Ask artists why they create and they will often tell you that they must. They create in order to make sense of the world and themselves, to be heard and seen, for catharsis. They create to escape. They create to experience the beauty of process, the beauty of creating something that had not before existed.
Ask an artist or a writer why they create zines, and they will give the same answers.
So what are zines? Think magazines without the “mega” publication houses. Think booklets full of art, writing, comics, and photography. Think booklets cheaply printed on photocopiers, or think hand-stitched bindings, professionally-bound booklets, or stapled pages. Think a wealth of variety with one common thread: a person created this. A person pushed it out into the world, and now you, a person, hold this paper object in your hands. You read it, and in doing so, you hear another person. You experience the world through new eyes and a new mind.
Zine history could perhaps be traced to the likes of Benjamin Franklin’s Almanac of 1733, or William Blake’s booklets of art and poetry of the 1800’s. During the 1920s through the 1960s, fans of sci-fi and cinema created fanzines, celebrating fan fiction and original concepts. With the 1970s came the birth of punk zines, and in the 90s, the RiotGrrrl movement embraced the mode as a primary form of expression. With time, zines spread through more hands, becoming a vehicle for the creation and distribution of content for artists and writers.
What binds these works together? Zines have always been cheaply created and produced. The complete control zines offer artists and writers is powerful. A creator has full capacity to combine visuals and text to say exactly what they desire. They have often been as political as they have often been a form of “intimate expression,” as UMKC’s Stuart Hinds puts it.
After the first Kansas City Zine Con in 2015, Stuart Hinds of UMKC Special Collections, was driven to preserve these ephemeral cultural artifacts. Historically, zines are “illustrative of the thinking of the period.”
The consistency of style has stood out to Hinds. “Both content-wise and visually,” says Hinds, “they’re consistent with the same type of things as twenty, thirty years ago… Lots of anti-establishment, lots of politics, lots of personal kinds of revelation, development, [and] narrative.” Topics on the minds of creatives change with time; nuclear war was often discussed in the 1980s, while climate change is more frequently discussed today.
However, not every zine is political. The collection boasts of personal narratives and poetry chapbooks like Hard Fifty Farm, and art booklets and comics such as Get Behind Me. There are zines about feminism and food, history and community.
Today the collection boasts well over 1,000 titles available for students and researchers. The collection contains material spanning from the late 1970s through to today, with the bulk coming from the 1990s and 2000s.
Recently, UMKC proudly hosted the second annual Kansas City Zine Con. The endeavor was successful, with over 1,200 visitors and over 125 vendors.
When asked for an off-the-cuff manifesto for zine culture, Hinds laughs.
“Just keep making them,” Hinds says, “Zine makers aren’t going to listen to any manifesto anyway.”
Hinds hopes UMKC will again host the third KC Zine Con next September.
Zine culture needs creators just as much as it needs readers. UMKC’s zine collection may be browsed on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library.