Typically when I think about autumn, I can’t help but think about school: as an incurable bookworm, I spent many a fall afternoon kicking up leaves while carrying a ton of books in cautious mittens. Heading into October this year found me headed back to school – books and all – but this time on the other side of the desk.
And again, same as it was years ago, my focus was on books. Well, in a manner of speaking: this time my bags were filled with volumes of independently-published zines and chapbooks, handbound comics culled from my thesis adventures along the west coast ink line, and limited edition finds from a decade of collecting. “Zines and Things: Indie Publishing in an Internet Era,” the workshop I’m doing with the Creative Writing & 21st Century Publishing class at LaRue County High School, is a continuation of my personal work in contemporary narrative media, my own fascination with print (and with making/sharing print), and also a great way to give back as an alumni. I paired up with Summer Garris and together we brainstormed an approach into media mayham.
With a whole invitation of books strewn on the classroom floor, I talked briefly about the history of zines, and the background of independent publishing as political, personal, and social action. We talked about zines as culture signifiers and culture creators, introducing the rise of Funkmaster Thomas Paine‘s hit zine “Common Sense,” Ben Franklin‘s standing-room-only magazine run for psychiatric patients and staff, and HP Lovecraft’s indie-styled encouragement of the amateur avant-garde publishing scene. And we talked about how zines are ultimately a democratic, vocal, and self-motivated form of media: that as young writers they could actively create and define their own culture and representation. Who can resist that?
And a big part of self-definition these days is definitely the impact of social networking, online representation, and personal marketing. Without sounding too much like a corporate lackey when it comes to advertising strategy, I wanted to press the importance of giving print publications a fair face online, too, and how – as a designer and maker myself – you can use the internet to help promote some very non-digital, non-commercial, non-mass-produced media.
After all, the internet is, at its heart, a huge advocate for self-expression. There are so many free blog formats available to share your view with others, a ton of cheap and easy ways to sell handmade works of art and print, and so many ways to connect. We talked a lot about that: how do you reach potential audiences? how do you find opportunities? And how can you use new avenues to walk the writing career path? I introduced resource books on writing, reaching out, and (eventually) running a small business, as well as introduced a few people who’d gone on unconventional journeys to end up as published writers, comic artists, and makers.
As you might have guessed, I don’t like traditional formats if a better solution exists. Having the chance to talk with the class in their couch area was a perfect, casual fit, with zines in hand and with images of past workshops and lessons covering the back wall. It’s much bigger than my old classroom used to be, and the space easily fits a lot of desks, a lot of pacing space, and a lot of bookshelves. It’s also a mere hop and skip to the school’s main library. All these bookshelves also give us a great avenue into the next goal of the project: a zine library.
Zine Libraries (such as the one I visited earlier this year in Murfreesboro) are becoming more popular, giving readers a place to congregate and a cost-effective way to find and share the limited-editions that typically make up independent publications. It’s also a great way to give zinesters to a place to donate their works, share ideas and formats, and trade with other areas or makers to bring in new blood to an existing collection.
Thanks to TangleCraft’s zine-bomb tutorial template and a fistful of my Concerns issues, the students learned a little bit about folding mini-zines, an easy introduction to the world of handbound (or in this case, hand-folded) media. It’s also a great way for writers to get used to the sometimes condensed nature of writing for an audience, and for getting to the point efficiently but elegantly when you’re contained by pages limited by the costs and efforts of printing out of your own pocket. By the second workshop class, students were asked to bring a mini-zine they’d created as a way of breaking the ice and starting the possibilities.
As the class continues, I’ll be Skyping in periodically to help demonstrate new formats, point my fellow writers to new opportunities and resources, and initiate trades between LaRue and the rest of the writing world.
So Nashville: if you or someone you read might want to donate a zine or trade with one of the students to add to your (and their!) collection, or if you have ideas or tutorials you might want to introduce to the class via an online post, drop me a line or visit the project page. We’d be happy to start talking…and reading!