What’s a Zine?

Each time I’ve stood in front of a group of people and tried to define zines, I struggled. I often started by asking the group what their definition is. Usually I’d get answers like “independently published” and “cheaply made booklets” but I’ve always seen zines as encompassing and embodying so much more than the format we typically see them in. While I don’t have a clear definition I have some ideas about what is and is not within the realm of zine culture and creations. Here’s how I describe what zines can be:

  • Truth-telling
  • Real
  • Radical and revolutionary
  • Personal
  • Private
  • Documentation
  • Messy
  • Print
  • Digital
  • Ephemeral
  • Illustrated
  • Collaged
  • Wordy
  • Simple and brilliant
  • Complex
  • A call to action
  • Beautifully designed
  • Political
  • Scribbled and urgent
  • Poetry
  • Prose
  • Photos
  • Art
  • Ideas
  • Social practice
  • Feminist (the intersectional kind)
  • Connection
  • Community
  • Well-researched
  • Lived experience
  • Celebration of subjectivity
  • Shared

Making, anything, is all about the choices involved throughout the process. Zines can be any combination of the list above, or none at all. Zines are expansive and unique in that they have no hard and fast rules and anyone can make one. Yes, they are typically independently published and shared and they often only cost a few dollars to reproduce. They are part of a genre called the “democratic multiple” and have been used throughout history to promote ideas and perspectives that were outside the mainstream, radical, and systemically silenced. This is the “definition” I’ll go with, but I encourage you to find out what zines really are, or can be, for yourself.

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