What the heck is a zine?
- Folded in half and stapled or sewn (like a booklet) can be a variety of sizes.
- One-pager cut in the center and folded into a 6 page book.
Ok, so it’s usually a little book. What is a zine about? It can be about anything, and this is where zines really become difficult to define because if it can be about anything, then what makes it a zine? For me, what makes a zine a zine is that it is small press, often copied and distributed by the person who made them. This is arguable these days because some zinesters are choosing to have their zines professionally printed, especially if they are image heavy, but traditionally, zines were a way for people to get their ideas out there when publishing companies said the ideas were too niche or controversial or generally unmarketable for some reason.
It just occurred to me that I made a short video about how I made one of my zines. Check t out to get an even better idea of what a zine can be:
So zines were a way for members of fandoms to communicate with each other, as well as a way for marginalized people to get their voices heard. So, once again, zines are a lot of different things to different people, and they still serve both of those purposes. And you don’t have to choose. You can do both simultaneously. Maybe you have a quarterly Twin Peaks fanzine that you put out and you also decide to make a one-off zine detailing your coming out story. Both are valid. Both are zines.
Some zines are really image heavy like comic zines or photography zines or illustration zines. A lot of people who already make stuff for their blog or website will also release their stuff in the zine format, sometimes to sell, but a lot of the time, its organizing ideas that they’ve been playing with over time into one place and printing it out as a zine because sometimes there's just nothing better than holding what you made in your hands in a little book.
Zines recently made it into the scrapbooking world, and a lot of the content on youtube right now is scrapbook people doing D.I.Y. videos. So there’s not really a good single definition for what a zine is anymore, but what I’m looking for when I’m checking out zines to trade for or buy is something that looks like the artist had their own hands on it throughout the whole creation process. To me, that’s what zine really is. It feels different from a self-published novel or a poetry chapbook or a comic book or a photography coffee table book because it feels like a labor of love in a different way.
“I don’t have an artistic bone in my body.” Yes, you do. Make a zine.Seriously, you don’t have to be able to draw to make a zine. You don’t even need to use good grammar. You have feelings about something? You can make a zine. Just start making them. Maybe your first one will suck. That’s ok. Just because you made it, it doesn’t have to see the light of day. But if you made it, you should be proud of yourself. And if you’re proud of it, you should show it off. If you’re not sure about showing it to people, make a copy of it and send it to me. If you don’t want me to review it on my channel, just say so and I won’t, but I will talk to you about your zine if you want some feedback and you’re really worried that this thing you made is something that sucks.
Check out what other people are doing, but don’t spend more time looking at zines on the internet than you do actually making zines.
That’s such an easy trap to fall into, and I think that's true about everything creative. It’s a good idea to see what other people are doing and it’ll help you find people to trade with once you’ve built your confidence up, but don’t spend hours going through other people’s posts because that usually just leads us to making unfair comparisons. Especially if you’re looking at the work of someone who has been doing this for years. You’ll get there, but only if you keep making. It’s all practice. It’s all a learning experience and you’re not learning anything new if you’re not trying anything new. Looking at someone else’s social media feel is not going to take you that far. You need to get your own fingers gluey.
I’ve made some zines: Now what? Trade them!OMG! How cringey. Am I just supposed to roll up in someone’s DMs and ask them to trade? What if they say no?
They probably won’t say no. If anything, they probably won’t respond to your message and you can take that as a no. If you honestly feel uncomfortable asking people to trade, that’s ok. It’s natural to feel nervous about trying this for the first time. You are making yourself vulnerable in a way and that can be pretty scary, especially living in a culture that seems hellbent on rewarding people for being bitchy to each other.
So if you’re really nervous, here’s some examples of messages that real live zinesters sent to me to ask for a trade that made me go, “Heck yeah! I want to trade with this person!”“Hi! I saw you have a new zine out - would you be up for a trade? I can send you two of my mini-zines. Thanks.”
“Hi! Thanks for following me! I’d love to trade zines with you or send you a compilation zine made by disabled trans and queer creatives. Would you be interested?”
Now to be fair, I made it a little easy by stating explicitly on my post that my zine was up for trade, and this something you should be on the lookout for.
If all else fails, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram: @warglitter. I am up for trade. I have big zines and small zines. I am most likely going to say yes unless your zine is some pro-nazi shit and you can miss me with that, but, honestly, if you are afraid to send that first message, send it to me. I want to see your zine!
If you’re afraid that your zine isn’t enough, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little extra: a personalized note, some stickers, a drawing on the envelope, there are a lot of ways to make it feel special, so don’t worry about that.
It’s important to realize some people only want to sell zines.And if they have 20K followers on instagram and a store where they sell their znies, it’s safe to assume they expect you to buy and not offer a trade. A lot of people who are up for trades will explicitly say so in their posts and/or bio because that’s what they prefer. They want to receive zines and trading is a great way to do that. One of the reasons I started making zines was because I wanted to collect zines without spending shitloads of money, and that can be really easy to do if you’re not careful.
I still buy zines, by the way.
Why should you bother making zines and then giving them away for free?
So let’s say you’re already a successful creator online: you have a bunch of followers on multiple social media platforms and a business where you’re able to make a little extra cash each month, or you’ve even managed to start consistently making enough money so that you could drop that day job and work for yourself doing something creative full time. That’s awesome and, in a way, I’m kinda jealous but I realize how hard you had to work to be able to do that for yourself and you should be really proud. So, ok. Why should you bother making zines and then giving them away for free?
The push for sometime now has been to get as many eyeballs on your stuff as possible and to crank out as much content as you consistently can without killing yourself. The internet is so fast, you have to out compete everyone else trying to do the same thing. You have to be the first person to have the idea and then you have to be incensed when hlf of the people you tried to sell your creation to steal your idea and sell it for cheaper. It’s a lot of mental and emotional space that this kind of brand building takes up in your brain, and that’s a lot of work.
Zines are slower. They are slower to make. They are slower to spread. Good ideas will still spread, don’t get me wrong, but zines allow you to take a break from pushing yourself to be the first, the most, the fastest, and the best. Zines will go out to a smaller audience, which means you can use them as an opportunity to play around with new ideas without having to go all in with your wider audience. Zines let your brain breathe. And people love getting zines. You make them to give away to your friends and family or other artists you like and they will love you forever for it.
Multiple times, I have said that zines are good for my mental health and part of the reason why is the lack of trolls. When you become even just a moderately popular creator on the internet, the trolls come knocking. You might be thinking, “well, I just draw a cute little cat comic. I’m never going to have to deal with trolls.” Unfortunately, this already happened to Sarah Andersen. She was mercilessly attacked by numerous fascist twitter accounts in December of 2016, and later said it made her want to stop creating.
When you trade zines with pals for the fun of it, there isn’t a comments section in your zine that trolls can flock to. And if you ever have to deal with that stupid bullshit while running your online business, zines give you a home to go to so that you don’t have to keep logging in to a toxic environment in order to keep sharing what you create.
You should make and trade zines because you are a shitty penpal and you know it.No judgement here because I am speaking from personal experience as a shitty penpal, but even if you love sending mail and having penpals, you probably suck at it. It’s not your fault. It’s just hard. I had a really hard time getting out of the getting to know you stages of penpalling, and even when I did, I would just babble about my day, or worse: vent to a stranger about whatever was bothering me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, inherently, but I always felt bad that we weren’t giving each other more and after a few letter exchanges, it always felt like more trouble than it was worth. Even penpalling with someone I already knew in real life was difficult and I would quickly falling out of the habit. It’s especially hard now since we’re all on social media together and it gives us this false sense of being in each other’s lives more than we are.
When I trade zines with someone, I know I’m going to get more than a rant about the shitty thing their best friend did and I don’t have to feel bad about sending them a shitty letter. If I’m sending a zine, I’m sending something I planned out and considered before even putting it to page. I’m sending them some magic that happened in the moment that I couldn’t plan out, it just happened as I was making it. And I’m able to send this meaningful idea to multiple people and receive just as much meaningful mail in return. Everyone feels good.