Discovering the zine scene

Ah, zines.

Zines are self-published little books that amalgamate thoughts of interest and passion ranging from the personal to the political. They aren’t boastful. They’re honest.

There’s something so special about art that aims to only have a small circulation. You’re able to develop a closer relationship with it, it feels like a privilege to have a relationship with the artist that isn’t one in a million like when you buy a book from Chapters. With zines, maybe it’s just one in 40.

It’s thought that the beginning of zines was in the 1930s. This is when people started crafting books applauding the sci-fi genre, using the term “fanzine”, according to Sara Century of The Establishment. Women, people of colour and queer and trans folks all started making them. Marginalized members of society used zines as a safe outlet to explore personal and political thoughts.

We can attribute a lot of strong zine culture formation to the Riot Grrrl Movement, and especially in making this medium so attractive for women. Riot Grrrl was a revolutionary, punk feminist movement that was birthed in the Washington state in the early ‘90s. It bound ladies together in activist conversation, through which they made impactful zines in a space where they could share their work with teach other.

Here’s a link to the Riot Grrrl manifesto, which paints a beautiful picture of their foundation and what the zines were focused on.

In the ‘90s, the zine aesthetic was cut-and-paste, photocopied and punk. Now, zines are moving towards a more elegant design. Artists have many tools to help them format and distribute their zines.

The awesomeness of zines doesn’t stop at the literary and artistic quality expressed on the pages: it lives deep within the culture and the sisterhoods that come from them.

Hana Shafi, also known by her art alias Frizz Kid, was immediately grabbed by what she described as the “possibility” of zine culture. She entered the zine zone as a Ryerson journalism student and an “amateur” illustrator. She’s a maker, a thinker and a table-er at zine fairs around the city.

“They have a really long history of being an independent, leftist media. Right away I was seeing a ton of feminist zines, and a lot of queer and punk zines too. It’s always been that kind of community,” she said. “When you’re looking at formal, high-up mediums like mainstream magazines and whatnot, that seems like a world that can’t be breached. When you’re illustrating or writing for zines, it feels like something that is possible.”

Zines for women have been and continue to be powerful. The zine world is a niche art community that hasn’t let go of its girl-run, feminist history, which is part of the reason why Shafi felt so comfortable jumping in.

“You do find that it’s overwhelmingly women who are producing and making zines, especially looking at the zine community here in Toronto. In other branches of the art community, it’s very conventional, male-run, cisgender, heterosexual kind of thing,” Shafi said. “For women, and notably women of colour, that scene can be really alienating.”

For those who don’t feel comfortable in standard patriarchal publishing venues, often those people being women, non-binary folks or people of colour, “it doesn’t really matter how good or formally trained you are, or if you’re a woman, it’s just about producing and sharing work with people,” said Shafi.

Laura Rojas is another young and rad Toronto girl who is passionate about this medium and the offerings it’s brought into her life.

Rojas is a third-year student in the publications program at OCAD who started out working at The Continuist as a co-editor. The Continuist is a Ryerson-based zine collective that has a substantial history of being an all-girl team.

Rojas is from the suburbs, where she wasn’t exposed to alternative communities like this one where sometimes art is free. “I remember being at CanZine for the first time with The Continuist, and people would come up to our table and ask to trade,” she said. “That’s really pertinent in zine culture, not necessarily selling your work but trading and giving it away.”

Rojas thinks the atmosphere in Toronto’s zine community is especially inclusive.

“The thing that drew me into publication is that it’s this inherently powerful object that you can produce quickly, print for so cheaply and distribute really fast,” she said. “You can communicate a message really quickly and powerfully, and I think that’s especially important in the climate that we’re living in right now. Especially for girls.”

Around Toronto zines aren’t hard to come by. Toronto hosts some large-scale gatherings like Canzine, Zinedream, Toronto Queer Zine Fair, but there are also a handful of smaller-scale ones that happen annually.

Toronto is also home to a few zine libraries tucked away in the back pockets of the city.

I went to the OCAD Zine Library, which is essentially just a big shelf inside of OCAD’s Learning Zone with just about every genre of zine. I picked up ten zines at random and every one of them was made by women. I read about being on ketamine while fucking, a personal recount of life as a vegan asexual, about unicorn and dragon porn. The Toronto Zine Library also has a sizeable, diverse collection, and is located inside of the Tranzac Club on Brunswick Ave.

You name it. You can find a zine about it.There’s nothing you can’t find a zine on. These tiny (or small, or medium sized) bursts of awareness and displays of do-gooding are worth celebrating. So let’s.