Zine Review: Nia King’s ArtLife #2: Don’t Quit Yr Day Job!
Nia King has an uncanny ability to make her readers feel cared for and welcome. I imagine an interview with Nia would be cozy and natural; she would find you a comfortable chair, make you coffee, and give you that rare feeling that she’s really, actually listening.
Like the artist herself – Nia podcasts, draws comics, writes critical essays, makes films, and performed with the POC Project Race Riot Tour – ArtLife #2: Don’t Quit Yr Day Job! wears a lot of hats. The zine is split into three parts: a series of brief essays full of advice and reflections, reviews of zines created by Nia’s friends, and interviews with artists, zinesters, and performers of color. As I moved from section to section I never lost the sense that Nia was there with me, providing frank but helpful advice and letting me listen in on her interviews.
A bolded subheading and a date precede each essay in the first part of ArtLife #2, as if Nia is letting you read part of her journal. I was most struck by the first essay, “The Gentrification of Zine Culture,” in which she recalls attending the San Francisco Zine Fest and realizing that many creators are pumping more capital into their projects than she has previously seen. Zines are a DIY medium meant to be accessible – both to make and to consume – by people with few resources. The change to this piece of zine culture is a complex development, and threatens to shut out QTPOC (queer and/or trans people of color).
Many of Nia’s friends fall into the QTPOC side of the zinester spectrum, and she reviews three of their creations: Skinned Heart (Quarto) by Nyky Gomez, Philosophactivism, by Toi Scott, and Think About the Bubbles #8 by Joyce Hatton. Her love for her friends and their work shines through in these reviews, but this section also made me realize that outside the realm of her podcast, “We Want the Airwaves,” in which she interviews QTPOC artists, Nia is constantly in conversation with these creators. The advice she provides builds on what she’s learned from her community; even the front and back covers of ArtLife #2, which are made from photocopies of an article about her book, remind you that she is part of an unending feedback loop in which QTPOC creators interact and support each other.
In the interview section, I was most excited to read her interview with Gene Luen Yang because I’m a HUGE fan of his work. (I just found out what happened to Zuko’s mom, thanks Mr. Yang!!) It’s a fascinating interview that provides a lot of insight into his most recent books about the Boxer Rebellion, Boxers and Saints. At the end of the transcription Nia notes that the interview was initially going to be published in an online magazine but was never run. Upon learning this I felt super appreciative that Nia had made the effort to publish it herself. Thank goodness zines can help us share and access these potentially lost gems!
Fans looking for more QTPOC creators to follow will enjoy ArtLife #2, but creators seeking advice will love it even more. Nia kindly opens up her experiences to you so that you can learn from her mistakes and successes, and so you can feel less alone. Buy this zine, her book, and her other work at her online store, or at a distro near you.