Call it a calling, a higher order, a biological imperative, a need expression, or simply a vanity, but on a most basic level, as artists, a major motivator in why we make is the idea that we have something to say and share with others. It’s not always easy – we wouldn’t resist and doubt ourselves if it was – but part of the satisfaction of making is the struggle for articulation: finding the right way to say exactly the right thing, and how everything clicks when it comes together. And sometimes, especially when you doubt and resist, part of the satisfaction lies in just going ahead and making.
Zines have often provided me with a way to do both. As Zines 101 – A Quick Guide To Zines, a one-sheet put out by Zine World (a.k.a. pitstop-coordinator Linebaugh Librarian, Jerianne, and her volunteer team of zinesters), explains, “there is no ‘wrong’ way to make a zine,” and for a maker, that’s freeing. Zines provide me with an outlet for “just making” and “just sharing” – I love the “Little” mini-zine format for these precise purposes of quick make/quick read – as well as a more complex way of processing larger ideas. The format of zines and the necessity of print give me a way of formally vocalizing, paring down, and conceptually editing writing or visuals whose roads require more navigation, narrative, and multidisciplinary depth than a single painting or a sketch can provide.
Not to say that every zine needs to be a comic, needs to be a “Little,” or needs to fit an unspoken set of guidelines. “A zine can be about whatever subject its creator decides upon, or it may contain a variety of subjects and writing styles within the same issue.” A zine can even have multiple authors, but the appeal is that no matter who and no matter what, each contains a unique voice.
It was in search of these voices that I drove to Murfreesboro, TN, to the Linebaugh Library, which hosts not only a full-time zine library, but also sponsors zine-related events. The Orderly Disorder: Librarian Zinesters in Circulation tour, which pitstopped here for a reading and talk, is one of these events, and also a great example of the range of voices, purposes, and formats present in the contemporary and global zine scene.
(During the reading, I transcribed copy from ear as best as I could, below; “quotation marks” denote direct quotes from the reading, and [box quotes] indicate the best summary I was able to catch in words. Any mistakes are my own, and all the good is theirs!)
Jenna Freedman is the author of Lower East Side Librarian and A Day in the Life of A Reference and Zine Librarian, as well as being a librarian at Barnard Library in New York, NY. In addition to her delightfully purple haircut, she also has an authentic, confessional style of writing, full of small secrets and introspective truths.
Her zines, read and voiced alike, feel like catching up with an old friendship: illustrations dot her pages, the images a part of the processing of exposed feelings and human experience. Jenna covered a full range in her reading, from the strangeness in handling grief in a friend, to her own struggles with the surprising nature of perceived cultural identity as she states “I’m not trying to deny that part of me…I’m just [surprised at how much other people notice it.]“
She began her reading with “[Change] is not about the big guys; it’s about the little things [that happen to us every day, little by little],” a line from Toby B’s Subject to Change, and I found this most poignant in her reading from Winter, December 17th, a zine she wrote about a mammogram whose results shook awoke fears of breast cancer. She writes of the dichotomy between the detachment from nurses and staff, an experience that ranged from mundane to frightening, and of the physical and emotional pain of being told she needed a biopsy: “I felt exhausted…[I thought it was the Valium I had taken earlier] but realized [it was my body's response to being assaulted.] [The procedure was like being assaulted.]” Fear and terror lean out from behind bravado and humor, uneasy beside this “weird excitement about being sick” and the nature of illness as seen by others. The results turned out to be cancer-free, but she approaches that concept of unnecessary alarm in the same, steadfast way she deals with the uncertainty of giving a performance reading of her zine: “being satisfied with being okay.”
As a reference librarian from Chicago, Illinois, Celia Perez has made zines for 16 years, dealing with personal narratives and life documentation. In (the aptly named) Document, a zine dealing with the loss of her abeula (grandmother), she explains that “everyone needs a story, so maybe that’s [why I'm fascinated] by small details.” The details are luscious, as tactile as the freckle cream she describes as an object memory of who her abuela was to her, and details are what drives both her zines and her constructions of family history: “[My grandmother is] details my mother drops when she feels like talking about the past.”
As the author of I Dreamed I Was Assertive and Atlas of Childhood, Celia works in the power of narratives both in her writing style and her content. She produces a zine based on reading recommendations culled from everything she reads in a year, and in another story, Telenovela Lovers of the World Unite!, Celia describes the vicarious experiences of soap operas on Univision, the Spanish language channel. “I lived vicariously,” she reads, “[through] the [neatly-tied] conflict of Hispanic Prime-time,” and how “for an hour or two, we were gathered as a family. [My Family. My city.] [...] Regardless of class or origin, the last few hours of last night were something we had in common.”
John Stevens, a zinester librarian from the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, is notoriously difficult to capture in a picture. His readings are full of gestures, frenetic eyebrow-raising, and swaying blinks, a body language as expressive and evocative as his zines Dilettantes and Heartless Manipulators and Blue Floral Gusset. Typically, John explains, he writes anonymously, liking “the direct conversations you can get” from the trust that occurs when you face the trials and triumphs of such unrestrained introspection. Zines give a “specifically immediate format,” allowing him to write without censor.
In March of 2009, John began a weekly ranting space in a series of mini-zines, their restriction being a kind of “anti-review.” Regular music reviews had no context to the writer’s mood or day when they wrote the review, so John started writing reviews that never talked about the music, only the context. Following issues relating to gender, otherness, and place, just to name a few, John’s readings talked about letters to Santa, discussing a birthday, and being/feeling “outside” for being himself at a ceremony.
John describes his weekly efforts as “some weeks they’re terrible, and some weeks they are ‘okay’,” but the spontaneous impulse of words articulate themselves on a level hard to imagine contained by a few short pages. Conversational and heartfelt, another reading of a different week describes “a little false [truth] to keep me excited” through the effort of trying on clothes while trying on questions of avoidance. Testing the length of a skirt by bending over in front of a mirror hides the more uncomfortable interior vulnerability of accidentally revealing too much of his own reasoning and validations for past actions: “As I edged around trying to perv at myself, I felt like I was putting myself in a compromising situation…with myself.”
The reading wound down with a simultaneous closing and introduction to the Fly Away Zine Mobile by Debbie Rasmussen, former publisher of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, as well as the mobile’s creator and curator. From Minneapolis, Minnesota, Debbie isn’t a librarian like the rest, but found herself as an honorary librarian when she started the zine mobile.
A grant covered the cost of buying the van and paying for gas (with plans to be gas-free in a year), while the content has been donated by zinesters around the world hoping to broaden readership and raise awareness of zines as independant publications serving a variety of needs. As a result, there’s a huge range of material, most of it geared towards co-culture escapades and support, bringing a unique perspective to challenge and shape existing culture as the mobile perambulates along through the nation.
Being somewhat of a tumbleweed myself, I love the idea of the Zine Mobile and the idea of free, available knowledge brought by people to people. And as a big fan of leave-behinds and trades, I like the idea of seeing and contributing to what people out there are reading and thinking and making. If you happen to catch up with the Zine Mobile, look for the mini-zine copies of Concerns #1, #2, and #3, donated by yours truly, and tell me what you’re reading, thinking, making, and, oh yeah, trading!
The Fly Away Zine Mobile is more of a reading room currently, but Debbie is exploring ways for it to be much more than that. She’s currently investigating new formats to pursue, organizing zines by color “because you’ll never know what you’ll get,” and bringing zines like Fucktooth, Polly Olly Oxenfree, Doris, and Remembering the Sun to progressive reading centers, libraries, community resource centers, and academic institutions across the U.S. and to people like us.
The Tour continues to head across the country, stopping at the Zine Librarian (un)Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsion. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even see some of them back for the upcoming Handmade & Bound Nashville, the zine conference to be held later this year in our neck of the woods.
Linebaugh hosts events and lectures regularly, and it’s worth taking a trip down early to spend some time browsing the shelves, catching up on their ever-growing collection of recent additions as well as reading older issues and favorites. Get some ideas: what to make, how to make, and why.