How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Zine

As the new-ish year kicks off, I feel obligated to return to this blog, reflect on the year gone, and contemplate my intentions for the upcoming shit show. That said, doing so is beyond my current emotional capability. Indeed, the whole notion seems particularly exhausting and like an exercise assigned by a mental health professional. In fact, despite the point on the calendar, I’ve been reorienting myself toward some preexisting but, heretofore, un-pursued goals to fill the free time in-between shifts at my part-time job. The naps previously occupying these periods have proven unhealthy and unproductive, and I can no longer afford the leisure.

So—without further ado, here are some updates:

  1. At the start of the summer, I began working on a zine. In the fall, the zine became a project about birds, depression, loneliness, and misinformation. I started selling it at an art fair in December and have posted the zine along with some art prints of images from the zine on my Etsy shop (oh, and I established the company I’ll be publishing under, Crass Market Media, but you probably don’t care so much about that).
  2. I decided to parlay this project into a freelance career in graphic design, desktop publishing, and writing.

The most critical part of these new developments is the zine. I had been toying with writing off and on since I graduated college with the grandiose notion that I would someday be a published author, rolling in that sweet, sweet publishing cheddah without fully diving in or realizing that the publishing industry is notorious for underpaying authors and that many authors end up ceding creative control over their writing or how their writing is represented. No, what I had my eye on was a life much like the storied authors of the past who led a bohemian existence and became cultural icons like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, or hell…even Joan Didion or Fran Liebowitz. These were the folks my recent-graduate ideals looked up to; these were the folks I wanted to be.

The Stakes Are So High

As someone who has worked with young people and made a study of her own emotional and intellectual development (thanks, Psych 101), I can understand and appreciate that I was very much under the illusion that many of us find ourselves in our early twenties. Upon reflection, however, I’ve come to realize that said idealization inhibited any amount of success I might have aspired to. The stakes become too high when you want to become your generation’s, Ernest Hemingway. What if the literary elite snubs me? What if the larger reading population doesn’t pay attention to me? What if I’m actually not that good? These were questions I didn’t want to answer because of the possibility that the answers were not what I wanted to hear.

I WANTED to hear that I was perfect and wonderful and a genius—call it a product of AYSO bumblebee ball where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up. But I KNEW I wouldn’t hear what I wanted because NO ONE is perfect or a genius or so talented, they make it big overnight and never fail to disappoint. NO ONE. So, I didn’t write and didn’t try and successfully avoided any negative feedback for 10-15 years of “trying.”

This year, I finally encountered a tipping point. I became so disgusted with the bullshit I was spewing to myself that I figuratively threw up and decided to do something about it. But I still had the gnawing fear of rejection that you CAN’T have as a successful creative. You have to be able to embrace institutional rejection—and I have clever ways of avoiding it. I needed to get started and learn how to make something I wanted to make without the threat that someone in authority might see it and give it a failing grade. SO—

Enter the Zine

For the uninitiated, zines are DIY publications that incorporate images and text and address any topic the creator chooses. The point has more to do with passion, interest, and self-expression than profits. If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of what a zine is, I recommend this article by Romeo Rosales at BookRiot. 

While I had known about zines for quite some time (you can’t go to a private liberal arts college and NOT know what a zine is and that they’re generally a big hit with English and gender studies double majors), the prospect of making one was daunting. What would I make it about? Do I need to inform the reader? Do I need to be vulnerable? I would instinctively raise the stakes for the project. Which, as we’ve learned, would instantly make it undoable.

Luckily, part of my job at the library is to plan creative programs for area tweens. Zines are also a big thing in libraries these days, so I did what I love to do: RESEARCH. I researched, fell in love with the idea, and never looked back. 

Here are some great titles I found on the topic, in case you’re interested (contains affiliate links).

I picture of the zine, "This Zine Won't Fly: Some Bird Shit" in a cardboard box.

My First Zine

It came slowly, then all at once. You know when you have intrusive thoughts that you can’t shake? Like no matter what you do or distract yourself with, you can’t ignore the urge to ram your car into the center divider on the freeway, bust out the driver-side door and run screaming down a busy freeway? I got one of those, but…you know,…not horrifying. It was an afternoon, I think, or maybe an evening? Who cares? But, I desperately wanted to draw something, perhaps just doodle. Maybe bust out the pencils and create a masterpiece, I don’t know. The feeling itched at that special spot in my brain where the desire to adjust everything in my life in parallel lines usually lives. I knew I had to indulge it. The problem is that I typically don’t have a plethora of ideas. So, I Googled “doodling prompts” and came up with a cute little list in which every item seemed to have a modifier, like “Cozy Toaster” or some bullshit. The two that stuck out to me were “King Pigeon” and “Nightjar.”

I had never heard of either, and the first made me giggle (I instantly thought of a pigeon in a tiny Burger King crown, walking down a city sidewalk, pecking at crumbs), so I went with it. I drew the king pigeon first, with middling success. It looked like a pigeon; it wore a crown; it was a pigeon. Not much else (let’s ignore the fact that there is a breed of pigeon called a king pigeon and that it looks nothing like the football-sized birds we’re all used to seeing). I turned to the nightjar.

What the Fuck is a Nightjar?

Like the king pigeon, I had preconceived notions of what that might be. My mind went to a mason jar with stars, a moon, and sheep jumping over a fence inside. Like a snow globe, but different in some way. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was completely off-base, so I…(all together, now) RESEARCHED THE DAMN THING and discovered the funniest-looking bird I’d ever seen (up until that point).

<em>Aegotheles cristatus</em>, Australian Owlet-nightjar
Aegotheles cristatus, Australian Owlet-nightjar by Photographer: Ron Knight is licensed under CC-BY 4.0

From there, I drew this:

It’s a nightjar in a jar! 

I thought it was funny…maybe not…

And, as many of you can probably tell, I kept going

And going

And going.

Until I got this:

An image of the zine, "This Zine Won't Fly: Some Bird Shit" in a cardboard box

Ok, fine. Who cares?

After the kind of self-analysis only natural to someone with my level of education and anxiety, I’ve come up with two ways creating a zine helps scratch my itchy brain:

I get to generalize!

I never was one of those kids that could immediately answer the all-important “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question adults seem to love asking kids of a certain age that morphs into “what are you doing after you graduate?” then “What’s your major?” then “What are you doing with your degree?” I had a few ideas that changed as I grew up, though none were substantial and sustainable and never led to any youthful passion projects (seriously, what can a kid do when all they want is to be a cashier at a department store in the mid-’90s?).

This problem became more of an issue when I got to college and had to pick a major. I started with theatre, then pivoted slightly to a double major in theatre and literature, then completely changed course with a new school and a “design your own major” program that meant I still didn’t have to make a decision. These days, I’m solidly in a career path (hello, librarianship) that lets me explore all manner of topics without doing the same thing day after day.

What makes the zine business so enticing to me is that I can follow any fuzzy, little topic that catches my short attention span and play with the concepts, create what I want to create, and have my fill of it until the next thing comes along.

Case in point: despite particular predilections of mine, I have become the bird lady among my closer circle of friends and family. However, this will only last so long as I let it because of my zine. Once I get going on another topic, they will stop talking to me about birds, and I’m okay with that.

I get to info dump!

The beauty of the art form is within the form itself. Zines, by nature, are devoted to the study, celebration, or condemnation of a topic. They provide a platform for the creator to rant about something, and I often need to rant about something. In my now 36 years of existence, I’ve developed a habit of learning about something, obsessing about it, and then dumping all the new information on an unsuspecting and unenthusiastic conversation partner. So much so that I think I’ve ruined a few relationships in the process…

Zines, it seems, help scratch that particular itch, and I’m all here for it.

With that, I’ll pivot to my sales pitch:

(If you’d rather not sit through it, feel free to click off)

My first zine, This Zine Won’t Fly: Some Bird Shit, is now available on my Etsy page! Go take a look and feel free to plop down a few dollars for it.

Much appreciated.

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