Zine Basics

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For years, I was the list moderator for the botmzines group/list at Yahoo!Groups, I decided to throw together some pages about zines.

For starters, the “botmzines” name came from the group that inspired it, the Book Of The Month list… BOTM. So, although botmzines swaps aren’t on any specific calendar, the group started with that name and so it remains.

With that bit of trivia out of the way, let’s discuss zines!


First of all, if you want something that is published on time, and is proofread, has high-quality graphics and writing, and generally sticks to the theme it had when you subscribed to it… subscribe to a magazine. You know, like Time, or Newsweek.

Zines are published on whim. Oh, sure, some people manage to write right-brained zines on a left-brained schedule. My hat is off to them. I have no idea how they manage it.

For fun, not profit

Zines are labors of love. We don’t make money on them, or if we manage to show a profit on one issue, we go crazy writing & re-writing the next issue, including color pages or something, and–bingo–we’re back in the red again. In other words, zines are not a way to make a living. Or even pick up some extra spending money. For most of us, zines cost money to produce but we love ’em anyway.

Zines are fun in a way that can’t be put into words. If you’re driven to create them, you’ll get a sense of satisfaction (and some angst) when you complete one and it’s in the mail to others.

Receiving a zine can be… well, I hate to say ‘better than chocolate’ because that’s such a cliche, and very personal.

That said, when a zine is cool, there aren’t enough superlatives for it. When a zine is weird, it’s truly out there… and usually fascinating, as well.

It’s often a love/hate thing.

There are almost NO generalities that can be made about zines, so let me tell you about my own eccentricities:

They make me crazy, but I love them anyway. And I love having zines to swap so I can get others’ zines.

My zines are published at odd times, vaguely quarterly. They bear a variety of names, also whim-based. They may be half-pages (printed on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, folded in half), or bigger, or even smaller. Some have cardstock covers, but most are all on the same kind of paper (and color) that came out of the photocopy machine.

Most of my zines are b&w. Most of them are loosely related to art, especially paper arts. Most are a mix of printed text, scribbled-in notes, and my own graphics.

Generally, after six months or so, I lose track of when people’s subscriptions started, so I close down new orders for awhile, and send out more than the subscription’s worth of copies (meaning that early subscribers can end up with two or more times the number of issues that they ordered). And then I start up again.

(Yes, that’s embarrassing. It’s also not unusual among people who create art zines.)

Generally, I make zines when I receive someone else’s zine and my batteries get recharged.

Why people create zines

From the classic guide to zine-making, Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to Zines, by Francesca Lia Block & Hillary Carlip:

“Tell your story… your obsessions, your fears, your dreams, in words and pics, because it is powerful, because it kicks, to express and connect, even if it’s not always pretty, cool, or slick.”

Also from Hillary Carlip, “Sometimes paper is the only thing that will listen to you.”

Worried about how it will look? Here’s another quote from Zine Scene:

“Who knows what Baroque pearls and sizzling diamonds of content lie buried in the impossibly small print, or floppity-sloppity-scrawly handwriting of a rough-to-read zine?”

In other words, say whatever you want to, and don’t worry about how it looks.

Or… go crazy with how it looks and forget about saying anything overtly pithy.

Either one works–or both!

Recommended reading, online

There’s so much good zine info online, I’m not sure why I even create webpages about them. Seriously. The same people who compulsively make zines, keep rolling along with enthusiasm and tell you all about them, online.

My favorite resources & inspirations, offline

  • Others’ zines. Plain & simple. Get your hands on as many as you can. The easiest way is to swap! You can swap through the botmzines list at Yahoo!Groups, linked above.
  • The Garage, Issue No. 2, published by Diane Moline. As far as I know, Diane makes her zines in very small numbers, and only for swaps. I’m thrilled to own two copies of The Garage.
  • Dog Eared Magazine, Issue Five, about Zines. For more info, see dogearedmagazine.com
  • Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to Zines, a book by Francesca Lia Block and Hillary Carlip. It’s considered a classic. When I checked in mid-2006, it had been out of print for awhile.  If you see a copy, old or new, snag it if you’re serious about zines.

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