Thinking About Zines: Why Books are Precious to Us
by Syl Schulze
Busy Mind Bindery is a blog dedicated to providing instructional tutorials on book-binding while inviting readers to think about themselves and the world around them.
A current whim I’ve considering indulging in is to make a zine. Although, I guess I wouldn’t call it a whim. As a writer and a book-binder, I’ve been seriously considering self-publication. And on October 5, I went to the New England Art Book Fair in Portland, ME. The whole place was crawling with zines and comics. I was ecstatic, and picked up a few for myself. Now you may ask, “What even is a zine?”
According to our dear friend Wikipedia: “A zine (/ziːn/ ZEEN; short for magazine or fanzine) is a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier. Zines are either the product of a single person, or of a very small group and are popularly photocopied into physical prints for circulation.”
Zines are a cheap way to self-publish. They usually feature rather niche subjects- for example, one I bought at NEABF was Animals in Space by Debbie Fong. Guess what it’s about. (Animals in space.)
But, why do people make zines? On this blog I like to question, but today I’ll give a few answers. People make zines to teach, to write about something they love, to get out a message even if the audience is small. Why not just write a blog? (Calling myself out right now). A blog is even cheaper than printing, and you can publish your writing instantly- why bother with a zine?
Zines have a uniqueness to them. It’s a different feeling, having a physical object in your hands, and it’s a different feeling to make that object. I am very attached to objects, and even in this digital age, I prefer the physical versions of media. (I am very upset at the growing lack of disc drives in laptops, because I buy nearly all my music on compact discs.)
And because of this uniqueness, this ability to create with my hands a work of meaning or no meaning, or whatever I choose, I’m thinking of starting a zine. In particular, I’d like to make a zine featuring transgender and nonbinary writers and their experiences. A bit self-indulgent for me, since I’d want to publish some of my own work in the zine, but I’m most excited about reaching out for submissions- I want to hear the stories of other people like me. As of right now, that zine is a bit of a dream. I’ll let you know if/when I get it started up.
Enough about me, though. In thinking about zines as unique objects, why do you think people cherish certain objects? Are all objects replaceable? Maybe books in particular- why do people cherish or collect certain books? Aren’t books replaceable? They’re mass-produced, can’t you get a new one?
Perhaps not. Books degrade over time. I’ve been reading The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding by J.A. Szirmai, and many of the bindings he has mentioned as historical evidence are so worn away one can only guess what type of binding it used to have by its left over knots. So, perhaps long ago books were not as precious? But that seems silly to me- books in the past were often religious, were expensive to make, and because of their expense, owned by people with power. I think the bindings of books were lost because books are more treasured for their contents. I mean, most often the books people keep are the ones that mean the most to them, whether sentimentally- it was given to them by a loved one, emotionally- they enjoyed it, or intellectually- it made them think.
I think zines can be precious both to their readers and their creators. The choice to make a zine is often a very personal one, and the person writing, designing, and publishing it has put a lot of work into it. The subject of their zine is very important to them, and they may hope that it will be important to their readers, as well.
Let’s end on another question. I want to know: If you made a zine what would it be about?