In this world of ever-increasing digitization, self-expression has largely gone online. Books and other artistic works are shared in electronic formats. Socializing happens through networked media. Magazines, newspapers, and other serial paper publications are struggling to maintain readership.
That does not mean that all forms of paper expression have disappeared, though. One form--that has always been an underground format--retains a thriving community in the Kansas City area: Zines.
Just as the online term "blog" is a shortened form of "web log," "zine" is a shortening of the word "magazine." Which is apt, because zines are small versions of magazines. They are independent publications put together by individual creators with a limited run for a local audience. And they are made the old fashioned way, with paper, scissors, glue, and photocopiers.
Johnson County Library clerk Emma Fernhout, currently of our Shawnee location, started curating a small collection of around one hundred zines there as a pilot in 2015. That collection is currently circulating through our locations, moving to a new one each quarter. Of its creation, Fernhout has written:
I began this collection out of love and support for underground art and writing that may not otherwise reach audiences. I have found that zines are full of high quality, and often personal, writing and art. The diversity of styles and subjects has also appealed to me; there really is something for everyone, whether a reader is interested in mental health, gaming, photography, or whatever else. The collection has gained visitors; people come and go, and it is often rifled through on a daily basis.
As our resident expert, we asked her to answer a few questions to get a few more details.
First, what is a zine?
- A zine is an independently published booklet of writing, sketches, photos, comics . . . absolutely anything about anything, by anyone. A zine is generally cheaply printed, often on a photocopier, and with a limited run. This means a zine is created for the benefit of the creator and reader, rather than for profit.
Who writes zines?
- Anyone who has something to say. In their very beginnings, zines were produced by independent 1970's sci-fi writers, and back in the 90's, zines were made by punks who wanted to release their political and musical views into the world. By now, zines have caught on with artists and writers who want a cheap(er) way to get their work into the hands of readers, and by anyone who simply wants to create and be heard.
Who reads zines?
- Hopefully you! If you're looking for information or stories on gardening, living with a disability or mental illness, ping pong machines, gender, Midwest church photography, veganism, poetry, or perhaps ecology . . . they are made for you! Zines are fantastically diverse. A collection of zines based on, say, vegetarianism, might include zines of recipes, of anecdotes, of doodles, of information about food. Imagine a blog, or an art gallery, or a comic that you can hold in your hands. No two zines are the same, and that's the beauty.
Tell us about Johnson County Library's zine collection.
- We have about 120 zines from the 1990's to the present. It is currently held at Central Resource Library until this summer. It will then journey to Gardner. Chances are, we have something you'll be interested in. Zines are not for check out, so come by and explore!
How might a zine creator get their title included in the Johnson County Library collection?
- We would love to include your work! Drop off a zine or two at the Shawnee branch, or mail it to us: 13811 Johnson Dr., Shawnee, KS 66216.
What advice do you have for a writer new to zines who wants to create one?
- Start somewhere; anywhere. Fold some paper, get a pen, and say or draw something. Or even make collages. Everyone has something to say, whether about a cause that's close to your heart, a story to tell, a poem, or a topic you know a lot about. Someone wants to hear you. Make something.
Should you want to explore a bit online right away, Emma recommends a few titles from local independent publisher Pioneers Press:
- What Matters - A compilation "dropping brilliance, drama, comics, history, laughs, etc, over the course of 35 packed pages."
- SRVIV #2 - "SRVIV #2 asks the question "What gets you out of bed in the morning?" The resulting series of essays is revealing, devastating, and inspiring."
- P.S. WWII in America - "Kansas City zinester Jess Hogan presents the P.S. (or primary source) zine series in which we get a good look at old source materials of a particular era or theme or event collected as a historical document. The WWII in America issue shows the Second World War through a series of posters, ads, articles, and images that illustrate what was happening in America while her sons were off fighting."
- Kombucha: A DIY Guide - "This illustrated pocket-size zine will have you well-stocked with delicious kombucha in no time flat!"
Should you want to get connected to the local zine community, keep checking KCZineCon.org. Zine Con #3, "the Midwest's DIY publishing fest," is currently being planned for September at UMKC.
Should you want more information about the Johnson County Library zine collection, including where it can be found after spending the summer at Central, feel free to contact Emma: FernhoutE@jocolibrary.org.