Zine-learning in the digital age

by Anya Pearson

Before social media and blogging made it easier for young feminists to connect from thousands of miles away, there were riot grrrl zines – homemade, self-published magazines.

The early-nineties riot grrrl movement was an underground feminist punk scene. More than just a sound, it gained international notoriety partly due to its zine culture.

Cheap to create and easy to distribute by mail, band members and fans used cut-and-paste zines to spread riot grrrl’s youthful message of “revolution girl style now!” Zines built communities across borders, and were doggedly DIY in their aesthetic and their attitude.

Marginalised communities continue to use zines as a powerful medium to express radical ideas because they don’t have to prove an established audience or turn a profit, as with traditional publishing.

But there’s more to the lasting appeal of zines. When people create zines, they write differently. The authentic self is coaxed into view. Reading a zine is a personal experience that feels like meeting up with a close friend.

We also read zines differently. They are tactile, physical objects. Because they are handmade, they stand out as worthy of attention. According to Felicity Taylor, “print culture can also offer a space of resistance to digital culture’s tendencies to value speed and quantity of consumption over engagement with content”. Care has been taken to create the zine, so people take care to read it properly.

With these things in mind, us digital types can learn plenty from zines.

1. Think about inclusivity

Zines show us the value of creating content that is personal and authentic. This is often about marginalised voices taking back some power. The results might not always make for easy reading, and that’s a good thing.

Think about how your digital activities can give space to diverse voices, and do more to foster inclusive, collaborative opportunities in real life. OOMK zine covers issues of gender, faith, activism and identity. They’ve also started a community risograph print studio, co-curated large-scale events, and worked with year-10 girls to produce their own magazine.

2. Be crafty

Zines are built on craft, in a way that websites are often not. DIY means being self-sufficient in a market-driven society. There’s power in making stuff yourself in the age of mass production.

When so many websites have the same, out-of-the-box feel to them, taking a DIY approach to digital might mean commissioning a web developer, illustrator or designer to come up with something different and trusting their vision.

3. Get physical

Digital-first projects can include a limited-edition printed element to encourage people to engage  with your content in a variety of different ways, using all their senses. And you can ignite your social media feeds using photographs of something that has been physically made.

4. Use your imagination

Cut-and-paste zines encourage people to make imaginative connections between words and images. Zine-making can easily be included as part of an away day in order to solve problems creatively and humorously. I’ve run zine-making workshops where I’ve marvelled at roomfuls of academics giggling as they create their own eight-page folded zine using collage.

Plus, few activities are better for group bonding than sharing glue sticks and scissors around a big table!

5. Slow down

Zines are slow content. Instead of trying to maximise speed and quantity, focus on creating something that is thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing and long-lasting, along the lines of Delayed Gratification.

In my feminist punk band, making zines is as important as the songs we write. I think that’s because it offers a direct connection with our audience that is too often missing in the digital sphere.

If you’ve used the spirit of DIY publishing to reach your audiences, please tell me about it!


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