Zines Declassified

Visiting Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Oakland Branch would not have felt as fulfilling if our excursion had not involved rifling through boxes of zines. Those little (and, occasionally, big) pamphlets resembling homemade magazines really made my day.

Now, you may ask, “But why should I read a piece of printer paper folded into six sections with hand-drawn images and hand-written words if I can read a glossy-covered pamphlet that smells like nail polish?” First off, zines are truthful — they can say whatever they want, show whatever they want. They can even bring people together as a cult of magical fungi lovers and get away with it since there are no authority figures out to stop their publication because it is “too risque” or “not appealing enough, not popular enough.” Another very attractive feature of zines is their alleged “DIY look.” A zine is often created from scratch, by the hands of a creator rather than by a large team of designers, contributors, and electronic printers like a magazine is formed. The appeal of such a handmade format is that creators have more freedom to play with less standardized layouts and content while providing readers with a more immersive reading/viewing experience!

In the photo below, the diversity in the way zines can be designed becomes apparent, as the way in which the handmade zines differ from one another even just when lying on a table beside each other contrasts the drastically similar display of commercial magazines taking up the shelves lining the wall set behind the zine table.

Zines at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (Oakland Branch) ©Irina Rusanova

Zines, however, can be limited by the available finances their creators have for production purposes. Though there is more room for creativity, there is oftentimes no large amount of money that has been set aside for publications and distribution, which means that the quality of the zine depends on the abilities of its creator. Another problem that may result from a lack of money is an inability for a creator to continue his/her publication throughout multiple issues (unlike commercial magazines, which often continue to release new volumes on a regular basis).

Indie poetry is pretty much on the same page as zine culture in that this literary medium is often overlooked by large publishers and is pushed to the back alleys of what is considered “renowned literature” in our world. Though indie poetry oftentimes gets the short end of the stick, it deserves much more, just like zines do, and if the two are combined, the result is a wonderful pamphlet full of wonderful poetry that could shine in any bookshelf among all the traditional books and commercial magazines lining the shelves.

Eulalia Books has published a poetry zine created in the form of a chapbook; make sure to check it out!

1 thought on “Zines Declassified”

  1. I like that you point out the element of truth that zines contain. Sometimes the truth is bold and daring, but there are no limitations with independent publication. I like the contrast between zines and magazines that you point out, also.


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