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Bringing Zines to the Community

by Hannah D. Forman

It recently occurred to me: I have been creating zines for over 10 years. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about writing, cut-n-pasting, and what new funky photocopy tricks I can come up with next. I feel passionate about sharing my thoughts, desires, and fears. I find immense pleasure in reading about other people's thoughts and desires and finding common ground, making new friends, being part of a community. When I lived in Olympia, Wa., I was surrounded by creative people who reveled in pasting down their words, too. I made amazing friends who wanted to collaborate on feminist zines and spend long afternoons hanging out, reading funky ones found lying around the city.

I am no longer living in a zine utopia. I live in New Hampshire. The very concept of zines does not exist in this town. People see my pasted pages and ask puzzled questions or make quick assumptions. "Why don't you just write for a real magazine?" "Who reads that anyway?" "Why don't you use a publishing program so it looks neater?" After a while I feel completely misunderstood and frustrated. If I want to discuss my passion I have to go onto LiveJournal and find common ground with people I have never gotten to meet face to face.

I felt so intense about the therapeutic aspect of zine-making in my life that I began interviewing zinesters left and right about their experience making zines, about their struggles and creative process. All of that has formed into The Zine Book Project, a book that I have been working on for the last two years. All of my interviews were revealing that a large number of girls and women use zines for the same reason I do: to release burdens, to make friends, and to feel connected to people who make us feel like we are not the only human out in the universe who thinks a certain way. Zines help a lot of people feel less alone. I wanted to somehow bring this important activity into the lives of people (especially girls) who didn't know there was this kind of outlet.

Last year I got the idea that, since nobody I came across in this little town had ever heard of zines, I would bring the concept to them. I began sketching out ideas for a zine workshop agenda. I just didn't know how to get people involved. I knew just hanging a flyer wouldn't do any good since nobody would have any idea what to make of it.

My first attempt at a zine workshop was for a troupe of 13-year-old Girl Scouts. It didn't quite go as I had hoped. I started out by placing a half-size piece of paper, one sharpie, and a copy of the Zines 101 zine I made for them in front of each seat. In the middle were loads of zines from my collection, magazines for cutting up, glue sticks, scissors, black construction paper, rubber stamps, and fun crafty things that could be photocopied in black & white. I had no idea what to expect.

The girls who came were either super shy and didn't say much of anything or showed the most intense lack of interest in this workshop that you could imagine. They laughed and whispered to each other while I explained zines and looked through all the magazines I had brought in for collage purposes. Each girl made a page, and seemed into doing it at the time, even if they thought I was too uncool to talk with. After it was over, I plopped down on the couch and just laughed hysterically. It couldn't have been any less successful. I also knew that I wasn't going to give up. I just needed to try a different age group.

I contacted a local group of young moms that met twice a week at a local non-profit organization. I submitted a proposal; the group leader suggested doing two sessions instead of one. This would give us real time to learn about zines, explore some in-depth writing topics, and create a worthwhile zine. Before the workshop, I kept picturing how unsuccessful my first one was and just hoped that this wouldn't be a disaster.

I arrived at the building and was immediately filled with positive vibes. "Are you the zine girl?" The girl at the front desk jumped out of her chair and showed me to the conference room. "So I am dying to know... what is a zine? Can you show me?" I pulled out a bunch of my favorites and explained the basics. She asked if she could join in the workshop and I was ecstatic that she was so enthusiastic. As each girl entered the room I knew this was going to be a life-changing experience.

I started out by having each person introduce herself and talk about her relationship with writing and art. This group was full of girls with learning disabilities and filled with fears about making art. I felt so connected to their experiences. After each girl told her story I took out a huge basket full of zines and just dumped them in the center of the table. I had them spend a half hour just reading through them, finding stories they could relate to, getting a feel for the concept that a zine can be anything you make it. There are no rules. And these were girls who like myself didn't want any rules to follow. I gave out some paper and had them do free-writing or drawing on suggested topics.

The second day I was greeted with excitement and each girl had done a ton of writing. They had caught on really quickly and brought in loads of photographs, old journals, and images from magazines. Each participant submitted her pages and I showed them how to paste it all together and photocopy. We took a group Polaroid for the cover. Before I left I gave a sheet with photocopy tips and zine URLs for them to get connected, and encouraged them to just be themselves and not worry about making mistakes. On my way out the door one young woman handed me her journal: "Since I don't have a zine of my own done yet I want you to read this." She told me how she was going to start putting all her poetry into zines and how happy she was to rediscover her creative side.

I will never forget this group of women and because of this success I was contacted by another local group wanting me to come and run the workshop with them! I now have two gigs lined up: one with a homeless shelter and one with a local group of troubled teens. It feels really amazing bringing zines into people's lives. If you are interested I strongly encourage you to contact local groups and be part of your community. Share your zine experiences and pass it down to new people. It is an experience you won't forget. Happy Workshoping!

Six tips for leading a zine workshop!

You want to be sure and bring loads of zines with you to your workshop. It's the best way for people to understand what zines are and all the creative possibilities they allow. For example, if your workshop will consist mostly of teen girls, then load up on zines made by teen girls! Show your audience what people like them are making.

Let participants know that there are no rules. They can write about personal experiences, they can write reviews of films they love, they can make visual art, they can write their article anonymously, they can do what.ever.they.want.! Allow your group to feel safe and comfortable.

Compile a list of tips that you had to learn the hard way and share them with the group. Explain photocopy tricks, the importance of margins, creative places to find cool backgrounds, the concept of distros, etc. You probably are full of more zine knowledge then you realize! While they are cutting and pasting you can throw out random tips to keep them motivated!

Before the workshop you may want to ask participants to bring their journals, magazines they don't mind using for collage, photos, or other forms of inspiration from their life. Either way you want to be prepared and bring enough sharpies, white paper, magazines, glue sticks, and scissors for everyone! You know, the zine essentials! (Note: bringing magazines for collage makes some people feel less nervous if they are not totally comfortable writing or drawing yet.)

Maybe not everyone at the workshop will leave with a new zine obsession but hopefully at least one will. You want to provide them with a list of resources so they can continue this new-found interest on their own. Give them a list of websites about zines, distros, zine fests/conventions, zine libraries, books, anything you can think of that might help them on their new zine journey! You can even do what I did and make a zine about zines to give to participants!

Before your workshop participants leave ask them to sign a form and start a mailing list. If you ever run another zine event you will have a starting place for invitations.

For more advice, read the Grrrl Zines A Go-Go's Zine Workshop How-To.

Hannah D. Forman writes several perzines, published by her Lick My Lit! Press, and Ax Wound: Gender & The Horror Genre.