The zine concept was popularised in the 1930s by science fiction fandoms. The name was taken from fanzine, which is short for fan magazine. Making and distributing zines allowed people to create networks, collaborating on writing and artworks around similar passions. Since then, zines have spread to cover nearly every topic, and remain a form of alternative, underground publishing.
Originally a passion project, it makes perfect sense that the zine would expand to cover topics related to activism and social change. Engaging those eager about changing the world, zines can materialise voices and hopes.
What makes zines so exciting is their endless potential. They are not limited by form, texture, style, or method. A zine can be a collection of music notes, revolutionary recipes, or photos of the mundane.
A zine tends to be different from other publications like magazines or newspapers, as they are not widely circulated. Zines are often not for profit or sold as limited. This means that they frequently cover a very specific or current theme, which fits into their emphasis on drawing attention to a problem that creators hope can be solved.
For example, Refugium is a zine documenting the different experiences of immigrants living in the USA. Self-published by Brazilian filmmaker and designer Ares Maia, she spoke to five people about their experiences, after asking people to share their stories on Instagram. Maia hoped to bring attention to attitudes that need to change, such as judging immigrants based on names, issues of low pay, and discrimination based on background. Rather than being voyeuristic and speaking for others’ experiences, the zine gave pen and paper to the individuals themselves.
Zines emphasise a DIY culture of making and distributing as a community experience. Zine-making is a great way to deconstruct what is accepted as normal, turning newspaper words or left-over magazine images into messages about discrimination towards LGBTQ+ groups or racist policies. This can help activism become a creative process. For example, craftivism (using practices of craft as activism) has become very popular and allows people with different interests and talents to participate in social movements.
Of course, there is always a risk of romanticising the ‘true potential’ of a zine, to glamorise the idea of something made by hand. In fact, zines that have blossomed digitally like Polyester zine interrogate the problems as well as the benefits attached to online space. The zine aims to “bridge the gap of URL cyberfeminism with the IRL world”. Publications like this can give opportunities to creatives who do a lot of their work online, such as graphic designers, photographers, and writers.
The practice of zine-making creates a supportive space, where critical discussion and subversive ideas can thrive. Ioana Simion, the founder of Artizine, hosts collaborative, non-hierarchical zine-making workshops which have continued online over lockdown. “I believe zines can showcase unheard voices and narratives which are in desperate need of attention but most of all care and nurture.” In her zine-making workshops, Ioana says that “we always explore and link our work to sustainability and the effort to reduce or repurpose materials.”
Ioana explains, “Zines are also incredibly accessible which makes them the perfect tool in activism – if anyone can make a zine then anyone can take part in changing and educating other people.” So, zines may be compact and infrequent, but their scope for social change is endless and far-reaching.
Have you seen our latest Assemblage zine? We worked collaboratively to produce a multidisciplinary zine on the theme of reconnection…You can check it out here: