by Joel Barrett
Zines are self published booklets, sort of like a magazine with no rules. Write it, draw it, paste it together, photocopy it, pass it onto friends.
Those are the handwritten words, surrounded by happy little fish holding zines between their fins on the first page of a hand-drawn, photocopied edition of: “Undercurrent, a Zine About KC.” Undercurrent is one of nearly 1,000 zines donated by The Kansas City Zine Collective Collection in 2015. These artistic, cultural artifacts are now housed in the LaBudde Special Collections at UMKC.
Zines — think “magazine” minus the “maga” — are most commonly 5×7 in size but can be any size. Some are as large as a traditional magazine and others are as small as a business card. Like magazines, they vary in length, style, format and subject. The contributions from the Kansas City Zine Collective are organized by LaBudde into 15 broad categories such as politics, music, food, art or fiction. Want to learn more about zines? There’s even a zine for that!
Since there are no rules, each zine is a unique creation of expression. Some are entirely hand drawn, others are a collage of images and words that have been cut and pasted together. Some are mostly words, while others have no words at all and are filled with art, illustrations or photographs. Some are in the style of a comic book with a storyline and characters, each issue building upon the previous. Some stand alone or in a series under the umbrella of a common theme.
The traditional method of distribution is for the creator to photocopy or scan the original. The finished product is then given away, traded or sold.
On Sept. 10, KC Zine Con #2 will be held on the campus of UMKC. More than 1,000 attendees are expected. The day will consist of educational workshops, an exhibition hall, a reading zone and plenty of zine trading, selling and giving.
“I was completely blown away by the quality of the work that I saw,” Stuart Hinds, director of LaBudde Special Collections, said of the first Zine Con. “It was stunning to me.” He estimated that 800 to 1,000 people attended in 2015 and organizers anticipate an even larger crowd this year.
Despite the DIY nature of zines, Hinds stresses that they are much more sophisticated than one might expect. “It’s a really interesting and compelling art form and literary form,” he said. “It’s very exciting to see the energy that goes into the creating and sharing of the finished work.”
Because zines are self published, usually on a copy machine, Hinds describes them as ephemeral. He is concerned with how quickly they tend to disappear. Hinds is committed to growing the collection housed at LaBudde, which contains both contemporary and historical zines. Some of the older editions date back to the 1950s.
“One of the reasons we are participating so closely this year (LaBudde is a presenting sponsor) is to generate interest in terms of the creators,” Hinds said. “We plan on each of the exhibitors contributing issues to the reading room and those copies will come to the collection once the conference is over”
Zines began gaining in popularity in the 1970s and ’80s and eventually played a key role in the development and organization of the Queercore and Riot Grrrl movements. Queer voices are a common part of the active and well-connected zine community across the United States.
At least six queer zine artists will be presenting workshops at Zine Con #2. J. Virginia Green is a queer artist from Tulsa, Okla. She formally trained at the University of Tulsa as a painter. Although she has not given up painting, she describes her zines as “a complete rejection of everything I learned. Coming out of art school, there was a lot of fine art academia and strict ideas about what is and isn’t art or appropriate.”
She uses collage and drawing in her zines. She scans illustrations from books and vintage material and then cuts and pastes them by hand, adding text. The finished product is a zine that investigates the fluidness of sexuality from a feminist and queer perspective.
“What attracts me about queer identity is the ambiguity. I think that translates a lot into my work,” Green said. She has been creating zines for about four years and travels frequently to zine cons across the country to lead workshops and distribute her work. This is her second appearance at KC Zine Con.
Graphic artist Ray Nadine is the creator of Dollhouse, a series of comic zines about a queer girl who lives in St. Louis and meets a punk rock band. The story follows them and the horrible decisions they make with their lives.
“Most of my characters are queer,” Nadine explains. “In mainstream comics, queer people don’t get their voices heard much. It’s very frustrating to see that mainstream characters don’t have these qualities about them. So by including those pieces of myself in my own work, I’m able to give voice to a marginalized group of people.”
Nadine believes the success of queer comics are forcing mainstream comics to evolve.
“While they still have a long way to go, they are starting to be more inclusive of minority groups,” she said. She’s no stranger to zine cons, however this will be her first in Kansas City.
James DeWitt creates a sex-ed zine called A Love Story. His target audience is queer and trans teenagers and those who work with them. He uses a blend of personal narrative and facts to deliver his message.
His passion is to get zines into the hands of queer and trans teens “because they are being left out of most sex ed materials in the mainstream, sexual health information.” A Love Story includes traditional conversations about birth control and barrier methods but goes well beyond with conversations about identity, family, coming out and friendships.
Like J. Virginia Green, DeWitt uses a collage of words and images. He conducts two- hour workshops at his local library with queer and trans teens, helping them create zines in their own voice about their own experiences.
“They can sit down and in two hours make something together that they can take home and share with their friends,” DeWitt said. He has published 20 zines in the last four years.
As the tools available to artists change, so do the style of zines. Ray Nadine uses tablets and graphic design software to create hers. What is important to her is “you don’t have an editor telling you what to do.”
DeWitt prefers more traditional methods. “I think it’s really important to put a product out there that looks like anyone could make it. That’s what’s so valuable to me about this form.”
For Green, it’s about accessibility and investigations into an idea. “Anyone is empowered to make something about what their interest is. You don’t need an excuse or a reason. Your interest is enough.”
Hinds sees zines as “a really interesting, cultural artifact. The artists are very serious about it.”
KC Zine Con #2 is free and open to the public. It takes place on
Saturday, Sept. 10, from 10 a.m. to
6 p.m. in Pierson Hall at The University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Artists from around the country will be exhibiting, selling and trading their independently published zines, comix, books, newspapers, anthologies, tracts, pamphlets, and DIY radical readables. The day includes workshops, lectures, film screenings, and children’s activities.
More information can be found at kczinecon.org.