Upon mention, the 'zine tends to conjure up high school leaflets, juvenile manifestos. This is not to undercut it: saying that a 'zine is something even the young can make between classes emphasizes that it's the most democratic of creations. Makeshift, scrappy and impromptu, it's the hustler of printed matter.
This past Saturday and Sunday, NYC Zine Fest presented a wider interpretation of what the 'zine actually can be, broadening notions of both physical construction and symbolic interpretation. A host of one-hour workshops were held, including "Stitched on the Spine: Bookbinding for Zinemakers" and "A Century of Self Publishing: Zine and Mini-comic History 1900-present"; there was also a daily screening of the documentary $100 and a T-Shirt.
Amongst the clusters of tables filling the Brooklyn Lyceum, one came across all kinds: 'zines printed upon graph paper or decorative Japanese paper, fastened with yarn or hand-sewn with string, scribbled-upon or neatly typed, a slip of paper or a folded accordion leaflet. The formats included comics and poetry and coloring books and Xeroxed photos and compiled emails and — my favorite, most unexpected iteration of a 'zine — the mix tape.
Delightfully primitive, hands-on in exact opposition to the Kindle, 'zines are made by touch first and foremost, formulated by drawing and cutting and tying and binding. Flashbacks of classroom tactics — the doodle, the note ripped raggedly from the bottom quadrant of a lined piece of paper, the stack of paper stapled unevenly — reemerge, making the simple, the intuitive, the artisanal glorious again.
The effect is, of course, variable. With the topics ranging so enormously - from the mundane (i.e. 7 things you did this afternoon, notes while on riding the A train, a reprint of the email your friend sent you) to the political (the usual hot buttons: politics, sexuality, gender) — the output can be anywhere from relatable anecdote to eccentric visual cacophony to agenda-verging-on-agit-prop. The intimacy of the handmade medium combined with the intimacy of the content can, at times, be almost claustrophobic in its voyeurism — some things feel TMI. When you're literally perusing someone's diary excerpt in their own handwriting, or witnessing someone's odd visual experiment with a photocopy machine, the intimacy can be alienating. Then one feels guilt-ridden for not necessarily appreciating the effort; it feels bourgeois to not herald the work.
But for every experiment that fails to make you want to reach for the scissors and scrap paper, there are so many that do. The unbridled visual and narrative expressions are what make the 'zine so interesting as a form; its lack of polish and predictability and regularity makes it triumphant by the very fact of its existence. In today's publishing climate, experimentation and independence in the realm of printed matter is, on the one hand, more essential than ever. Yet, on the other hand, the DIY 'zine is completely unrelated to the state of the publishing (or any other) industry. It's the antidote to the lament about publishing; it's the combat tactic and the creative outlet to change what should be said and made.
Some favorite finds: