Interview by: Andrew Bucket
Photos by: Rusty Shackleford
This Saturday, July 30, between 11am-5pm, at St Stephens church on 16th street NW, will be held the first ever DC Zinefest. In many other cities they have these wonderful events during which many lone zine makers as well as far-reaching zine distributors come and sell, what I have just learned, is their independently published product. DCs zine fest is brought to us by zine queen and blogger Jenna Brager, a long time activist and crafty-bitch, who is the Community Partner Outreach Coordinator at the University of Maryland. She was kind enough to speak with me about the fundamentals of zines, since I’m such a normie and don’t know what they are, and why she felt the need to bring this event to our fair metropolis.
BYT: Talk to me like I am K-Pax and I don’t know anything about zines. What exactly is a zine?
Jenna Brager: A zine is a self-published, non-commercial magazine or pamphlet, usually reproduced cheaply and on a small scale. The word “zine” isn’t used by everyone who self-publishes–it comes primarily out of sci-fi and punk communities–but most self-publishing comes from a similar do-it-yourself ethic. The desire to do things D.I.Y., without relying on experts or professionals, is part of what inspires people to make zines and other self-published works in the first place. When you make a zine, you don’t have to answer to outside interests, there is no censorship, professional standards or industry hurdles. It’s a great way to have a finished product to share with people that can be totally anonymous or totally self-promoting. And they’re fun to make–who doesn’t like playing with scissors and glue?
BYT: What manner of zines will be available at ZINEFEST?
Jenna Brager: There’s going to be a really wide variety of zines at the D.C. Zinefest. In addition to a lot of individual zinesters there will be some distros (independent zine distributors) and bookstores like Red Emma’s in Baltimore. There will be a lot of “perzines” which tend to be about people’s individual experiences, and probably a lot of comic zines like “List” by Ramsey Beyer and Katie Omberg‘s zine “Gay Kid”. This group called the Baltimore Snoball Collective is bringing a project that maps and catalogues Baltimore area snowball stands, which is something I think D.C. needs to get on.
BYT: Is there a subcultural imperative to the zine world, or might there be a more over-arching relevance to the form in 2011?
Jenna Brager: You can read them in the bathtub if so inclined and they never run out of batteries. Most zines you can finish reading in the time it takes to poop, which is perfect. I just wrote something sort of on this topic for a local blog called Canonball: http://www.canonballblog.com/?p=2798
BYT: Right, right, but what I was really asking was if zines are just for indie, vegan, politico-hipsters or is there a bigger better reason that they are important in the days of now…
Jenna Brager: I think there is a self-perpetuating perception that zines are only made by a very specific set of people–white vegan punk kids or riot grrls. Barnard zine librarian Jenna Freedman writes, “I would even go so far as to say that sometimes it feels like most zinesters are either punk rock white bicycle kids living in Portland, Oregon or crafty home schooling midwife mamas in their 30s.”
However this isn’t entirely the case and more importantly, it doesn’t need to be the case. By having events like zinefests that are open to everybody, by trying to reach out to multiple communities, by not policing what is or what isn’t a zine, I hope more people learn about zines, more people make zines, more people who self-publish get involved in zine communities. And also that people in zine communities or who make zines learn about other forms of self-publishing and get outside of their insular communities.
Self-publishing is particularly important for individuals that aren’t represented or allowed access to speak in more “mainstream” venues. It’s still really relevant because of that. Part of it is an emotional thing, an urgency to respond to being marginalized, because you’re queer or a woman or a person of color. Or an angry young white punk kid.
Also, as you know, I am not punk, vegan, or a midwife.
BYT: Is there any crossover between the form of zine making and blogging/tumbling?
Jenna Brager: I did a workshop about this at CLITfest and also the aforementioned Canonball blog post deals somewhat with this. In general, zines and blogs are different ways of conveying information, and there are different or sometimes overlapping ways of using them effectively. A lot of zine makers keep blogs, most distros are online and there are a lot of web communities around zines. Zine making has definitely shifted because of the Internet, especially around the ways people get zines, find out about zines, and submit to zines.
BYT: What is the worst zine ever, and why is it still awesome?
Most zines by teenage boys with anarchy symbols on the cover are pretty bad, which is just my subjective opinion. I still encourage people to make shitty zines because you know, life is a process and the whole point is to empower people to express themselves and not just impotently write angry letters.
In high school I worked on a zine called “Unconventional Wisdom” that was the official zine of our Young Green Party club and that may be the worst zine ever. But it’s still awesome because we were fifteen and earnest and really wanted to write limericks about sweatshop labor so we did.