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!
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!