Zinesters, we are the radical press. – Jonathan Valelly
Print publishing will never die. “For centuries, wherever mass defiance and collective power have swollen up, there has been print,” said Jonathan Valelly, then-managing editor of Broken Pencil magazine, in a piece called “Zinesters, we are the radical press.” Valelly wrote, “that’s true in these transforming times as well, when it remains critical that social movements have their own independent, grassroots and uncensored media.” The call-to-action essay published in the spring of 2020 expresses the political necessity of zines—self-published booklets made by individuals or groups meant for small-scale circulation. Zines are often counter-cultural works with critical and personal content, known for their autonomous, anti-capitalist power.
In the book Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism, author Alison Piepmeier defines zines as a form of “participatory media,” which is “media made by individuals rather than by the consumer culture industries.” Participatory media, a method that has been a part of women’s and feminist history since the 1850s, is “a way of engaging with unfriendly mass culture and transforming it,” she says. An example of the historic presence of zine culture is the work of journalist and activist Ida B. Wells. She was born into slavery in 1862 and spent “decades of her life tirelessly publishing anti-lynching pamphlets, travelling to every corner of the segregated South to distribute them at great risk to herself,” writes Valelly.
As a zine maker myself, zines are the foundation of my drive for publishing. I grew up reading magazines that taught me all the wrong things about being a girl. I adored them and carefully cut out pages of beloved celebrities, inspirational images, and text fragments for my bedroom walls. Magazines were not precious, but instead sources to read or create with. I made meticulous collages and books with autobiographical or fictive stories. I entered the world of zines through friends, anarchist book fairs, and Broken Pencil’s Canzine Festival of Zines and Independent Print Culture. I made my first official zine in university and photocopied it at Staples.
Zines are the foundation of my drive for publishing.
One of my favourite facts about zine culture is that to keep costs low, people would secretly photocopy their zines at their corporate workplaces. This kept with the anti-capitalist, do-it-yourself values of zine culture. These days, it seems that access to free, untracked photocopy machines is less common, and so is the creation of photocopied zines. Zines highly vary in aesthetic form and are increasingly being made digitally and printed at print shops. In my collective, Carnation, we are interested in exploring and pushing the boundaries of what is considered a zine. Our latest volume, themed “Pleasure,” takes the form of a glossy book, with perfect binding, full colour, and full bleeds. It is important to note that we received significant funding from Canada Council for the Arts and Winnipeg Arts Council for the project. Print is expensive, and is only increasing in price.
Sadly, in the last year, we have lost two significant print publications that examined the world through a feminist lens. In October 2021, Canadian Art announced their closure, and in April 2022, Bitch Media did the same. While Bitch cited a “multitude of challenges” that made running the publication at the same quality unsustainable, Canadian Art more explicitly named their financial position as the reason for ceasing operations. Bitch, like feminist magazine, BUST, began as a zine, and Canadian Art started as a response to the closure of two visual art magazines, Artmagazine and artscanada. The question on many people’s minds now is: what will take their place? While their absence will be felt, there is no lack of present and future ideas, instigators, and actual publications doing this work.
What is more pressing for me now is the question of how feminist magazines can survive and thrive while pushing against the mainstream and not compromising their ethics or workers’ wellbeing. Despite the challenges, I believe in feminist publishing and will never lose an affinity for print media. As the new senior editor of Herizons, I am empowered by the legacy I have inherited and am grateful for the wisdom and infrastructure embedded into the publication by Penni Mitchell and others. I hope to contribute to make this a lasting publication, as it has been since 1992. I have an optimistic fervour for what’s to come.
This piece was written for Christina Hajjar’s Editor’s Muse column. Christina Hajjar is Herizons’ new senior editor. She is a queer Lebanese artist, writer, and cultural worker based in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Treaty 1 Territory. She is passionate about independent publishing and co-edits Carnation Zine (on diaspora and displacement) and qumra journal (on world cinema). Her writing has appeared in BlackFlash Magazine, C Magazine, The Uniter, CV2, Prairie Fire, and PaperWait. Learn more at christinahajjar.com.