“Read a Damn Book – 072: Make a Zine!”

It’s pronounced “ZEEN” (rhymes with “mean”), and it’s what happens when people realize that they have the ability to put their thoughts (or their art) onto paper, and then make copies of those pieces of paper and let other people look at them! Zines are cool, extremely easy to make, and are absolutely liberating, and one could even argue that they are ESSENTIAL in a democratic society that supposedly values free speech.

make a zine (1997-2008) - (peg)

Bill Brent, Joe Biel, and others – Make a Zine! (1997/2008)

Make a Zine! was originally published in 1997, but the version that I read was reissued in 2008, and according to the authors’ note at the end of the book, the entire manuscript was rewritten for the new edition. This book may not look very big when you first pick it up, but it’s JAMMED full of information that any would-be zine maker will find thought provoking and useful. If anything, there’s almost TOO MUCH information in this book!

Brent and Biel are both long time zinesters, and Make a Zine! reflects the wealth of knowledge that the creators and their contributors have gained from decades of making zines and being in the zine community. The text includes articles on the history of zines, on layout and design, on processing images for maximum visual impact, on drawing comix, dealing with postage, avoiding libel, selling ads, ethics, distribution, and so on… It’s a thorough book and an invaluable resource for someone who is getting into zines and ready to take their project to the next level. There is SO MUCH information, in fact, that it could possibly become overwhelming. This book almost treats zines like a CAREER choice, while insisting throughout the text that zines are just a hobby and that everyone should enjoy creating them without even CONSIDERING the possibility that you might make money from selling them. It’s a strange, mixed tone, talking about this great hobby that lets everyone express themselves freely, but then spending dozens of pages explaining how to do be as professional as possible. (I almost feel like I’ve been doing it WRONG all these years… Sure, I’ve had fun, but I’ve never gotten BIG!)

I really do think this book is excellent, and I hope I don’t sound too negative because there is definitely a wealth of information in these pages. Each article covers a well-defined topic, and it explores that topic in minute detail. Have you ever wondered what type of paper you should use when having your zines printed? Some types of paper are much less expensive, but don’t hold the ink as well, which can cause it to smear a bit. Some types of paper are better for highlighting images and photos. Having colored paper for your cover can give your zine a more eye-catching appearance, or maybe you could have your cover printed with a two or three color lithographic process and have the interior printed on a light-weight, white paper to save on the cost, which would become a serious issue if you are printing thousands of copies of your zine. Each section’s topic is thoroughly explored, and there’s usually information pointing to other sources if the reader wants to explore more.

For people who have been making their zines for a while and already have a bunch of subscribers and sales destinations for their work, this book will really help make their zine creation more efficient and improve their production values. However, for a guy like me, who has been making zines since the late-1980s, I find that some people are less interested in “going pro” and just want to make zines because they are fun to make. I’ve rarely printed more than 20 or 30 copies of any of the zines that I’ve produced, I’ve never sold advertising space in my zines, and I’ve never tried to distribute or sell my zines in stores. I make them because I love making stuff. You fold some paper, you put artwork and images on the folded pieces of paper, you write about the topics you love the most (or whatever’s pissing you off at the moment), and then you either take your pages to the library and photocopy them (if the images are only on one side of the paper) or you go to a printshop and drop ten bucks having a professional print your zines (if you’re doing multiple pages and want the images printed on both sides of the paper.) It’s simple and cool and democratic. You can write about anything in the world you want to, and give copies to anybody that you want, without anybody telling you that your story is unprintable or that your artwork isn’t good enough or that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course, once they READ your zine, they might say some mean things—humans can be horrible, sometimes—but most people will either be polite and smile and not really care, or they might get really excited and say, “Wow! This is really cool! How did you make it? I want to make one, too!!!”

Make a Zine! also lists all the different kinds of equipment you can buy to help make your zine (things that “only” cost a few hundred bucks but are really useful!), but the only thing I’ve ever bought to help with zine construction (beyond simple office supplies like glue sticks and scissors) is a stapler with a longer than normal arm so that I could reach the center of a normal piece of paper when it’s folded in half. (It cost about $25 at the local office supply store). Other than that, which wasn’t NECESSARY, making zines is cheap. You just need a pen, some paper, scissors, glue sticks or tape, maybe some recycled magazines from the “free” bins at the library (for collaging), and a couple hours of spare time. Want to talk about your favorite bands? Make a zine. What to express your opinions about a political issue? Make a zine. Want to invent a new religion that incorporates modern scientific opinion AND esoteric mythology and magic? Make a zine! Whatever you want to talk about, whatever you are most interested in and love, you can make a zine about it and share it with the world. No one can stop you…

Make a Zine! is a great book. It’s funny, well written, has tons of information and amusing artwork, and it will make an excellent resource for zine makers who are looking to start making their projects more professional. (This book argues that being professional ISN’T a bad thing, and they’re probably right.) I’m going to say that this book would be perfect for intermediate to advanced zine makers. The book is well laid out, and there is a clear table of contents, so a reader who is looking for information on a specific topic can find it quickly and get what they need, BAM!, right there. For a true beginner, however, someone who has never heard of zines or who has never made one themselves, this book might be a bit overwhelming. The characteristic that makes it most valuable to seasoned zinesters, it’s DEPTH of information, might make it unsuited for a beginner just getting into zines. (It might make zine making appear too complex and scare potential creators off.) I could be wrong, of course. Maybe someone could read the book, be fascinated by all the information, and jump right into the zine community from page one, but to me, the book lacks that, simple, basic, “here’s how you make your first four page or eight page zine” section. It doesn’t really start from ground zero. Also, unfortunately, some of the entries in the extended appendices are now out of date, and being that it’s been ten years since the 2nd edition came out, this shouldn’t be unexpected, but it’s still sad seeing contact information for places like Reading Frenzy, a former zine shop in Portland, Oregon, knowing that they’ve closed their doors. (Again, that’s not this book’s fault…) Still and all, it’s an excellent, well produced book, very detailed, amusing, and full of the obvious passion it takes to stick with a hobby like this for a long, long time!

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)




About richardfyates

Compulsive creator of the bizarre and absurd. (Artist, writer, poet, provocateur...)
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