Generally speaking, zines are small, self-made publications printed in limited quantities by DIY artists and creatives. Though the format takes its name from science-fiction fanzines of the 1930s, its popularity exploded in the 1970s with the birth of punk. The music genre was a perfect complement to zines’ jumbled, cut-and-paste imagery, mismatched typefaces, and hand-drawn, often crude art and notations. The best zines are transgressive in their activism, born of any number of underground subcultures, and fly in the face of mainstream art and publishing norms. What, then, are they doing hanging in UNCW’s Cultural Arts Building Gallery?
“It’s probably the most lo-fi the gallery has ever been,” Shannon Bourne says. Bourne is a lecturer in UNCW’s studio art program and the organizer of the university’s forthcoming exhibition “Power to the Zine!” A printmaker in her own right, she first encountered zines as a student at UNCW in the late ’80s, just as the Riot Grrrl movement (epitomized by punk bands such as Bikini Kill, L7 and Sleater Kinney) was preparing to breathe new life into zine culture in the Pacific Northwest. “I had some really good friends that were pretty big into skate culture, and they had zines,” she says.
Bourne got the idea for an exhibition in 2018 after a visit from artist Madeline Veitch, who heads the New Paltz Zine Library in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Her stopover in town inspired the creation of a small zine collection in UNCW’s Randall Library. At the same time, Bourne was looking for an event to alternate years with the art and art history departments’ biennial Printfest. Held in the spring, the event showcases students’ intricately carved, large-scale woodcuts. Zine-making, with its lack of rules and easy-to-reproduce designs, proved a perfect foil.
The exhibition at UNCW coincides with a spike in interest in the format—as evidenced by the spate of zine fests that have cropped up around the country in recent years (Wilmington-based Milk & Honey Comics hosted one at Bombers Bev Co. last May). It will include somewhere between 150 and 175 zines, including historic samples and many by professional artists. Roughly one-third of the entries were created by UNCW students over the past two years. Many come from the art department, but in the spirit of the format, Bourne opened submissions to the rest of campus and beyond.
Anna Lena Phillips Bell, a senior lecturer in creative writing and editor of the UNCW-based literary magazine Ecotone, teaches a course on handmade books. She encouraged all of her past and present students to submit. Alumna Sarah Wall (BFA 2018), now a student in UNC Chapel Hill’s master’s program in library science, contributed a zine featuring signs from the 2018 Women’s March in Raleigh, along with text exploring the messages and motivations for the signs. Students in Bell’s class on the editorial process, meanwhile, made zines that hark back to the early days of literary magazines, when editors wrote fiery manifestos for publication.
“Making zines offers so many possibilities for talking with students about small-press culture and independent publishing,” Bell says. “My favorite thing about it is the way it asks us to employ both our hands and minds. We’re so often stuck in front of our screens, and making a text object—especially one that’s analog, with collage or hand lettering or reproduced on a Xerox machine—is a reminder that our whole selves can be involved in thinking and art-making.”
Likewise, Bourne sees zine-making as an opportunity for students to engage with the larger world in a productive way. “Students are overloaded, and every time they turn on the news in the morning, it’s just, ‘How can I process this?’” she says. In class, she places few restrictions on content and allows students who may feel shy about their art to submit anonymously. The resulting zines range from personal (“Your Black Friend,” “The Things I Miss Most About My Grandma,” “Behind the Wheel: A LYFT Driver’s Log”) to downright practical (“A Not Boring and Very Important Introduction to Personal Finance”). Earlier this month, Bourne received three separate zines about the recently deceased basketball star Kobe Bryant.
“I told them, ‘Maybe it’s a place you can put these things, and then either trade it or pass it off or make copies and distribute it, and you can sort of deal with the thing,” Bourne says. “It’s kind of beautiful.”
“Power to the Zine!” will be set up in the style of a reading room, with publications scattered throughout the gallery. The opening on February 27 will feature light refreshments and music on vinyl, as well as a talk by Durham-based printmaker and Duke University lecturer Bill Fick. Fick will also lead a workshop on zine creation and relief printing from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Cultural Arts Building following day.
Anyone wanting to get involved can contact Bourne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions will be accepted up until Wednesday, February 26 at 5 p.m. and are open to all members of the public. “It seems a bit unstructured, but I think that goes with zines,” she says. “I just want to see what shows up.”