Monday, February 27, 2012

Understanding Zines

Last year, Imprint, the journal of the Print Council of Australia called for zines to include as a give-away in their edition dedicated to artist’s books.

The idea of free art, of making something and letting it go (or just giving it away) really appeals to me. However, that isn’t to say that I don’t want my work to be appreciated. Just freely available.

The idea of making some work and leaving it somewhere in the neighbourhood for someone/people to take has crossed my mind more than once. But this was followed by an image of my poor work being scrunched up and tossed in the bin, so I haven’t acted on the idea.

The zine call sounded good except…I don’t really make zines. And I’m not really that into them. (I think I might be a bit too old…)

At the time of the Imprint call, my contact with zines was fairly limited. I did own one, which I had received for free, given away by Dr Anna Polletti, a speaker at the Freestyle Books Symposium (State Library of Queensland, 2008). The free gifting had impressed me at the time, even though I found the zine itself rather curious.


You can see it above, with its little paper-bag envelope on the right. It’s the musings of “Cry Wolf”, handwritten, on the subject of “pleasure”. It’s written on a page from some sort of sports manual, this page being about competitive walking technique. The whole thing is photocopied (which seems to be the preferred medium for zines) but there is a colour card, like a collector’s card attached. Mine has a picture of a young man looking at a Playboy magazine, and I presume there were a variety of cards included.

So, this was the first zine I had held in my hands, and I have to say that over time, it did begin to grow on me.

The zine-giver, Dr Anna Polletti, is an academic from Monash, and she chaired the zine roundtable at the Impact conference, mentioned by Ronnie on the BAO blog here. Having  written a PhD on the topic of autobiography in Australian zines, she can be considered an expert, so you might be interested in this little chat with her from youtube.

Unfortunately I can’t find the notes I took at the symposium, but I definitely left more interested in zines than I had been.

There are a number of things that appeal to me including making art accessible and non-elitist, creating community, and the freedom to pursue off-beat interests (let’s be honest, we all have them!). The difficulty I was facing was that the zine I had been given looked exactly like I thought zines were supposed to look, an aesthetic largely dictated by the use of inexpensive black and white photocopying. And that wasn’t really inspiring me.

I definitely needed to do a bit more research. More to come.


  1. I find it rather bemusing that the academic world is giving out Ph.D.s on zine-making! Somehow that seems like a basic contradiction ;^P...but how fun. I think I feel sort of the same as you on this topic. It's hard to get too excited by them, but then again, they can be very interesting too. I've bought a few that are really beautiful and I've wanted to do one much to explore in this interesting world of ours. Maybe I'll do a post one day soon on this topic too so I can show you photos of my little collection.

  2. agree - I kinda shake my head a bit at the cliquiness of the zine community, and I'm not totally into the aesthetic of many zines - yet I just can't help but love that they exist outside the usual art world ..... when I stumbled over gracia and louise's zines (one was given away for free at that impact zine chat wheeeeeee!) at last I found an aesthetic that aligned with the egalitarian nature of zines....... so I'm feeling my own way with what a zine may or may not be (ie if the community isn't already there for you to slip happily into, make one up!)

  3. Hi Amanda, I had similar feelings about zines, but have grown to like them. Well, some - the visually oriented ones appeal to me most. They can be so odd, so personal, which I like. I suppose I only like 10% of the ones I see. I have been slowly collecting then, for "study." In my mind there is a grey area around zines that is also interesting. Check out these three posts on my blog Especially "Zine Energy" - Bob's photocopied collages are more outsider art, I think. I call my free download "Dreaming Made Easy" a zine. It's easy to fold some up and hand them out. (same link) Then there is James Castle - more outsider art, but very zine-like. Anyway, I could go on. You've made me think about a lot of stuff. Now I want to try to make another zine myself. Great post. I'm curious to see what comes next.

  4. I must admit, it may be an age thing but the majority of zines do seem to me to be a little naive/crude in execution Like you I like the idea of the accessibility of zines, and the idea of creating community by giving away,and possibly receiving in return, artwork.
    The non precious nature of them could mean that they are non-threatening and inclusive, encouraging others to take part. As could the use of the hand made, photo copied and simple computer generated imagery/text/production
    Is it possible to exploit the photocopier and other inexpensive methods of making largish editions without compromising on the visual/aesthetic appeal

  5. After reading all your thoughts and finding that my reservations are like yours,I think that any "zine" we produced may not necessarily fit the genre exactly, but who cares. The egalitarian nature of them and our interest in visual aesthetic appeal would make "our" zines beautiful and a joy to produce and exchange. If you send me your postal address I would be happy to send you one of my zines which would I think suit our BAO aesthetics and await your comments with bated breath. Meanwhile I'd better get on with my book.

  6. Amanda, I don't want to preempt what I think may be your next post, but may I say thank you for a wonderful surprise in the mail. I have a small but growing collection of zines, most by Gracia & Louise, a few others I've found along the way. I think I'm showing my age by wanting them to be beautiful, a little bit of grunge goes a long way with me.

  7. I attended Anna Poletti's talk at the SLQ symposium too(and received a nice little zine in Imprint) and I have become interested in zines but never felt comfortable with the idea I would make one, and be part of zine culture (mainly an age thing). But I love the philosophy behind them, and I have found some of them very appealing for a variety of reasons. I think it's a great idea to just start making them as precious little gifts to give away in our own circles - just as you have done Amanda. Thank you.

  8. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on zines - it's obvious I am not alone. I really liked the way that Anna Polletti speaks about them, it's very encouraging I think and does make me want to be a part of it all, but like a number of you, I can't let go of my desire for pleasing aesthetics/design. And of course, you are right Ronnie, the community aspect is long as you feel welcomed by that community! Hm!

    Atelier C: I'm sure we'd all love to see your zine collection. I hope you'll post about them and let us know here.

    Thanks Judith for those links to zines online. The idea of downloading and printing them yourself is another intersting direction. I think it is intersting to draw comparisons with "outsider art", although I don't know whether "outsiders" can be a "community" by definition! ;D
    Jac & Helen, you both, like me mentioned the a-word (actually I meant age, but aesthetics also works). I don't believe for a second that using a photocopier discounts good design - or beautiful work, there are plenty of examples of black and white art works that overflow with both of these. As you say Jack, I just don't think it's what interests most zinesters. And as a former purveyor of "art as therapy", I kindof think that's okay too. *I* don't personally want to exclude anyone - but I would like to feel free to join in too.

    Yes, Carol, I think you do know where I am going with this, so thanks for your discretion!

    There's lots more I could say here - I'm really enjoying this little discussion with you all but I'll stop for now.

    And Jack, please UN-bate your breath! I don't want you becoming light-headed on my account!!

  9. I've only ever seen zines on my computer screen so I know much less than you did. I am now looking forward to any new posts you may write on the subject. The zine aesthetics don't appeal to me either but sometimes we only need to observe something long enough to discover its hidden virtues :)