What’s a Zine? WWAC Roundtable on Zinecourse

A eight panel grid showing how to create a zine out of a folded sheet of paper -- each box in the grid is labeled "page 1," "back cover," "front cover," etc.

In an era where self-publishing is easier than ever, what makes a zine a zine? Is a crowdfunded glossy fanzine full of big name fanart the same as a Xerox’d treatise on your favorite band? Is there room for more than one definition of zine? WWAC held a round table to find out!

To kick off the discussion — what “zine” feels like “zine” to you?

Kat Overland: So for fanzines, I think of  Spockanalia as one of the OG modern media fanzines (definitely the first Star Trek one), but the Brooklyn Captain America zine is a solid example of what is also considered a zine or fanzine these days — glossy, higher production values, many contributors. But something like TV Rots Your Brain also counts as a fanzine and definitely sticks to the more “traditional,” I guess, definition of zine that includes a more DIY production, staples, and Xeroxing.  I definitely also think of the Riotgrrl movement when thinking of the historic lineage of zines. So these are the zines I think about when I think about zines!

Masha Zhdanova: For me, the ultimate high production fancy fanzine is this Yuri!!! On Ice zine that ran a few years back. I’ve had my fair share of experience participating in and purchasing these kinds of zines, but this one always stood out because of how luxurious it seemed. Also it made nearly $20,000 in preorders and got their Paypal account frozen because that was too much money in a very short time or something like that. 

As far as DIY original zines go, I really like this little book I got at a con once of Food To Cook When You’d Rather Die: easy nutritional recipes in a super handy format. It’s very simple and sparsely decorated, and while it’s neat, you can tell it was made by one person relatively quickly. I like the immediacy and usefulness of it. I don’t know if I can call it by the same word as Born to Make (Art) History, though. Although I guess if sugar cookies and croquembouche can both be called desserts, fancy zines and simple zines can coexist as well.

Taylor Leong:  My most honest answer would be that the zines that feel the most “zine” like to me are the ones I make for myself, since those are the ones I personally handle the most. Aside from that, I’m partial to things that tend to have a fairly singular vision that stem from a personal interest and passion in the subject, regardless of production method.

That being said, on one end of the zine spectrum I have a folded zine by Breena Nuñez with line art drawings of cafes and bars around the city. It’s very intimate, printed on thick blue cardstock that’s a little worn, and fits in my palm. A little bigger but in a similar vein is the zine “Trash Creatures” by Allison Gray devoted to appreciating animals associated with trash and refuse, like rats, raccoons, pigeons, and others. 

On the opposite end, there are the full-color, perfect-bound, collaborative zines popular in anime fandom that are extremely high-production, professional in all but name in their polish and expense. They can be organized to channel fandom enthusiasm into fundraising for charity, like the Neon Genesis Evangelion fanzine Rebirth Dilemma (2019) or Yuri!!! On Ice fanzine Selfie!!! On Ice  (2017), or simply because a group of fans really wanted to make an art book devoted to their niche erotic-horror alternate universe (Sweetheart, 2020) and put down the funds to do it. 

Elvie Mae Parian: I am the sort of person who accepts a more flexible definition of what a “zine” can be. I think there is a spectrum: zines can range from this highly produced fanbook with supplemental merchandise, dedicated and themed around the video game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, to small, simply stapled pamphlets put together by artists like Tee Kundu that carry simple statements and ideas meant to be passed on to other potential readers, devoid of anything fandom-related. 

Claire Napier: From zines covering the show The Professionals to the more grungy ’90s-2000s stuff, to me, is the root definition of zine. I expect a printed zine to be black and white. Because of my old age.

Kat: Is there an ‘old fandom hag’ zine equivalent because we’re the same age here.

Melissa Brinks: When I think “zine” I immediately think “stapled.” That isn’t entirely fair of me, because I will happily purchase things I think of as zines regardless of how they’re bound, but something stapled immediately suggests “zine” to me. I’m a big fan of The Corners of Their Mouth Press, which produces small anthologies on different queer themes, such as flowers and food, as well as the Hazel series (full disclosure: I am in the most recent issue), which are not stapled but which I would still happily call a zine, and I also love Xeroxed, limited-run zines I have picked up and sadly misplaced and therefore can’t remember off-hand. They all feel like zines to me.

Alenka Figa: When I interviewed Jenna Freedman she used this phrase, “zine-y zine,” and that has really stuck with me. Jenna talks about perzines really being zine-y zines for her, and I am also really drawn to perzines, so perhaps that’s why that concept has stayed with me. A key example from the perzine category for me would be anything by Jonas, like Cheer the Eff Up or Fixer Eraser. I have a few of Jonas’ zines – don’t ask me which ones, I’m avoiding an inevitable, necessary zine reorganization project right now – and they’re pretty visually simple. Black and white, stapled, cheap paper, and lots of intimate, raw feelings. The zines I love most make me feel like I’m really being pulled into someone’s head, someone’s worries, loves, personal growth, someone’s internal world – so, of course I love perzines, and they are the most zine-y to me.

A fanzine that feels like a zine-y zine to me would be Kori Michele Handwerker’s Health Goth Otabek, which is a mixture of sketches and adorable comics about Otabek and Yurio from Yuri!! On Ice being sweet angel babies realizing they like each other. It’s also stapled, it’s not glossy, and it mixes formats – I think there’s even text from Handwerker’s tweets from when they originally shared the comics! That’s a thing I love about zines; no one can tell you what to do! You can switch up formats and styles as much as you like!

What IS a zine anyway? 

Kat: I think of ‘zine’ as a pretty broad category (probably more broad than most?) that encompasses two lines of historical use — fan zines  (‘40s) and diy zines (‘60s-70s punk scene thru Riotgrrl and beyond). In general, when thinking about ‘zine’ I picture a self-published booklet/multipage work by one or more creators that is bound by a particular theme (even if that theme is: myself). (This also counts one-page foldups? But just one single page is a flyer). But the first step to identifying something as a zine to me is…does the creator/do the creators consider what they made a zine? If so, it’s probably a zine. 

Claire: My sense is that a zine is something recognisable as “a publication” made with immediacy (a short editorial process) and a micro budget. It may also exist outside of the mainstreamable content arena, e.g. it probably doesn’t flawlessly source images or respect the letter and spirit of the law on copyright. A zine, to my sense, must be “scrappy.” Naturally, this word is flexible.

Masha: I think of zines as in “high-production-value artbooks” and zines as in “scrappy DIY” zines as separate concepts that people describe with the same word. A fanzine can be a DIY zine, an artbook can contain all-original content, but if you were to tell some anime fanartists they can make a zine with just a printer and a stapler they would have no idea what you were referring to because in those circles “zine” specifically means something big and shiny and expensive that comes with stickers and charms and custom tote bags. I wish there were distinct words for self-assembled, cheaply made scrappy zines and fancy art books, but the reality is that people use the same word for two very different things.

Taylor: I like the definition of zines being something that can at its most basic, be made and distributed by a single person, fairly cheaply and affordably. I didn’t necessarily grow up knowing the historical context and usage of zines as Kat mentioned earlier, but ever since middle school I would make copies of foldable booklets of my art and give them to my friends and teachers, and that meant a lot to me. The distribution and sharing of art, writing, and ideas and connecting with other people who make things is mostly done through online channels now, but there is something meaningful to me personally about making a Cool Physical Object of work, especially one that doesn’t require a huge budget. In modern fandom spaces however, the meaning and connotation are something entirely different.

Zines are, more often than not, expected to be huge scale productions that hold a lot of stakes not only financially, but within social circles as well. Instead of being a fun activity that anyone can participate in, it becomes a semi-professional endeavor that requires applications, portfolios, resumes, graphic designers, and financial moderators. It’s still technically “independent,” since it’s usually still produced on a small scale as people’s hobby and free time, but production is held up to the standard of mass-produced commercial works. Which has resulted in some amazing work I appreciate a lot, but the commonality of it nowadays, especially as fandom itself becomes more and more commercialized, doesn’t entirely sit right with me. If pressed though, I think the thing that unites maybe the two kinds of zines we are discussing would be a sense of passion for their subjects–just executed in very different ways. 

Elvie: To reiterate what I previously said, I think zines are things that can be more loosely defined than what I think most of us know them to be. In fact, I think they are less of a medium and more of a concept; that concept to me is that zines are some sort of pamphlet or book that contains a collection of work independently distributed for the purpose around this one theme, whether it’d be around a fandom or any general idea. For that reason, I think there is an intersection with doujinshi (self-published work), but doujinshi is a term that is not exclusive to books and usually includes video games and even music. 

I do share the sentiment and concern as others have already said, raising the question if there does need to be some sort of distinction made between say, the fancy, high-budgeted artbook versus the stapled, photocopied at home brochure, but I don’t know if that distinction is dependent on the usage of the word “zine” per se, or unfortunately what remains to be just classic issue of gatekeeping within niche and fandom spaces. 

Melissa: I’m going to get weird about it and say that, first, I think of “zine” as an umbrella term that encompasses all of the work discussed here—glossy, high production value art books by independent creators (not license-holders), and copy-machine things your sister’s best friend cut and folded together. But part of my interpretation of what makes a zine a zine is the spirit of the thing; a fanzine is different from an official art book regardless of production value because the former is based on fandom whereas the latter is based on profit. There’s overlap there—as mentioned above, fanzines have become a production requiring financial advisors!—but the source, to me, is very different. The same goes for zines other than fanzines. A little folded one-sheet zine about foraging is a zine, a polished but self-published collection of foraging tips is a zine, a low-fi-looking book on foraging in the style of a zine but published by a traditional publisher is not. It’s not just who publishes it that matters, but also the intent behind it. 

Zora Gilbert: A zine is whatever people are calling a zine. I know what I refer to as a zine (and I’ve tried to pull back my usage to refer more directly to self-assembled and low-budget productions recently), but if an individual or small team calls their 1,000 quantity print run via SmartPress project a zine, I don’t think they’re wrong or enacting linguistic harm on creators who work with 20-count self-folded zines. Like everyone else, though, my flexibility stops once, like, Boom or whatever starts using the word. You’ve got corporate backing and stockholders, get your marketing team outta my indie space.

Alenka: Because I run zine workshops for kids who have no idea what a zine is or how to even pronounce the word, I’ve put a fair amount of time and thought into how I introduce them as a concept. (Tiny tangent – I really like what Elvie said about zines being less a medium and more a concept, because zines can look so, so different from each other! And having read that, I’m now wondering if I’ve been treating zines as a concept and not a medium this whole time.) I have a little power point I’m using in my virtual workshops now, and these are the three definitions I share with kids:

“A zine is a multi-page publication made for passion, not profit.” Sarah Mirk, independent comics journalist

“Zines are physical representations on paper expressing ideas we hold in our brain.” Alex Wrekk, creator of Stolen Sharpie Revolution & International Zine Month

“Zines are self-published or published by a small, independent publisher. Self-publishing allows marginalized voices to express themselves beyond the constraints of mainstream media, and also lets authors take control of the process of publishing.” Laura Van Leuven, The Chapel Hill Rare Book Blog

I like Mirk and Wrekk’s definitions because they’re simple and impose few limits on what a zine can be, and I think the necessity for that lack of limitations is outlined very clearly in the final quote, from Van Leuven. Zines are a medium — or a concept — that exist because marginalized people needed an outlet when mainstream publishing kept telling them “no.” Zines are where we can do anything because we get to be in control. We can be raw and real, we call out prejudice as loudly and bluntly as we want, we can be weird, hyperspecific, personal, raunchy – whatever we want!

I don’t think this is an entirely unproblematic approach. I think it works partially because I don’t participate as much in the part of the community that is making expensive, glossy fanzines. However, to me zine community is really about empowering creators to follow their passions with as few limits as possible, whereas mainstream publishing loves to stomp on people instead.

What counts as DIY? When does something become no longer DIY?

Kat: I ask this because I genuinely do not know! I think if you’re creating enough of a publication that you outsource distribution it definitely feels beyond the scope of “DIY” and in some ways even ‘zines’ to me, but I think it’s also easier than ever to actually outsource these aspects of publishing. The cottage industry of companies who will help fulfill Kickstarter goals is proof to that.

Masha: Yeah, there’s a ton of print-on-demand places nowadays that can print your book for you, and Kickstarter fulfillment companies. I think there’s a line between “DIY” and “Small Press/Indie”, but I’m not sure where that line is. At what point does a fanzine organization become a publisher? Some people who make high-end fanzines make more than one zine over the years, with the same group of moderators/editors. Does that make them a publisher?

Claire: When they own the IP? Ho ho ho. (But really)

Taylor: I wonder if DIY is as much a specific “aesthetic” than it is an actual process–I feel like with the multitude of tools available nowadays things that are technically Do-It-Yourself can come out looking very polished, while the “scrappy” aesthetic is also something that can be done intentionally to mimic a style by established and traditional publishers. DIY as a concept I feel involves some sort of giving up control of how something may “turn out”  and being at peace with that, which isn’t always the case with the way production works now.

Melissa: I agree that owning the IP is a big arrow pointing to “no longer DIY” in terms of fanzines! Being a financial stakeholder in the success of the property being celebrated does, in my opinion, make the “fan” part of “fanzine” feel disingenuous—if the creators of Overwatch were out here funding Overwatch fanzines, I would no longer feel like they’re fanzines. When it comes to original work, I think things get a lot harder. I think you can be a zine publisher, as Masha mentioned, without losing “zine” status, but the scale and scope matter in my definition. 

Alenka: Taylor’s point has me thinking about this issue of the Adventure Time comics. It was a one-shot compilation of “zines” that each of the characters made. I don’t consider it an actual zine, because it’s a published comic from a mainstream publisher, but I remember feeling like a lot of thought went into how each character would make a zine. Specifically, I remember that BMO’s zine was all in crayon.

I do think people sometimes treat DIY as an aesthetic and I disagree with that approach. If you’re making it yourself, you’re making it yourself, and it will look like you made it, in theory. That might mean it’s done all in crayon, or with fancy brush pens that you particularly like, or all the copies are pamphlet stitched by hand, etc. I think it’s fair to say that if you’re making something on a scale where you’re essentially doing work a publisher might have to do — outsourcing your distribution, working with larger companies etc. — that begins to fall outside the realm of DIY. I made a perzine about my cat’s chronic illness, and did everything myself on my laptop, except I used a cheap local publisher to get copies printed, folded and stapled. I have printed, folded and stapled some copies myself as well – does it stop being DIY because I spent like $30 or something to get some copies printed? I’m not exactly sure where the line is.

Is a broader definition of zine, one that includes zines with high production values and/or outsourced printing/assembling/distribution, a problem?

Claire: I do wonder what counts as “high production values.” Production that cost a lot? Or production that you can look at and think “I bet someone paid a lot for this,” whether they did or not? The latter is more liable to mislead, I think, and also the more likely version, because how would anyone outside the production team KNOW what production actually cost? I would say that “a zine” can look identical to Vogue if nobody got paid to make it. I also don’t know the production costs for Vogue… but I feel like Condé Nast would get in trouble if no-one was being paid. Am I a little baby? Maybe.

KO: This was kicked off in part by a discussion of fanzines on Twitter regarding needing thousands of dollars to produce a fanzine — I think that’s comparatively “high production value” to home printing. (But what if you used that money to buy your own printing press, is that more or less zine-y? Maybe a question for Carta Monir). 

Claire: Wow OK, that is a hilarious root—what an absolutely BONKERS statement, from the perspective of a 33 year old. This has to be the root of the difference, right? Age, then age of experience? I can totally see how it would be something that contemporary and young creative individuals worry about, and I think the difference does lie in the fact that you/they use the word “fanzine” rather than just “zine”—fandom has been monetised where in the olden days there was just “bootlegs.” It’s almost the difference between “punk” and “steampunk”—zine and punk just being “scene” modifiers, essentially. But it does suggest that “outside of the mainstreamable content arena” is still a major element of definition.

The last question is a very interesting one! I think then you just become Indie…

Kat: But beyond that, is the existence of fancy fanzines something that would discourage the production of smaller, scrappier would-be-zinesters? Do you think there’s definitional drift that creates confusion?

Masha: I’ve seen some fanartists with established followings make zines of their own artwork for a specific character or pairing they like, but even then they were aiming for that full-color, full-bleed, glossy-cover aesthetic. I also remember about a year ago there was a Twitter thread about how it’s easy to make a zine with just some paper and a stapler and a lot of people were replying to it with confusion because they’d applied to competitive fanzines and been rejected and didn’t understand how this cheap method could compete. 

Taylor: That attitude of “how can it compete?” makes me sad. I completely understand it, especially in a fandom space where people are used to high-production value (where lots of people buy things), but the appeal of making something cheaper IS so you can just do something for fun on a smaller scale within your friend group, without feeling the need to invest thousands of dollars. But once expectations have been established, it is hard to diverge from that…

Elvie: I think the best outcome out of all this is that it’s made clear that both realities of this zine can exist but still remain distinct from the other — but at the same time does that become a problem in creating exclusivity when one group is not open-minded to the concept of the other? 

Masha brought up a very solid, if not striking example of where this can create a rift, which definitely is the fault of how nerdom has become so commercialized in the last few years. As someone who has went and participated in conventions and art shows for a long time, it’s very interesting seeing the evolution of the quality of work independent artists put out selling in alleys: in the last few years alone, artists went from making keychains out of Shrinky Dinks and carrying the burden of a lamination machine to now having the resources to instead communicate with a professional manufacturer and produce things at commercial, mass quantities. A bar has been set high and once again, capitalism rears its ugly head by unfortunately putting pressure on creatives on what that bar is. It definitely has muddled and tainted many people’s mindsets from knowing when something can just be a passion project as opposed to feeling pressured to make everything a for-profit one. 

Zora: As someone who came up in but then gently exited fandom-primary spaces and tried to re-engage with media in a more interpersonal or creator-focused way, loose language being a capital-P Problem feels very much like an internet-oriented discursive issue. At trade shows and festivals—SPX, TCAF, MoCCA, CAKE—creators bring zines in every possible form, from machine-bound and glossy to 8-page single sheeters run off on a home laser printer. (Side note: one of my favorite things I’ve ever gotten at a convention is a single sheet zine by Rowan Woodcock entitled “I Made This Because I Didn’t Have a Business Card.”)

It’s worth noting that the shows I listed are incredibly indie-focused shows, and that not everyone can travel to them. But remembering my immediate, physical-world experience of wandering around spaces and seeing all the incredible possibilities in the medium means that I have trouble seeing the loose application of the word “zine” as the problem with weirdly gatekeep-y tweets.

Melissa: Tricky! Mostly no, I don’t think really professional-looking books hurt other kinds of zines. The only issue is see is that glossy artbook style zines can come to be the dominant association with the word and eclipse the others, leading to that “you need $3,000 to make a zine” attitude, when the coolest things about zines (in my opinion) is that they’re scrappy and easy to make. You don’t have to have any budget other than a piece of paper and a pencil, and not even that if you’ve got a computer with internet access! But the solution isn’t to call these fancy books something else, I don’t think—maybe it’s to spend more effort as zine fans talking about how great all kinds of zines are.

Alenka: I would love to get a festival organizer’s perspective here! As an attendee I am leaning toward Melissa and Zora’s points as well — when I go to Chicago Zine Fest or CAKE, I buy anything that catches my eye, and that ends up being everything from carefully made risograph and glossy zines to black and white, cut ‘n paste zines and tiny mini zines. From my own purchasing perspective, I don’t feel like one hurts the other. Are festival organizers careful to balance the different kinds of zines when they accept tabling applications? Now I’m very curious.

I feel like I’ve had this conversation with various folks over the few years I’ve been going to festivals and writing about zines. We’ve been sitting with this tension for a while now — are lower income zine makers getting priced out of festivals, and out of the zine world? Are they getting lost in the milieu? I think a lot about another part of my conversation with Jenna Freedman, when we talked about people charging more for zines, and that possibly happening because it’s a pandemic and people are struggling, and even the cheapest of zines requires a creator to shell out for some material. Maybe putting in more time to make a higher production value zine means it sells more, and makes one’s zine-making practice a bit more sustainable. Obviously, the ones making thousands of dollars shared by Masha and others don’t fall into this category, but I worry that by putting a stricter definition on zines based on production value, we’ll accidentally harm people who need to actually make some money off zines in order to keep up a zine-making practice.

I do think there is some division in audience/community here that should be factored into this question of whether or not “fancier,” more expensive zines push out others. A lot of zinesters (I think especially perzinesters who put really personal stuff out into the world) don’t want their work to be around forever, and creating an object that will fall apart more easily allows that very personal object to eventually get wrecked and disappear. I think that type of zine likely has a different kind of audience, reach, and distribution than something shiny and glossy and pricey because the intention behind it is so different. That might be an overly idealistic take!

Is there a need for more specific taxonomy when discussing zines?

Masha: As long as people who don’t follow you can see your social media posts, I think there really should be a more specific taxonomy to avoid miscommunication. I don’t know what kind of terminology to use, though, or what words would catch on. I think part of what’s causing this miscommunication is that people from both the DIY print-and-assemble-it-yourself zine sphere and people from the glossy-fancy-anime fanzine sphere don’t really know the other usage of the word zine exists until they see someone use it that way in a random Twitter thread and are confused, so a lot of people don’t see the need for clarifying words until it suddenly arises.

Kat: See, as someone who grew up with both usages I never realized this was an issue! I just used zine for both and kind of assumed the zine I was holding made it clear. 

Taylor: I use “zine” when amongst fandom folks for clarity because that’s just the term people use and are familiar with within that sphere, although I do like to try and specify “artbook” or “fan artbook” or “high production zine” when I can. I feel like the discussion of “zine definition” comes up every so often like this, and I feel like there will never be a widely agreed-upon word replacement since the additional meaning is so entrenched in spaces now. However, what we can always continue to do is educate and share the history and various types of zines that have existed and currently exist, and keep reminding folks that zines do not have a particular standard, and that it can look like basically anything if you want to.

Masha: I like how Taylor put it! 

Taylor: Another issue:  I pronounce zine as “zeen” due to it being from “magazine” but I’ve run into fandom people who pronounce it as rhyming with “mine” and that throws me off SO much. I wonder if it speaks to how you first learned the word though and in what context.

Claire: We should bring back the word “mook.” Not as in palooka but as in “magazine book.” I think this is also a Japanese term? But it was popular for a while, people would import “mooks,” just before print-publishing became accessible enough for it to be a domestic DIY possibility (as I recall).

Zora: I’m also very much with Taylor! I think rather than requiring knowledge of increasingly stringent taxonomies and jargon, it’s more important to help new creators and community members see the possibilities within a space. Just as it’s not helpful to set a $3k pricetag on getting to participate in zine creation, it’s unnecessarily restrictive to say people can’t play in the medium without using the exact correct word for the thing they’re making.

Alenka: Zora, I love the way you put that – we need to help people “see the possibilities within a space.” Yes!! Look, no offense to folks making these glossy, high production value zines, but it’s important for creators to know that there is an existing zine history and many existing zine communities who are making and distributing their own work because publishers are too racist or transphobic or bigoted to publish them. Political zines are often about distributing information within activist circles that needs to be shared but that could get censored or challenged. Zines were underground — are underground — works for a reason. I think a lot of fanzines are weird or off the wall in fun ways that also makes them unpalatable to mainstream publishing, and to me, that’s enough of a reason for them to get to be called zines. However, if you’re making a zine and you’re becoming part of a zine community, the minute you make that community exclusive because you think your zine is prettier than someone else’s, you’re violating a crucial norm of zine community – that it’s inclusive. I think it’s more an issue of culture than terminology.

Free space for further zine thoughts/feel free to pop a question you’d like to see discussed.

Kat: I think the fandom aspect is interesting because there’s also a big tradition of small run, independently published comics (doujinshis, especially fan doujinshis) in Japan, which I think some anime fandoms can mash up into these fanzines that are held to a higher production standard than hand-stapling, etc. (No shade on hand stapling, been there). 

Claire: YES. Mooks and doujins!

Kat: I’m also interested in non-fan zines crowdfunding — the ease of it and the community aspect of zines makes me think this should be a thing as it’s become in fandom (where it’s a pretty specific audience), but I don’t actually know!

Taylor: I feel like for high production non-fanzine crowdfunding (aka involving completely original content) usually that’s when they start calling it an “anthology?” Which is interesting since usually the amount of production may or may not be the same…

Masha: From what I’ve seen most expensive collaborative fanzines do pre-order periods as opposed to a crowdfunding campaign on something like Kickstarter or Indiegogo — that way they only need to print what has already been paid for, I think? And digital PDF sales help cover the cost of printing and making merchandise as well. I’ve seen original comics anthologies do crowdfunding campaigns, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a collaborative original zine do a crowdfunding thing… Wait no! There was a collaborative artbook that… failed to meet its Kickstarter goal this past April. Aw.

KO: I think that’s still crowdfunding, just sans Kickstarter or IndieGoGo (which are meant to be preorders). But Brooklyn, the Captain America zine I linked at the top, went through Kickstarter!

Taylor: The fun thing about doujinshi and fanzines is that it usually involves fans making and distributing work and fic that appeals to themselves and their own sensibilities, especially things that may not ever necessarily fly in the “canon” material that they are working with–especially for things that involve shipping, queer romance and sexuality, or more personally specific or taboo subjects that may not necessarily have mainstream appeal. That being said, the high-production semi-professional standard of fandom zines puts increased pressure on creators to turn a profit to cover expenses, and thus increased pressure to make products more broadly appealing and marketable. This prioritizes moderators choosing artists and writers who are seen as more popular and skilled, de-incentivises taking risks, and results in fanwork becomes less about relationships and community and shared appreciation of a work, and more centered around a polished product—sometimes to the detriment of the relationships between people in the first place. Which is why the decentralized nature of more individual zines is something I like a lot. 

Zora: Hazel, the zine Melissa mentioned above, is an original non-fanzine that went through Kickstarter, and I used Kickstarter to fund Queer Looks, which is a 20-page illustration anthology zine looking at queer fashion in the last 140 years or so. There have even been successful projects outside the art-and-comics oriented space, like the successful Nonbinary Folks in Tech zine project!

I totally get how the monetization of zines, and the visibility of highly monetized zines can be discouraging in a landscape that’s so focused on Being The Best, but this all just brings me back to emphasizing how big the possibility space is and, on a personal level, encouraging each other to practice making stuff just to make stuff, rather than to win the internet contest.

Alenka: I just want to echo Zora again. I hope we can discourage a sense of competitiveness, because it’s unnecessary and harmful. Also, again, monetizing zines is something folks sometimes try to do because it can be a venue for survival. 

What about webzines. Are those still a thing? Does being published online make it less of a zine?

Masha: I think publishing a zine online (like uploading a PDF for people to download, or posting all the contents in a social media post) still qualifies if the contents and formatting and design of the zine are all done by the creators and contributors. And it’s a good thing! Not everyone has the money or resources to print and distribute their own physical products, or purchase physical products, especially internationally. Digital zines and digitizing old DIY zines that might have gone out of print is really important for preserving that underdocumented history. So many zines were made in the pre-internet era that are now just totally lost to time.

Taylor: I am completely out of the loop for how Instagram culture works, but this was an interesting article about “Instagram zines.” It seems similar to the spirit of early independent, political and personal zines from what I can see, just using the platform. It seems interesting! Regarding fanzines, I’m just backing up Masha here in that PDF zines are definitely a thing–Gumroad and itch.io and other platforms that allow purchasable downloads of work are great for finding and supporting artists and their work. There are so many artists who I would immediately jump on to buy their work if they ever compiled a PDF zine, even if I couldn’t afford their physical products. For me personally, when I make my zines I like to usually post them in their entirety on Tumblr to be read and distributed alongside being available for print or PDF purchase as well. 

In the fandom space, collaborative PDF-only zines seem to function similarly to the normal high-production zines in that they often may require interest checks, applications, and moderators to organize everything, even if they are ultimately cheaper or free to download. 

Claire: I LOVE a webzine. At least to make. I also like looking at them but god, with Canva, a digital zine in the form of a PDF is the easiest thing on earth. It’s so satisfying! WEBZINE RIGHTS!! (Read my zines xxx)

Elvie: I also think the recent, growing presence of more web-based anthologies can fall under what “webzines” are. The See In Black initiative, which highlights and focuses on Black photographers and their work, is a great example of this. The key thing here is again,  independent distribution, and I think that differentiates this from something like a huge magazine that has gone out of print transitioning to publication online.  

Melissa: All I have to add is that webzines kick ass.

Alenka: Haha I think there was a minute when they were “e-zines” and webzines, is that right?? E-zines is a very embarrassing term, I’ll definitely take webzines over that. I will say — when I’ve listened to zinesters define zines on various panels and things (see if you can attend a zine panel where someone doesn’t ask the panelists to define “zine” — I dare you, just try) they often mention that zines have a short, limited run. The concept of a webzine kind of defies that but also, I love webzines, I only have so much physical space!! Yes to webzines.

Last one, who is zine discourse for? Is a concrete definition of zine useful to get more zine readers and makers, and is that the goal (of both the definition of zine and zines, general)? Basically, what is the audience like.

Taylor: Honestly I just think since the discussion pops up regularly about every six months due to context confusion it’s good for the sake of education and diffusing any misunderstanding or confusion that may come up when people run into a definition that’s different than the one they might be thinking of.

Elvie: Ultimately these conversations only really exist for the participants of zines themselves, and as Taylor has put it, it doesn’t hurt to have these discussions repeated for the sake of education. 

Zora: I’d go more severe: these conversations exist for the participants of the zines themselves, who are on Twitter and converse primarily digitally. That space is real, and the social dynamics within it are important, but in the grand scheme of zine-making it is an incredibly small space. The high school kids I taught about single page zines in 2017 didn’t know or care about the discourse, and the artists-made-librarians I worked with at the same time were absolutely not worried about the proliferation of higher-budget fan zines in social media fandom spaces because they’d come up in the 90s and 2000s and were barely aware of social media fandom spaces. The indie artists I knew (ages 20 – 60) who hung out at Pittsburgh’s indie comic shop didn’t give a shit about fandom twitter’s topic of the week, and zines of all kinds will keep existing at trade shows regardless of who wins this bout of fairly specific zinecourse.

The conversations are important, but the context in which we have them is limited, and it’s vital that we remember that. I would love to get people who have only experienced anthology fanzines acquainted with Mariame Kaba’s zines (scroll all the way down!), but as an comic editor and production designer (but not an artist or writer) I find the most joy in doing anthologized zine work, which means I need to think about run size and budget to make sure I’m not taking advantage of the creators I work with. There’s a range!

Taylor: Zora, that is a good point and contextualization! I usually approach the discussion from the (limited) perspective of online and digital artists, who mostly skew towards fandom circles, so that’s usually where my initial observations regarding interactions and people’s concerns stem from. But it is true that the zineverse, both historically and currently,  is much wider than and exists way beyond that digital space. 

Alenka: This whole round table is now just me going, “Yes what Zora said!!” I forgot to mention this early, but in my workshops — and I know tons of other zine librarians and folks who lead workshops do this too, because I am constantly asking people how they explain zines in their workshops — I share the definitions I mentioned, but then I just show the kids a bunch of zines. Currently, I show them pictures of zines, and we talk about how they all look different but sometimes they look similar, the kids seem to sort of go “oh OK so… that’s zines” and then we move on to making zines.

In talking to zine librarians and listening to zinesters at panels and festivals and things, I always come back around to the conclusion that we don’t need strict, limited definitions. We can just keep pointing at zines and going “these are zines, they were made by one or two or a few people and who were passionate about making them” and that’s it, we’re set. Zine librarians and creators who run workshops totally talk about how we define zines all the time, but I don’t think that’s the “zine discourse” we’re referring to here so – what Zora said. We’re good with what we have.

One zine-related recommendation! (a zine, a creator, a distro, a how-to guide, whatever).

Claire: Canva.com

Kat: Gotta recommend Rosie Knight’s How to Make a One Page Zine guide!

Taylor: I have personal affection for single-page folded zines that can be copied since that’s how I got my start, since I think it’s wonderful as both a basic craft activity for kids but also for experienced artists who want to do something unique. 

Masha: If you’re interested in the history of fanzines, Fanlore is a great starting point for that, with detailed and informative articles about fanzine production as well as articles about specific old (and more recent!) fandom zines. (And if you know things about the history of fanzines, anyone can edit Fanlore so feel free to make an account and add your knowledge!) 

Elvie: Paper Cat Press is an amazing, regularly updating newsletter that shares job opportunities and other resources relevant to the creative community. They have a section dedicated to shouting out any zines, anthologies, and other collaborative projects when they open up for applicants and entries. 

Zora: Google a zine fair or indie comics expo in your area! New York’s got the NYC Feminist Zine Fest, Pittsburgh’s got the Pittsburgh Zine Fair (all paused for 2020, of course…). If you don’t have a zine fair near you, try poking around on the websites of some you can find and getting acquainted with the exhibitors’ work!

Melissa: I’m going to recommend the Queer Looks zine by Zora and fellow co-editor Cat Parra because I can and because I think it’s great. I love a good bit of fashion history, and this zine goes a step further in showcasing how queer fashion—and certainly queer people—comes from a lineage as rich and interesting as the mainstream. Since we don’t really get taught about queer history unless we teach it to ourselves, I find it really empowering and informative!

Alenka: One of my favorite zines of all time is the Marge Simpson Anime zine by Soolagna Majumdar!! Buy it if you can! International mail is kind of bonkers right now but still, buy it.

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.

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