First things first. What is a zine?
Good question. Tricky answer.
For a lot of people around the world, across time, a zine (pronounced zeen) has always meant much more than an independent, inexpensively made, small, self-circulated piece of publication. It is first and foremost a belief. A belief that what we think is valid, whatever we say deserves to be heard, that we are important. And we could be anyone and everyone. Ambitious, yes. But that’s exactly what a zine is, unreasonable ambition.
Defining what a zine is, has become more and more complicated over the years and at the same time redundant. There are a couple of ways one might go about it. Whether in terms of media and formats that have been constantly evolving with technological advancement, or themes and contexts of the content. But what has always intrigued me is the spirit of do-it-yourself. Indeed, zines are all about doing it yourself,
- Self created
- Self edited
- Self published
- Self circulated
If something, anything (amateur videos, personal recordings, collages, pamphlets, newspapers, booklets, digital images, webcomics) checks the boxes above, it’s a zine. Zines are short for ‘fan magazines’. Began in the 1920s in America, when young black creators started making “little (literary) magazines” without the interference of older conservative authors, zines provided fans of underground subcultures to create networks, share ideas and analyses, and collaborate. Essentially giving people a platform and voice outside the scope of the mainstream media and culture quo.
Subsequently over the decades, in subcultures like the science fiction fandoms of the 1930s, the Beat Generation, the Rock and Roll music scene in the 60s and 70s, several art movements like Dada, Fluxus and Surrealism, and the punk music scene of the 80s, zines were a crucial component to building the community and modes of communication between fans.
Nor has India been far from all the action. Besides the modern urban collectives of zine-makers, pamphleteering, the precursor to zines have been a constant in alternative political movements in India since colonialism. Be it the Independence Movement, Dalit Panthers, Naxalite uprising, Queer Rights, Communism, you name it, there’s more than a pamphlet (or booklet) or two that each of them had. These served as sparks to spread political flames.
My Own Work And Relevance Of Zines
Given I have been working at Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, a grassroots feminist organisation that believes in collectivising women and youth to become decision makers at the local and regional levels, I was curious to see if and how a zine was still relevant in the context at hand, in rural Kutch. Could we use it as a form of social communication? Or to make a publishing collective of youth? I had been learning about the several collectives that KMVS has nurtured over the years. And the battles they have fought together for the empowerment of women and marginalised communities. In fact some of them are now independent entities.
The idea to make a zine with the youth cadre of KMVS began with the following intentions:
- Demonstrate the wonder/power of self-publishing by quickly putting out a zine
- Create a collective-space for interested youth cadre to come together and build something based on their talent of writing
- Create a platform for these voices to be heard, both in their native context and the world beyond
On multiple occasions during my ten months at KMVS I had been coming across the extraordinary poems and essays. These are ritten by the youth of Kutch on various occasions and I wanted to do something with it. I began by putting out a simple text in the Cadres’ WhatsApp group.
Immediately 4-5 people replied to me and we formed another WhatsApp group to begin the conversation about this. Some of my colleagues also suggested names of girls who weren’t part of the cadre but with whom KMVS had been working. We decided to hold meetings online to be able to meet more frequently. Also without much time lost in transit. Moreover, one of the contributors, Saniya, wasn’t allowed to leave her house. Throughout the process she only joined us online with the camera off. I had not met her until much after we published the zine.
I began the conversation in the group by asking everyone to share their other writings and drawings, and introducing themselves. Sensing that there was hesitance initially to share their own writings with everyone in the group, I would receive them in personal chats and would then have to convince them to share in the group.
The first two meetings went in explaining what a zine is, a brief history and how it’s different from a magazine. The second meeting had been a hands-on demonstration. Here,everyone arranged A3 papers or joined together two A4 sheets to make different kinds of folds that led to different shapes and sizes of pages and different ways of reading the zine. We chose the traditional booklet form as it allowed maximum number of pages and ease of folding, cutting and joining.
From the beginning I had been conscious of pushing the group to arrive at decisions collectively even though the response had not been ideal. I would have to do most of the talking on our calls or constantly ask people to speak. Once meetings began, the first 10-15 minutes were spent in calling everyone to join the meeting.
I had hoped that the group would collectively arrive on a topic but owing to a crunch of time and confusion about the entire activity, I initially suggested ‘Tech for All’ as the topic. However, since we were planning to publish the zine on Womens’ Day, the members of the group were more comfortable with writing about Women’s Day at large. It took about two-three weeks for everyone to send their writings. Once they submitted the writings, I explained on a call the need for meeting in person at least once in order to edit, set the page layout and illustrate the zine.
However there was difficulty arriving at a consensus for date and time as someone or the other would be unable to come. Finally Rinkal stepped in and asked everyone to come to the organization’s Bhuj office on a Saturday. We also added a few illustrators to the group, of whom only one showed up. Vaishali and Bhami took initiative about editing. They had quite a lot of clarity about what they wanted to publish and what they didn’t. Vishal had been the only other boy in the group besides me. His poem had sounded patronising to the editors in some parts which we edited out quite confidently.
Steps To The Zine Making Process
First, we decided the layout in terms of which piece would appear on which page, where there would be negative space, which drawings would feature where. We mutually agreed that colour print would not be possible owing to limited funds. These funds at the time were supposed to be raised by the group itself, Rs 100 each, 10 people. Each one would get 10 copies which they could sell to their friends at a profit, and raise money for further prints. Prior to this I had met with printers and paper vendors. I had calculated that the material cost of each copy would be Rs 8.5.
After preparing the layout on a prototype of the zine, we briefed the illustrators on what they would have to illustrate and within how much space. I explained how to transfer the drawings to print and what kind of details would or wouldn’t be scanned on the computer. In some cases the writers worked with the illustrators to ideate. They made and traced pencil sketches with black ink pens on a tracing sheet. We then scanned these sheets and converted them to a vector illustration on Adobe Illustrator. Text was all typed out.
At the end of the meeting, we decided the dates for submission of final illustrations, collection of money, finalising page layout, briefing the members (who were absent) about the meeting and meeting again to cut and fold the zines. I collected all the material from everyone and laid it out on software for print. The idea was to print one copy and then make as many photocopies cheaply.
However it was later decided that KMVS would sponsor the printing costs. An interesting dilemma arose when I announced this in the group. Everyone realised that when KMVS sponsors, its logo would be on it. And any other suggestions from KMVS, no matter how trivial, would have to be accommodated. So they proposed instead to sell the copies to KMVS and finance the printing costs. This wasn’t a unanimous suggestion, some did feel that if KMVS printed, it would lend more credibility to, and increase the reach of the publication. However, they asked me to keep the proposition in front of KMVS nonetheless. This did not actualise in the end, the printing costs were borne by KMVS.
One last initiative was taken by Vishal in the group, towards the lee-end of the process. He asked for the zine collective to have a name. Some were suggested, none were decided upon.
Links to check out, and referred for this blog: