Zine Machine: A DIY Magazine Primer

Did you spend your young adult years with Sharpie marks all over your fingers, sneaking access to the library photocopier to produce handmade doctrines to hand out at concert venues?

If so, then you know what zines are all about. For the rest of us: zines are DIY magazines that have been enjoying a burst of popularity in recent years. They can be found in a variety of formats and explore every topic under the sun. If you have paper and something to say, you can make a zine.

Collection of zines on a table
Zine-making resonates with the library field's values of promoting activism, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Photo courtesy of Holly Casio, Cool Schmool Zines.

If you are a programming librarian, consider hosting a zine workshop at your library. Zine programs resonate with library values; they promote activism, freedom of speech and freedom of expression; and they empower future authors and artists. Best of all, they cost virtually nothing to produce and enable you to utilize items that are likely already in your library.

One of the most appealing aspects of a zine program is the infinite versatility of the format. Zines are adaptable to all age groups and skill sets; they can also take on an endless variety of formats, themes and materials. The unifying thread is their outside-of-the-mainstream existence as independently written, produced and distributed media that value freedom of expression and freedom from rules above all else.

The beginnings

Some zine enthusiasts (code name: zinesters) argue that the earliest example of a zine might have been authored by theologian Martin Luther, when he affixed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle Church door at Wittenburg in 1517. The spirit of zine-making certainly follows his actions, but for our purposes, we'll start in the late 1920s.

The first zines on the scene were created by sci-fi fans. They used the medium to publish fan fiction, reviews and news about their favorite authors and serials. These zines circulated from fan to fan by hand within small communities; in fact, many zines still follow this method of distribution to date.

Jumping ahead to the 1970s, the punk revolution was fertile ground for zinesters. Punk kids embraced the DIY aesthetic of the zine and took advantage of recent advances in photocopy technology. Creating zines was dirt cheap, fun and you could publish anything you wanted — they were a perfect tool of the punk counter-culture.

In 1975, legendary journalist Legs McNeil co-created Punk magazine, a zine that promoted bands, reviewed music and publicized shows. Punk was a pioneering publication that helped popularize iconic bands like The Ramones, Iggy Pop & The Stooges, and the New York Dolls. Iconoclasts, punks and creative thinkers throughout America mimicked the style of Punk and zines spread from the cities to the suburbs.

Riot grrrls

In the early 1990s, the riot grrrl movement emerged out of the burgeoning alternative and punk music scene in the United States. They seized upon the adaptability of the zine and used the format to promote their music and forward their agenda.

The riot grrrl era produced a plethora of personal and political zines with explicitly feminist themes. One of the staple zines of this period was Bikini Killcreated by musicians Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail of the eponymous band. Bikini Kill and the many zine derivations it inspired promoted girl power, activism, personal journalism and of course, music. Bikini Kill provided album reviews and reports on local performances by seminal riot grrl, post-punk and grunge bands like Bratmobile, Fugazi and Nirvana, among many others.

The instructions for your zine workshop can be in zine format, giving participants an idea of the fun and DIY nature of zines.

Zines today

Moving into the 21st century, zinesters looking to save money on printing costs can now host their work online in the form of e-zines. Tumblr is the current crowd favorite for teens and tweens, but many zinesters opt to host their e-zines using a personalized domain. This option allows the creator to charge for access to the content of their e-zine. Digital zines can also serve as resource and networking sites, serving as a gateway to expand the zine community.

Regardless of format or publication date, zines remain true to their counter-culture roots, keeping prices low and opinions radical. For detailed information on how to get a zine workshop started in your library, click here.

Zine workshops in the library

Hosting a zine program is easy, inexpensive and versatile, and it provides a great creative outlet for participants.

At San Diego County Library, we held a zine workshop during our library's art festival, where each participant created a page related to the loose theme of "Art." The library provided all the materials on a large table, including pre-cut paper, markers, colored pencils, stamps, weeded illustrated books and magazines for collaging, glue and scissors. After the program, all the pages were compiled and formatted into a DIY magazine (a.k.a. "zine"). Finally, the zine was cataloged and entered into the library's collection as a reference item so the contributors could admire their work.

You can read more about San Diego County Library's Zine Workshop or check out the list below for resources to host your own zine program.