the world is valuable and worthwhile, just like your zine-loving corporeal form.