Even if you’ve never read a zine before, chances are you’ve at least heard the term. Informally, “zine” is something of an umbrella medium for poets, webcomic or underground comic writers, illustrators and storytellers to share their artistry through short-form independent or alternative publishing.
In essence, a zine is a creative short book or pamphlet that can range in content from an anthology of haikus, a brief memoir, a selection of lithographs, a one-shot comic, fan fiction and much more. Zines are a counterculture in the publishing industry. Printed by hand from artists or small presses, each zine is a work of art and is often very limited in number. In short, owning a zine, whether purchased or given as a gift, is special because often that copy may only be one of a set of fifty others like it.
Getting into zines might initially seem daunting as getting into any artistic subculture can be, like becoming an indie film guru or digging into the vinyl DJ scene. However, jumping into this sphere is only as difficult as finding zines to read in the first place. One great place to begin with is through the Marriott Library’s zine collection, where you can check out a variety of zines for diversified readings during a lunch break or commute. Another source to buy some zines for your own private collection is the Salt Lake City Library’s annual Alt Press Fest. Each year, this zine festival gathers together zine makers of all walks of life to band together to put on printing demonstrations, network, and of course, put their zines up for sale. This year’s festival, held just recently on Oct. 12, saw multiple artists sharing a widespread variety of work.
Vendors showed off zines on a broad variety of topics, ranging from superheroes to working desk jobs to childhood memories to break-ups to politics. Many also had art prints up for sale along with handmade pins, buttons, bookmarks, gift cards and laptop stickers, while a few artists even sold work that they would make on the spot, including lithographed tee shirts and customer portraits. Meanwhile, some collectives and publishers, such as the Salt Lake Community College’s Community Writing Center, as well as the University of Utah’s Book Arts Program and literary magazine, Western Humanities Review, ran booths to encourage college students and other festival-goers to get involved by taking writing and printing courses or submitting creative writing for publication.
A few of my favorite finds were those put out by illustrators. One zine that I picked up, “The Ship of Ships,” from illustrator and comic artist Natasha Buechele, takes place on a ship traveling through outer space, “Treasure Planet” style. I found Michael Murdock’s “Mordecai Crowley’s Journal of Interplanetary Travels,” an imaginary travel guide to exotic destinations across worlds, filled from cover to cover with steampunk illustrations nowhere short of brilliant. I also discovered some wonderfully whimsical comics and drawings from Jules Lauren, who I received an adorable print of a chicken from. Of course, my own preferences in zines draw towards visual art, and there were several other talented artists at the festival who sold zines in other forms and genres such as short stories and poetry.
While most of the zines sold for modest prices, generally between three to five dollars, many artists also gave away several zines for free. During my visit to the festival, I almost struggled to walk around the library without a bag and a whole armful of zines, prints and other printed goodies that creators were so generous to hand out freely. Although I’m only a newbie to the zine fandom, it’s been a treat to get into. It’s easy on the wallet, inspiring, local and consistently fresh. I’d welcome anybody I know to pick up a few zines and give them a try.