Fun Fact #1: Williamsburg is not the zine capital of the world. Portland, Ore. is.
I’ve always thought Williamsburg was the birthplace of the zine — a cheaply made publication, often with a crappy but artsy aesthetic. But sitting at a corner table in Bass Cafe, I realize I am terribly wrong. My confusion can be excused: As a Brooklynite, I’ve been conditioned to laugh at zines as just the latest hipster aesthetic of Williamsburg. You made a zine (usually on shitty poetry or penny boards) to look cool.
Next to me is Stefanie Fernandez ’17, editor-in-chief of WYBC’s zine, “Relatively Dark Blue Neither Purple Nor Green,” (RDBNPNG) who excitedly flips through the most recent issue to show me some of her favorite pieces. “A lot of people think that zines are all about the aesthetic,” she says. “But for WYBC, this zine is all about saying the things that need to be said, but haven’t been said before.” This sentiment — the need for self-expression — would echo throughout all of my interviews.
Fun Fact #2: When former Yale President Kingman Brewster was asked to describe the color of Yale Blue, he said, “Relatively dark blue, neither purple nor green.”
“Fan, as in fan of science fiction,” Emily Larned ART ’08 began. “Zines originated in the sci-fi fan networks [around] the 1930s. In the 1970s, music fanzines took hold, particularly punk zines.”
Larned is now the chair and associate professor of graphic design at Shintaro Akatsu School of Design, University of Bridgeport. She recalls memories from her younger days of zines and zine-making, which she described as a transformative experience.
“As a sheltered, suburban, upper-middle class white teenager, zines were incredibly educational,” Larned said. “I learned so much about politics, privilege, racial identity, sexual identity, socioeconomic identity, amateur accounts of history and interpretations of theory [through them].”
Zines exploded as a trend in the 1970s: A decade of counterculture, anarchy and punk rock music, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. These zines were proudly amateur, often hand-made and always independent. Looking through archives of zines like “Riot Grrl,” it’s evident that these do-it-yourself publications formed the social hub of countercultural movements. They included radical op-eds about politics, messages promoting third-wave feminism and ads for bands and records.
“Historically, zines started when branches of punk — usually underrepresented communities — began publishing underground booklets with their own messages. And music was often the guiding force and unifying theme for a lot of these zines,” Fernandez explained.
With this history in mind, the WYBC zine, “RDBNPNG,” launched in 2010 as a creative project intended to establish an alternative voice on campus. The first issue started as purely a DIY product: an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper printed out and stapled as a booklet.
“The cover had the faces of WYBC on it with a bunch of doodles, and it came with a packet of crayons stapled to it, so you [could] color in the cover,” Fernandez said.
This semester, “RDBNPNG” celebrated its Silver Anniversary with its 25th issue. Its physical appearance has changed dramatically over the course of its existence. Now, the zine is created with the help of graphic design students at the Yale School of Art and is sent to a printer for a more professional shine. But the core aesthetic and message of “RDBNPNG” remain the same.
Fernandez said, “Maintaining the zine means recognizing the history of music and WYBC as a symbol of self-expression and counterculture. It’s a special publication because there’s no other space on campus that highlights longform pieces on music and its culture like we do. I mean, where else can you write a piece about ‘Life of Pablo’ and its implications for future album releases?”
Fun Fact #3: Riot Grrrl is …“BECAUSE we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. BECAUSE we need to talk to each other. BECAUSE a safe space needs to be created for girls where we can open our eyes and reach out to each other without being threatened by this sexist society and our day to day bullshit.”
Broad Recognition’s zine “fatale” was inspired by “Riot Grrrl,” one of the best-known punk-feminist zines of the 1990s. Broad Recognition Editor-in-Chief Kathy Amiliategui ’17, former zine editor of “fatale,” described writing for the zine as “screaming about things … but in paper form.” As I’m flipping through the latest issue of “fatale,” the Riot Grrl aesthetic jumps out at me: hastily cut-and-pasted text boxes on bright pink and purple backgrounds, a page of paper doll cutouts and a page for coloring, handwritten letters — it’s a Lisa Frank book with mature content.
Like “RDBNPNG,” “fatale” seeks to carve a space for writers with countercultural views. As a feminist publication, Broad Recognition in general hopes to be an outlet for female and LGBTQ students on campus to express their feelings and share their experiences.
“Feminism can be talked about from all different perspectives,” Amiliategui explained. “In the classroom, it’s usually analyzed in academic terms, and it can get pretty technical. The zine aims to validate the roots of your emotions and experiences as valid contributions to the conversation.”
And for some writers, the zine provides an outlet to share personal thoughts that one might not otherwise be comfortable talking about in public. One such example can be found in the latest issue of “fatale,” in which a writer, who goes by the pseudonym “LTA,” shares a personal essay about masturbation. The piece ends with a photo accompaniment reading, “Your clitoris is CRAZY COOL.”
Fun Fact #4: Anyone can make a zine. All you need is an X-Acto knife, a ruler,and a sheet of paper. Have fun!
For Julia Carnes ’17, involvement with zines is based on pure interest.
“I really like the messiness of zines. They might look a little crappy, but I really love the handmade-ness of art, and the roughness of it. They’re beautiful to me,” she said, showing me some of the zines she made over the summer. One is a small booklet the size of my palm, and it contains a page filled with the phrase “BE KIND.”
This is the inspiration behind her zine project “Be Kind,” which she started working on last semester in a visual arts club called Vision.
“I remember freshman year, I came to Bass and in one of the study carrels, I found a lollipop with a note attached that said something like, ‘Finals might be terrible, but you’re still awesome!’” Carnes recalled. “I really liked the idea of leaving a few words somewhere to encourage and motivate people.”
This semester, Carnes hopes to print a number of zines to distribute during reading period, leaving them in random places for students to find.
This semester marks the release of another independent zine project, created by Ocean Gao, a freshman at Wesleyan University. The zine, called “As I Am,” is a publication filled with Asian-American voices from a number of different universities, including Yale, Dartmouth and Tufts. The zine includes all kinds of art forms: poems, personal essays, paintings and photographs.
When asked about the inspiration behind “As I Am,” Gao explained, “I wanted to foster an Asian-American visibility — particularly within the creative fields — as well as to forge a collective identity.”
Gao and has pursued zine-making as both an art form and a hobby, and they’ve made four zines so far. To them, zines are a way of saying what needs to be said, even if doing so may not be comfortable. In their first zine, “Ocean Minded,” Gao began with a piece about the marginalization they felt in a all-white private high school, followed by a piece about sexual trauma.
“Sharing my personal stories with a community that I felt like I didn’t belong to was incredibly scary, but I think that I published narratives that are often forced into silence and need to be shared,” Gao said.
Fun Fact #5: Barnard College in New York City has its own zine library, with a collection of around 7000 zines. Also: there is a such thing as a zine librarian.
Zines have not only become popular on Yale’s campus but have also become a rising trend on other college campuses as well. Barnard, for example, has its own zine library, founded in 2003. It has an expanding collection of thousands of zines acquired from student publications, as well as purchases at zine fests and on Etsy.
Explaining how the zine library came about, Barnard Zine Library’s Associate Director of Communications and zine librarian Jenna Freedman said, “I think it’s important to include zines in the library because for one, it’s people controlling their own content and style. In most libraries, you aren’t going to find the voices that are represented in our zine collection in anything but case studies, which is a completely different way of presenting a person.”
Whereas Barnard might be on the extreme end of the zine trend, many college organizations have started to adapt the zine as their primary means of publication. Given the Internet and how easy it is to publish things today, why have zines become so popular?
Larned believes it’s because “when a technology becomes obsolete, it becomes an art form.”
“Now that it is so easy to self-publish on the internet and gain access to a near-infinite number of eyes, perhaps the time is ripe for creating a more labor-intensive, private publication in a limited number with a limited circulation,” she said. “When oversharing is ubiquitous, relative obscurity is refreshing.”
And many of the students I’ve interviewed seem to agree with that sentiment. For Carnes and Fernandez, there’s a clear difference between publishing a piece in a zine — a physical keepsake of art and expression — and publishing a piece online.
But while that’s true, there might be an even simpler answer: There’s still so much that needs to be expressed. As Carnes puts it, “in the ’70s, zines were made for social commentary. And 40 years later, there’s still a lot to be said. Zines are just an incredible way to say what you need to say, make 100 copies of it, and get it out in the world.”