Zines harness print and a DIY ethic to empower cultural and self-expression

The idea that print is dead never considered the longevity of saddle-stitched, stapled or cut-and-paste publications.
Zines—short for magazines or fanzine—are alive and well, appealing not just to aging boomers or retro-inclined hipsters, but to anyone interested in creating or consuming points-of-view through do-it-yourself print media.
Commonly taking the form of photocopied, self-published works, these assemblages of print can range from hand-letter flyers to short run publications produced on high-end laser printers or small presses. Most zines never surpass 1,000 in circulation; many are limited to 100 or fewer. And for most, profit rarely drives the motive.
"Zines are made with a lack of interest in commercial gain and for their own sake," says Joshua Barton, a special collections and zine librarian at Michigan State University. "These works create a thread between the creator and the reader and are most typically embedded in a scene."
Self-published, printed works are nothing new. Revolutionaries and anarchists have harnessed the power of the press dating back to the 1700s. Followers of science fiction fandom often allude to the golden age of zines in the 1930s. Poets, musicians, activists and cartoonists are rooted in alternative publications, including the underground press of the '60s and '70s.
Greater Lansing has seen its share of zines through the decades, riding the ebbs and flows of various subcultures. In the late '70s and early '80s, local zinesters Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson took Touch and Go to national prominence among hardcore punk rock followers. And Charlie Nash's Queer Magnolia built a strong following in the 1980s, with his now out-of-print publications continuing to attract curators and consumers of counter-culture media.
Today, the Lansing zine scene consists of a handful of dedicated zinesters creating and sharing publications through informal channels or organized DIY events. Like their predecessors, the region's current hand-made publications explore art, music, sexuality, feminism, personal voice, and other social or political subjects considered outside mainstream media.
"Zines show that the production abilities are there for you to tell stories on your own terms," says Barton. "These publications are for and about people, and give voice to marginalized or under-represented voices. They show us that the idea that some ideas are more publishable than others is absurd."
Art for zine's sake
They'll tell you they do it for the sake of expression. And they'll tell you they do it for the love of art.
Regardless of their reasons, Ethan Tate and Caroline Caswell are among the more visible zinesters in Greater Lansing, helping to bring moderate exposure to a medium that tends to stay shrouded in subculture.
"As a kid, I was into journalism and had an interest in print," says Tate. "I hadn't really made or published much of anything myself until I found this outlet."
The Holt native and Lansing EastSider has created about 17 zines since 2011, many focusing on photography. His recent work Awfully Blissful—produced via color laser printer on 8.5" x 11" paper—is populated with photographic imagery and a testament to the beauty of everyday objects.
Tate publishes zines, books and other printed materials through Smash Printing Press—his independent publishing house. With an emphasis on contemporary image-based art, the press also collaborates with Peachy Press and their This Many Zines Club.
The TMZ club, Tate explains, is actually what's known as a "distro"—or a venue that helps get zines into the hands of interested readers.
"A distro is almost like a record label is to a recording," says Tate. "They're run by someone who curates a selection of zines and makes them available to others."
Run by Caswell and fellow local zinester Abbie Heath, the TMZC distro consists of a repurposed teacart, enabling club members to put self-published works on wheels and get them in front of other people.
Among the curated publications are Peachy Keena radical feminist and transgendered-focused zine created by Caswell and Heath. Now in its fourth edition, the publication has garnered a wide following, takes submissions from across the U.S., and has been curated through national online distros.
"Abbie and I had an idea that we felt was important to talk about and didn't have an outlet," says Caswell. "The most important aspect of most any zine is to place a story and to share it."
Being your own editor and publisher, Caswell and Tate say, is at the heart of zine creation, as well as having access to the means of production. Those tools include basics like paper, a Sharpie, art supplies, an X-acto knife and cutting board, as well as a computer, laser printer, photocopier and stapler.
"Despite what people think, it's harder and harder to get your voice out there," says Caswell. "Zines are a great way to do it."
A call to organize
The desire to be heard and act collectively has led some in the zine scene to arrange shows or work through conventional channels to up readership and attention.
Peachy Keen's Heath works alongside MSU librarian Barton in cataloging thousands of zines and helping to maintain a special collection for the public. Tate and Caswell, too, are among organizers for the Mid-Michigan Zine Fair held for two consecutive years in East Lansing.
"We had been doing other zine fests in Chicago and Grand Rapids and decided we needed one here," says Caswell. "Ethan was part of an art collective, and we talked to some people there and at the libraries and got the festival going."
With the support of the MSU and East Lansing libraries, Tate and a handful of organizers attracted 23 self-publishing artists to exhibit at the October zine fair. Zinesters from Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Ypsilanti and Mt. Pleasant tabled publications of all shapes and sizes, all made by hand, and reproduced via photocopiers, laser printers, screen-printing or other short-run presses. Organizers also held workshops on zine-making, and provided designated times for creators and attendees to read, swap and sell favorite hand-made publications.
Like many zinesters, Tate and Caswell regularly travel to zine fests in Detroit, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Chicago. And while they realize Lansing's place as a small-town zine fair, both acknowledge the quiet, recent uptick of interest in the unique form of publication. Scene Metrospace's early fall exhibit Substrate: Printed Material from the Rust Belt explored DIY and radical production methods in independent publishing through a collection of zines and art books. And the winter show Reading Room at Strange Matter Coffee explores the intersection of DIY artist books and zines through an interactive exhibit.
MSU librarian Barton confirms the increased attention given to these unique published works by organizations like the American Library Association. He also talks about MSU's efforts to catalog and preserve zines and their content through MSU Library's Special Collections.
"Libraries take very seriously our responsibility for representing humanity and preserving a cultural record," say Barton. "We're responsible for what historians will use as their records, so what is included and what is omitted in our collections will affect what's told through history."

Ann Kammerer is the Development News Editor for Capital Gains and writes occasional features.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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