Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Wordcraft – The zines of our postmodern age

It was the first ever discussion of zines in a traditional milieu (the Dallas Public Library) before the first ever Dallas ZineParty. And although I kind of, sort of thought I knew what a zine was, some of the examples surprised me. So what, exactly is a zine? (Pronounced zeen, like a shortened form of magazine.) And why are these small, often handmade publications so popular?

The format – one or a few sheets of printed or even handwritten paper – took off in the 1990’s, a reaction to the digital age comparable to the 19th century’s Arts and Crafts movement’s reaction to industrialization. But panel moderator/artist/zine publisher RandyGuthmiller sees their roots much farther back, and often political. Think Martin Luther’s 95 theses nailed to a church door. Or broadsides still damp from underground presses or mimeographs espousing revolution. Or grimy pamphlets left in public places telling you what to do if stopped by the police.

Except today’s zine tend to be more literary and artistic, often wordless, like the Shapes zines of panel moderator/artist Randy Guthmiller. “I just started making my zine as a way to make friends,” he told the packed audience for last Saturday’s panel. “It got me out of being so weird all the time.” Shapes is, in fact, a zine of drawings of shapes, which he often distributes at art galleries.

The annual Zine Fest Houston compilation (edited by panelists Anastasia Kirages and Sarah Welch) is predominantly pictorial, packed with cartoons and hand drawn images, with only minimal text. (On the other hand, Kirages also puts out her own faux-naïve handwritten zine, “Why I Love Texas,” with only a few clip art illustrations.)

“There’s no rules,” proclaimed panelist David LaBounty of Plano, editor of The First Line (which has made the move to small literary magazine). “It’s anything self-published that you do for passion, not for profit.”

“I started designing and releasing zines of my friends’ artworks,” said panelist Sandra Davalos of the musical group Cemetery Girls. “I feel it’s important to share art.”

Still “why make zines now when things can exist so easily in the digital world?” Guthmiller asked. “What keeps you going in the postmodern age?’

“I like to connect through this tangible object,” Kirages said.

“A more human way to connect,” Guthmiller echoed.

Another draw for zine makers is, “control of your own product,” Welch said. “When you’re doing self-publishing, you have control over all aspects.”

Of course, there’s self-publishing and then there’s self-publishing. LaBounty has tried both, and finds that when he publishes online, he keeps tinkering with the result. With paper, there’s no such option. And he finds that satisfying. “Once it’s done, I want it out.”

Finally, though, “What makes the zine form so important is the community,” Guthmiller said, the growing community of friends and fellow zine enthusiasts to connect with. In Texas, Houston and Austin already have active zine communities.

And although Sunday was the first Dallas Zine Party, held at The Wild Detectives bookstore in Oak Cliff, participants hope to make it an annual event. Until the next one, Dallas zine enthusiasts can satisfy their hunger with zine fests in Houston and Austin, check zine catalogs, local independent bookstores, and the Dallas Public Library’s budding zine collection. And keep their eyes open – you might spot a zine left at a bus station, a coffee shop, an art gallery. Still missing them? Try your own hand at making zines!

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