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Perspectives In Circulation

Celebrating International Zine Month at Watson Library

Delving into the collection

Jul 13, 2022

Two green blob characters slumped over

This July marks the thirteenth annual International Zine Month! To celebrate, we combed Watson’s holdings to highlight some of the over three hundred zines in our growing collection.

But first, what is a zine? Barnard College’s Zine Library defines a zine as “a DIY subculture self-publication, usually made on paper and reproduced with a photocopier or printer. Zine creators are often motivated by a desire to share knowledge or experience with people in marginalized or otherwise less-empowered communities.”

The first zines are commonly attributed to the science fiction fandoms of the 1930s and ’40s, taking their name from the “fanzines” that were published at the time. But before these fanzines hit the scene in the 1930s, there were the literary journals, or “little magazines,” of the Harlem Renaissance. Kelly Jensen writes in Book Riot that these little magazines “could be compared to the ’zine movement of the late twentieth century—the little magazines allowed space for not just poetry and prose, but also for essays of radicalism, of experimental writing, and for space for subversion.”

Cover of Fire and illustration of a woman and palm tree

Facsimile edition of Fire!!: A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists (Metuchen, NJ: Fire!! Press, 1982). Left: Cover image. Right: Print from inside the issue

Originally published in 1926, Fire!!: A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists is an iconic example of one of the little magazines produced in Harlem during this time. The publication was started by Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas, John P. Davis, Richard Bruce Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett, Lewis Grandison Alexander, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. Unfortunately, just one issue of Fire!! made it to the press—the magazine's headquarters burned to the ground shortly after the first issue was printed, ending its operations. The POC Zine Project has made Fire!! available for all to read online, but you can always come to Watson to read the print edition.

As a nod to the significant role zines play in creating community for fandoms (especially pre-internet fandoms), we’re highlighting two of Bulgarian artist Martina Vacheva’s zines in our collection: Twin Peaks and Star Wars Zine. Martina’s practice is rooted in fanzine culture and utilizes techniques such as collage, drawing, and painting.

Illustration of Yoda and Princess Leia

Martina Vacheva, Star Wars Zine ([Bulgaria?]: Martina Vacheva, [2016?]). Left and right: Cover images from two of the four Star Wars Zines

Illustration of a bird and a woman in a mirror

Martina Vacheva, Twin Peaks ([Bulgaria?]: Martina Vacheva, 2015). Left: Cover image. Right: Portrait of Twin Peaks character Laura Palmer

Zines fully embrace the DIY ethos not only in how they are created and published, but also in the information they share. From lessons in paper-making to subversive knitting patterns, the genre of “DIY Zines” is well represented within Watson’s collection

Cover with illustrations and cover with a sweater

Aimee Lee, Making Milkweed Paper ([Cleveland, Ohio]: Aimee Lee for Bionic Hearing Press, [2018]) and Lisa Anne Auerbach, Charted Patterns for Sweaters that Talk Back (New York: Printed Matter, 2008). Left: Cover image of Making Milkweed Paper. Right: Cover image of Charted Patterns for Sweaters that Talk Back

Pictured above, Aimee Lee’s 2018 zine Making Milkweed Paper is a step-by-step guide on making paper from milkweed plants by using various parts of the plant. Deluxe editions of the zine include a tipped-in sample of milkweed paper made by Aimee.

Printed Matter, a small press focused on artist books and zines, published Lisa Anne Auerbach’s Charted Patterns for Sweaters that Talk Back in 2008. The colophon states: "Copyright free: you are free to copy, distribute, display, and perform this work and to make derivative works." The zine contains patterns for seven sweaters with slogans including “Keep Abortion Legal” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” Auerbach, an American textile artist, has been knitting her subversive sweaters since the 1990s.

Zines are commonly used to reflect on and share histories, particularly those of historically marginalized communities. In 2015, Brooklyn-based artist Be Oakley started GenderFail, a publishing and programming initiative that seeks to encourage projects that foster an intersectional queer subjectivity. GenderFail has published work by thirty artists, including the zine Stonewall Was A Riot shown below. This zine, created by Be Oakley, includes an essay from Brett Suemnicht's VCUarts MFA Thesis “GenderFail: The Queer Ethics of Dissemination.”

Be Oakley, Stonewall Was A Riot (Brooklyn, NY: GenderFail, 2020). Left: Cover image. Right: Back cover image

Three portraits, from left: Assata Shakur, Medgar Evers, Malcom X

Neta Bomani, Black Radicals: ABCs ([Brooklyn, NY]: [Neta Bomani], [2021])

From January 28th through May 7, 2021, artist Neta Bomani posted a zine study or experiment to their Instagram as an extension of the “one hundred days of making” class at New York University. On day seven of one hundred, Neta posted the zine Black Radicals: ABCs. The zine is created in an accordion fold format and features an inexhaustive list of black radicals, socialists, communists, separatists, Pan-Africanists, abolitionists, feminists, and more, including, but not limited to: Amiri Baraka, Alice Walker, Erica Garner, Frantz Fanon, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Mariame Kaba, and The Move 9.

While some zines share history, others are responding to history in the making. A plethora of zines have been published throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including Marc Fischer’s Quaranzine. Fischer states: "Between March 15 and June 22, 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I produced one hundred different one-page publications with almost ninety collaborators. Each issue was produced in a run of approximately 100–175 copies and is a double-sided RISO-printed sheet of 8 ½ × 11 in. paper.” Watson Library holds all one hundred issues produced by Marc in 2020.

Two covers of quaranzine

Marc Fischer, Quaranzine: A Printed Space for Creative Work Produced During the COVID-19 Pandemic ([Chicago]: Public Collectors, 2020). Left: Cover image of Issue #30. Right: Cover image of Issue #18

The fronteristxs collective is a group of artists in New Mexico working to end migrant detention and abolish the prison industrial complex. They’ve recently published a four-part political education series titled #FreeThemAll Zines, which anyone can access and download via the collective’s website. Each zine features New Mexico-based artists and authors, along with relevant facts, timelines, and information regarding each theme: Zine #1: The Impact of Policing; Zine #2: The Prison Industrial Complex; Zine #3: Immigration; and Zine #4: Abolition: Enacting Alternative Futures. The zines were published in both English and Spanish.

Two covers featuring an illustration of a border fence

fronteristxs collective, The Impact of Policing in the U.S. ([Albuquerque, New Mexico]: fronteristxs collective, 2021) and The Prison Industrial Complex ([Albuquerque, New Mexico]: fronteristxs collective, 2021). Left: Cover image of The Impact of Policing in the US. Right: Cover image of The Prison Industrial Complex  

And finally, we leave you with an art zine, and perhaps my favorite zine in Watson’s collection: Hannah Coleman’s Blobs in Chairs. Published during quarantine in 2020, Blobs in Chairs is a meditation on sitting, lounging, and rest—themes so many of us have been forced to confront in one way or another over the past two years.

Two green blob characters slumped over

Hannah Coleman, Blobs in Chairs ([South Portland, ME]: [Childish Books], [2020])

Browse more zines in Watson by selecting Material/Document type from the dropdown menu on Watsonline and typing in zines.

Feeling inspired? Check out these resources to learn more about zines:

About the contributors

Associate Manager, Technical Services, Thomas J. Watson Library