The print industry has felt a strain in readership due to the rise of digital media but there is one print medium that is making a comeback: zines.

Zines, also known as mini magazines, have been around since about the 1930s and flourished in the ‘80s and ‘90s punk and riot grrrl scenes. Zines can be anything from political to radical to silly and many use it as a platform to express thoughts, identity, political beliefs, and of course, angst.

Jonathan Valelly is the editor of Broken Pencil Magazine based out of Toronto. The magazine is published four times per year and is dedicated to zine culture and the independent arts. He says that zines and self-publishing are tools for building relationships, discussing politics and working on personal projects.

“I think [zine culture] encompasses the ethos of DIY and access to information and of empowering folks to be their own platform,” he says.

He created his first zine when he was spending the summer at his parent’s house in Philadelphia after his first year of university in Toronto. To stave his boredom, he took up dating and fell for a closeted boy who ghosted him after they started getting to know each other.

Zine JonathanJonathan Valelly sits at the Paris Ass Book Fair in Paris, France tabling with his distro called Gay 4 Pay Press. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Valelly.

Heartbroken, he began to write punk songs on his ukulele as a way to express his feelings, but after he accidentally broke his ukulele, he needed a new outlet: zines.

“I said, ‘I still have all these feelings I need to channel,’ so I made this poetry zine that had a bunch of collages and other art … I used old gay porn magazines and a bunch of other stuff to cut and paste,” he says. The zine was called Carajo, which is the Spanish word for asshole; and then he mailed it to him.   

Valelly says that accessible publishing like zines can empower people to control not only the look and content of the publication but also to create a specific distribution network. Festivals like the Canzine Festival, which is organized by Broken Pencil Magazine, came to Calgary for the first time in November of 2017 and is one way that zinesters can distribute their work.

“You’re reaching people who are part of your community and often times you’re handing it to them directly and telling them about it and maybe trading them … The zine culture enables a little more intimacy in terms of sharing and accessing the experiences of others,” Valelly says.

According to Valelly, self-publishing is empowering, especially for members of the queer community. “I think one big part of it is the overlap between feminist punk culture and queer punk cultures … the fact that early zines that were interrogating feminism and gender and the patriarchy also wanted to unpack stuff about queerness and about sexuality and about community isn’t super surprising.”

Blake McLeod, an Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) alumni and one of the hosts of Queer Art Night, which is a monthly art event in Calgary, started making zines in her first year at ACAD. She says that she sees a connection between zine-making and the queer community as well.

“It’s tricky in the queer community because there’s so much oppression already and so I think that it’s harder to get your voice out there,” she says. “If you just make a zine it’s like, everyone can just share them and trade them and eventually it gets out and then it’s like ‘I didn’t even know this was a queer thing.’”

McLeod says that she likes making zines because of the versatility of the content. A zine doesn’t have to fit into a mould, it can be heavy, it can be about your cat and it can also be about how to pick yourself up after struggling with anxiety or depression.

Similar to Canzine, a zine and underground culture festival, is the We Are Not An Island: The Queer Zine Fair which went on during the 2017 Sled Island festival. The festival’s mandate was to create a safe, accessible, and inclusive space for members of the local queer community to discover art and meet other like minded folks, among other things.

Bronson Smillie, the founder of the fair, says he became involved in self-publishing in Montreal where he attends Concordia University for painting and drawing. The idea for a zine fair had been in his mind for a number of years and when the opportunity came up to do it in Calgary, he took it.

Zine BronsonSmillieBronson Smillie is a comic artist based out of Montreal. This is the title page for his work, which is based around an alter-ego that he has created an alternate universe around. His website states, “I create visualizations of loneliness so you can feel less lonely,” and more of his work can be found at @bronsosaurus. Photo courtesy of Bronson Smillie.

A comic artist himself, Smillie says that zine culture and self-publishing culture is community based and that there is ample opportunity for people to come together through the medium.

“I think it’s just this way of distributing information that really leaves the agency to the person that is distributing it, so you’re not going through a third party, you don’t have an editor telling you what you can and can’t put in. So it leaves a lot of freedom to just tell your story and I think because of that it gives voice to a lot of people that don’t have a lot of representation in mainstream print media.”

The next Queer Art Nights will be on April 22 and May 20 in the CommunityWise Resource Centre on 12th Ave. Be sure to check Broken Pencil’s website for the next Calgary Canzine Festival as well as Sled Island’s website for more information about We Are Not An Island: The Queer Zine Fair. 

Editor: Polly Eason | 

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