As the Ottawa ‘Zine Off is drawing nearer (don’t worry, I haven’t even started mine), I wanted to take this opportunity to look at some of the zines being made locally in order to give first-timers an idea of the range of work possible in the format. What I love about the concept of this event is that it addresses the two most painful parts of the creative process.
1. Starting anything – Zines are rough and ready by nature; unlike their older, moderately classier DIY sibling the chapbook, most zines have an innately punk aesthetic. Cheap, raw and heartfelt, it’s easier to start something when you’re allowed to be flawed. That’s a nice thing once in a while no?
2. Finishing anything – Oh, you haven’t edited yet? Too bad, Staples closes in twenty minutes; get your ass in gear.
So here’s a bunch of random zines I’ve acquired in the past few months; these are not reviews, but examples you can work from. Forgive me for the crap photos; I don’t have a scanner and my only working camera is on my laptop.
YOU CAN DO IT TOO – Neil Johnston (2013, 14 pages)
Acquired this one at the last Ottawa ‘Zine Off in March; this is, as it says on the cover, “a zine about biking in the winter.” The first thing you’ll notice is that in place of staples Johnston has used a strip of bike tire tread to bind his zine.
One of the advantages zines hold over blogs is their tactile quality; you’re holding something somebody made by hand. Anything you can do to take advantage of this physical element will help your zine to stand out. Experimenting with format, using different colour stock for your cover, or personally customizing each copy of your zine with extra drawings or inserts are all ways to reach out to the individual holding your book. YOU CAN DO IT TOO is mostly text with a few cut & paste images to break things up. Johnston pecked out the text on a manual typewriter, and much of its charm comes from the extensive strike thrus and handwritten asides that pepper the text. A friendly take on a practical topic.
the reverse cougar years #4 – Maxx Critical (2013, 22 pages)
Another ‘Zine Off book (I know I keep writing ‘Zine with the apostrophe when I refer to the event, and without every other time; I don’t want to change the name of the Facebook event, so I’m trying to be consistent; this is the bed I’ve made for myself, and I’m stuck with it till September 11th, so let’s just get through this as best we can together, yeah?), Maxx was the one who came up with the original idea and has continued shepherding it along. the reverse cougar years is primarily a venue for her anecdotal writing; in this issue she looks at her experience working manual labour with predominantly men (and labourer men, at that), how shitty it is to break one’s foot and her reasons for putting together the ‘Zine Off itself (meta!).
22 pages sounds like a lot, but bear in mind that at this size each “page” represents about a quarter of a full-size sheet of paper. Maxx intersperses her ruminative text with a fair number of graphics; this is one time when foot selfies are appropriate, including the x-rays of what her fractured foot would’ve looked like, if she hadn’t forgotten them in the ER.
Finale 95 #2 – Alanna Why (2013, 30 pages)
Alanna Why is an 18 year-old high school girl who is pretty much the coolest person in Ottawa. Whenever I see her at a concert, which is semi-frequently, I inevitably point her out to whoever I’m with and say, “Hey, there goes Cool-Alanna, bein’ all cool” like “Cool” is just part of her name. I mostly think she’s cool because her zines, which include Finale 95, Puker Nation and the equally hilarious Scoopin’ Times, are amazing. Finale 95 is all over the place, from an account of her strange trip to Cuba in comic form to rants about the banality of high school to record reviews.
Highlights for me included a top five list of truly bizarre games she invented with her sister as children (excerpt: “…it involved me playing a man named Weatherby and Olivia playing the role of his secretary. Weatherby talked in a Southern accent and hit on his secretary for most of the game. Sometimes I would wear my mom’s fur hat too. The game ended when I creeped my sister out too much. It was pretty fucking weird.”) and interviewing her friends about their dream dates, which reaffirms my awareness that I don’t know why girls like anything ever.
This mag has a “do anything as long as it’s funny/weird/true” ethos; it’s fun to see someone becoming who they are, which is very much the point of personal zines. Good job, Cool-Alanna.
Sleeps with Ghosts #3 – Adrian Fynch (2011, 38 pages)
(Adrian Fynch actually resides in Montreal, but I bought this zine from her at the last Ravenswing festival in Centretown, so there you go.) At 38 pages, Sleeps with Ghosts is hefty by zine standards, and it deals with weighty subject matter. The zine is divided between Fynch’s general thoughts on gender/sexuality issues like body hair grooming and fetishes, and harrowing personal anecdotes. The longest section of the zine deals with Fynch’s two abortions, a subject she approaches with unflinching honesty and admirable evenhandedness given how volatile the emotions involved are. There’s also a little section on doing a “flesh pull” with her sister, illustrated with fairly graphic images, that manages to get at the sublimity BDSM practitioners experience while also making me want to not have a back anymore so no one can ever put hooks in it.
Design-wise, it’s a mix of handwritten and word processed text cut and pasted/taped over photographs and visual art from collaborators. It’s heavy on blacks to the point of despondency, but it’s well-assembled and readable. Fynch has been at this a while and puts obvious care into her work; it would be unfair to compare Sleeps with Ghosts to short-notice ‘Zine Off works, but it’s an example of what you can do if you’re willing to take risks with potentially troubling subject matter.
I’ll be back tomorrow-ish with another few example zines. Looking forward to seeing what folks come up with this time!