Updated: Jun. 27, 2024 - Published: Jun. 18, 2024 • 11 min read

What is a Zine? | Exploring the World of DIY Print Culture

Discover the creative world of zines, from their origins to their impact on print culture. Learn what makes a zine special and how to create your own.

What is a Zine? | Exploring the World of DIY Print Culture

Introduction

Zines are a powerful medium for self-expression, representing thriving subcultures and independent publishing driven by creativity and individuality. Zine-making is a labour of love, often produced by individuals or small groups—known as ‘zinesters’—reflecting passions and perspectives outside mainstream media. We'll explore what zines are, their history, their impact, and how you can create your own. 

 

What is a Zine?

zine is a small-circulation booklet or magazine, often created by hand or using digital tools through self-publishing. Unlike traditional magazines, zines are characterised by their DIY ethos and independent spirit. They cover a vast array of topics, from personal stories to art, poetry, and music. They’re standout pieces of print media because they can be as varied as the creators behind them.

 

Zine Definition

‘Zine’ is derived from ‘fanzine’, a contraction of ‘fan magazine’. Traditionally reproduced using photocopiers or home printers, they can be entirely hand-drawn, typed, or digitally designed. These do-it-yourself publications often embody a homemade aesthetic, taking many forms but are generally a mixture of text and images.

 

History of Zines

The history of zines dates back to the early 20th century. Early fanzines, like science fiction zines, were created by enthusiasts to share stories, art, and commentary with one another through self-produced magazines. Before this, the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 30s catalyzed some notable zine publications by African Americans. One of the earliest published zines was ‘The Messenger’ in 1917. The focus was on black politics and creative culture, accessible via the Haithi Digital Trust Library. Additionally, in 1926, the zine FIRE!! was hugely influential despite only lasting one issue.

However, zines gained significant momentum during the punk rock movement of the 1970s and 1980s, becoming a crucial medium for alternative culture and underground communities. Punk zines, often raw and unapologetically rebellious, provided a voice for those rejecting mainstream norms. Later, feminist zines of the 1990s, such as ‘Riot Grrrl’ zines, played a crucial role in the feminist punk movement by providing a platform for women to discuss issues of gender and power. Today, zines provide a platform for voices often marginalised by mainstream media, fostering a sense of community and shared identity in a variety of styles and genres.

 

Is a Zine Just a Magazine?

Large corporations with commercial goals typically produce magazines, whereas zines are independent, often non-profit publications. Zines are frequently made in small batches, sometimes as few as ten copies, while magazines aim for wide circulation. The grassroots nature of zines allows for greater creative freedom and a closer connection between creator and reader.

Unlike magazines, zines do not adhere to a strict publication schedule. They can be one-time projects or ongoing series, published whenever the creator feels inspired or has new content to share. This flexibility allows zine creators to experiment with different formats and themes without pressure to meet commercial expectations.

 

What is the Purpose of a Zine?

The purpose of a zine is multifaceted, serving as a vehicle for creative expression and community building. Zines allow creators to explore topics close to their hearts, share their perspectives, and connect with like-minded individuals. They often challenge convention, offering alternative viewpoints and fostering a sense of empowerment among readers and creators alike.

 

Zine Characteristics

Zines typically have small dimensions, ranging from pocket-sized booklets to standard magazine sizes. Zines can be black and white or full-colour, and their tactile, usually imperfect nature contrasts sharply with the polished finish of commercial publications.

Another characteristic of zines is their content diversity. Because commercial interests do not constrain them, zines can cover a variety of topics, including niche and controversial subjects that mainstream media might shy away from. This makes them a valuable resource for alternative perspectives and underground movements.

 

What is an example of a Zine?

Art Zines: They showcase artwork, photography, and illustrations, serving as portable galleries for artists. They can be thematic, focusing on a specific medium or concept, or a collection of an artist's recent works. Art zines often include commentary or essays about the artwork, giving readers insight into the artist's process and vision.

An upright zine print on a desk featuring an illustrated rabbit with a red eye.
Heidi Moreno (@heidiroo_art)

 

Political Zines: These zines raise awareness, inspire action, and provide alternative perspectives on current events. They can include essays, interviews, manifestos, and resources for further reading or involvement. Political zines have historically played a significant role in social movements, giving activists a platform to disseminate their ideas and rally support.

 

Personal Zines: Also known as perzines, these are autobiographical, sharing personal stories, experiences, and reflections. They can cover multiple topics, from mental health and relationships to travel and daily life, providing an intimate glimpse into the creator's world. Perzines often read like diary entries, offering raw and honest insights that foster a deep connection with readers. 

A double-page spread of a printed zine featuring handwritten text and illustrations.
Fisher Monahan (@fishermonahan)

 

Music Zines: They focus on music scenes, bands, and genres. They often feature interviews with musicians, album reviews, concert reports, and discussions about music culture. Music zines have been integral to developing various subcultures, from punk and metal to indie and hip-hop.

 

Literary Zines: These publications include poetry, short stories, and other scholarly works. They provide a platform for emerging writers and poets to share their work without the gatekeeping of traditional literary magazines. Literary zines can range from experimental and avant-garde to more conventional forms of writing.

 

Comic Zines: These zines feature original comics and graphic stories. They are a popular format among illustrators and comic artists who want to share their work with a broader audience. Comic zines can be humorous, dramatic, or anything in between, showcasing the versatility of the medium.

Three stacked copies of zine prints featuring an illustration of a woman walking and holding a cat.
Logan Faerber (@loganfaerber)

 

The Impact of Zines

Zines have profoundly impacted print culture. They have influenced independent and mainstream media, and their legacy continues to inspire a new generation of creators.

 

Zines as a Tool for Community Building

Zine communities are often tight-knit and supportive, with creators and readers forming connections over shared interests and values. Zine festivals and fairs further strengthen these bonds, creating opportunities for collaboration and networking. These events, often held in cities worldwide, unite zine makers, enthusiasts, and newcomers, facilitating the exchange of ideas and fostering a sense of belonging.

 

Zines' Influence on Mainstream Media and Culture

Zines have inspired professional publications and contributed to the rise of independent magazines. Their focus on authenticity and personalised content continues to resonate in the digital age. However, zines' influence extends beyond print media. Traces of the aesthetics and spirit of zine culture are visible in various aspects of contemporary culture, from fashion to graphic design. Even corporations like independent entertainment company A24 sell zines online.

 

A woman sits at a table covered in photos and cuts out an image for a zine with scissors.

 

Creating Your Own Zine

 

Can Anyone Make a Zine?

The simplicity in production means that anyone can create a zine, making it a truly democratic form of publishing. You don't need professional equipment or training—just a desire to create and share. Whether you're an experienced artist or a complete beginner, making a zine allows you to explore your creativity in a fun and flexible way. Barrier-free entry and low production costs mean you can experiment and take risks without significant financial investment.

 

Tools and Materials Needed for Zine Creation

Here are some essential tools and materials to consider:

  • Paper: Various sizes and types, from standard printer paper to specialist art paper. The choice of paper can affect the feel and look of your zine, so experiment with different types to find what suits your project best. If you're printing in colour, consider how the colours will look on other paper types.

 

  • Pens, markers, and other art supplies: You’ll need materials for drawing, writing, and decorating your zine. Coloured pencils, watercolours, and even stickers can give your zine the edge.

 

  • Scissors and glue: These are essential for cut-and-paste layouts. A glue stick or double-sided tape can be handy for attaching elements to your pages.

 

Tips and Tricks for Designing and Printing Your Zine

  1. Plan Your Content: Outline your ideas and decide on a theme for your zine. Consider what message you want to convey and who your audience will be. This planning stage can help you stay organised and ensure your zine has a cohesive structure. 
  2. Create a Layout: Arrange your content in a visually appealing way, using cut-and-paste techniques or digital tools. The beauty of this medium is its flexibility and openness to experimentation, so feel free to mix genres and styles in your zine. Think about how the pages will flow and how your design elements can enhance the reading experience.
  3. Assemble and Print: Use a printer or photocopier to produce your zine, then fold it. Depending on the look you want to achieve, use a binding method like staple binding to secure your pages together.

 

A woman holds a photograph for a zine of a woman doing yoga and cuts along the right side.

 

Do Zines Make Money?

While passion over profit usually drives zine creation, there are opportunities to monetise your work. Mixam offers affordable printing solutions to help you produce professional-quality zines online. Selling your work can help you grow a loyal audience who will support your work and spread the word about your projects. Selling zines at fairs, online, or local shops can generate income. Additionally, some zine creators run successful crowdfunding campaigns to fund their projects, allowing them to reach a wider audience and secure the resources needed for larger print runs.

 

 

Resources for Further Learning and Inspiration

Online communities and forums: Connect with other zine creators and enthusiasts for advice, feedback, and support. These communities can be valuable resources for finding collaborators, sharing your work, and discovering new zines.

 

Zine libraries and archives: Explore collections of zines to gain inspiration and learn about different styles and topics. Libraries and archives often have extensive collections that provide a glimpse into the rich history and diversity of zine culture. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

 

  • Mixam customer and zinester Bre (@battyxbre_) has compiled an excellent list of zine resources, including design program suggestions.

 

  • Barnard College has an extensive list of links to global zine libraries.

 

 

Attend zine-making events: Zine fests are vibrant events where creators can sell their zines. They provide a space for zine makers to connect with their audience and each other, fostering a sense of solidarity and mutual support. Going to workshops and watching tutorials are also helpful for learning new techniques and refining your skills.

 

Conclusion

Zines are a vibrant and vital part of print culture. Whether you're a seasoned creator or new to the world of zines, there's a place for your voice and vision in this dynamic medium. We're here to support your zine-making journey with high-quality printing services tailored to your needs. 

Visit our Zines product page for a free, no-obligation quote. You can also check out the array of posts on Mixam's Blog and visit our Support section for helpful guidance and advice on all things print.

 

Main Image Credit: Haylee Morice

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