Beyond Books

Handcrafted Zine, collection of Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo credit: © Clair Sirofchuck

When I first read the article on zines given to us in class, I wasn’t all that excited. They seemed to merely be excessively explicit pamphlets cheaply stapled together. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that, in the archives at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, PA, zines present an entirely new and unique level of art combined with writing, and a refreshing step back from commercial paperbacks. While some indeed were a bit intimate, many revealed captivating stories of real life people with very real struggles. 

Unlike books from the Big Six publishers, zines relish in freedom of both content and form. They’re not restricted to any particular medium; some of the examples we flipped through were littered with sketches, others used the words themselves to make art, pasting them on different backgrounds of paper or lace. One of the zines had a cloth cover, another plastic, while many were simply cardstock and printer paper. Some had clearly been mass-produced, but my favorites were those that looked specially handmade and were probably one of the only copies in existence. There was something sacred about holding a little object that had the appearance of a book yet remained one of the only (if not the only) copies of that volume in existence in the entire earth—and I one of the only readers to ever lift its cover!

Handcrafted Zine, collection of Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo credit: © Clair Sirofchuck

Their content, too, isn’t narrowed down or hacked apart by big name publishers and editors desperate to appeal to a mass market. With their artsy pages, zines lend a voice to the voiceless authors who might never have been published otherwise. Indeed, most of the zines I picked up were written by minorities, whose methods of expressing radical views may have likely seemed too abrasive for big publishers’ targeted audiences. In essence, they make their readers consider, what is a book? Zines are clearly considered a valid enough method of writing to reserve a space on the Carnegie’s shelves…and even have tours devoted to them! While small presses seem to take the key and unlock the cage surrounding our traditional sense of the word “book”, zines break through the bars with their eye-opening opportunities to literally do anything, depict anything, and write anything, all without fear of rejection from a publisher.

As a visual artist and English double major, I’ve always delighted in the crafty books normally restricted to five-year-olds. They entertain hidden pockets, words pasted everywhere in fun fonts and colors, flaps, textures, puzzles, windows…in other words, they have a healthy dose of visual creativity. For better or worse, I will always be more attracted to buying a well-illustrated paperback as opposed to its less-colorful counterpart. My eyes experience the text just as much as my mind. Why not make it enjoyable? Exploring the world of zines for a few hours was an intellectual treat. I had no idea such an intriguing form of publishing was available, but now I’m eager to try my hand at it, with at least a personal attempt! 

3 thoughts on “Beyond Books”

  1. I too had never heard of zines before this trip. I really liked how you pointed out the different kinds of materials that are used to make the covers of the zines. It truly showed that anyone can make a zine. I also liked how you commented on zines that stood out to you, especially ones from minority groups. I came across a few of those too and it made me wonder why they turned to the zine to get their message across. I found this trip to be interesting and it truly showed me to never judge a book by its cover.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to know that the trip was view changing for you! I could see myself looking through them for hours in the same way that I like reading the Sunday comics or looking through playing cards for hours on end, with each panel or card being its own individual publication.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Unlike books from the Big Six publishers–OR, I would add, glossy magazines, literary or otherwise!!–zines relish in freedom of both content and form. Zines, as indie magazines, are to small press poetry books what magazines are to big six poetry books…is a bit simplistic, but I think that it’s important to put zines in magazine territory–in that they are fundamentally more occasional/situational/periodical in nature. On that note, I love the first picture that you chose to post, which just seems to highlight the zine’s awareness of itself as an ephemeral form. “Compost” is such an adequate metaphor for how these zines seem to disappear into/feed into each other, to value conversation over strict notions of “authorship” and “publication.”


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