Generation Zine

Generation Zine

A new exhibit at VCU’s Cabell Library explores the personal and universal in zines.

Zines are invaluable not just because anyone can make and circulate them, but because they can be made from something as simple as a sheet of paper.

As physical records of a variety of life experiences, zines are especially valuable since creators marginalized by race, gender, sexuality, disability and other factors often seem less likely to be accurately represented in mainstream media outlets.

“Zines from the Pandemic and Beyond,” a new exhibit on view at VCU’s Cabell Library, explores the personal and the universal themes expressed in zines. The exhibit is curated by research and collections specialist Caroline Meyers with contributions from Yuki Hibben, Celia Donnelly, Mary Plaku, and Moira Neve. It features zines and artists’ books from VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives (SCA) holdings that explore themes of health, activism and creative expression. Many of the items featured were created in the early months of the pandemic.

Meyers says the impulse to create and disseminate printed matter with a DIY ethos has existed for centuries, but it took on a new urgency with the pandemic. People sought new ways to share and access health information, agitate for social change, and engage in restorative play. Among zine creators, the creative process of journaling and zine-making can be therapeutic.

Zines are typically available for $1 to $5 at festivals, distros or independent bookstores and are often traded between zine makers. VCU Libraries’ special collections and archives is open to the public and holds more than 700 zines and 4,000 independently produced artists’ books, as well as mini-comics and small-press publications. The exhibit is on view during regular hours.

The SCA has collected zines in some shape or form pretty much since its beginning as an archive, with fanzines and underground music publications being some of the first zine-like materials acquired. The school’s designated collection primarily contains material produced in the 1990s and 2000s, with a focus on those zines that were circulated at Richmond Zine Fest over the years. “We continue to add zine-like works to our book arts collection as well,” says Meyers. “We have collecting focuses in comic arts, book arts, and materials documenting the histories of marginalized groups in Richmond and central Virginia, primarily in the 20th and 21st centuries, and zines fit into all of these areas in some way.”

Richmond Zine Fest, established in 2007, is a hub of activity in the Richmond area. It was put on hold in 2020 through 2022 due to the pandemic, but it will return to the main branch of the Richmond Public Library in fall 2023, organized by Celina Nicole and Brian Baynes. Meyers suggests the Richmond Zine Fest website as a great resource for those looking to get into making and distributing zines.

Zine makers produced work on a wide range of topics during the pandemic, well-evidenced in the Quarantine Public Library. Some of these are featured in the exhibit, and all of them are available for free online. People were documenting their spaces and ephemera, sharing poetry, and writing critiques of white supremacy, especially in relation to the George Floyd protests.

At the same time, zines related to navigating COVID-19 in the pandemic’s early stages were particularly visible at a time when valid information on best health practices about things such as supplies and masks kept changing or was difficult to find.

“I think people turned to their immediate communities, locally or online, as sources of information during these times, and zines were one byproduct of this need,” Meyers explains. “It didn't register at the time, but I made my first mask at home from a pattern I found in an online zine.”

Central to the exhibit is “Lōkē vol. 2,” pronounced “low-key,” a collaborative zine produced by friends in Brooklyn who were documenting fragments of performance-based works. After discovering that many of the creative projects featured in the zine either ceased production or changed form at the beginning of the pandemic, Meyers used it as a conceptual jumping-off point for the selection of the rest of the works on display.

The exhibit also features zines from the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, which, like “Lōkē,” uses bright colors and snippets of information to make its content accessible. Meyers notes: “While the RRFP zines were published years before the pandemic, they speak to community-oriented health care efforts that have long existed but became increasingly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Active in the Northside in the mid-2010s, the Wingnut Anarchist Collective produced zines that articulated their commitment to mutual aid. Since Special Collections and Archives’ zine collection has a wealth of materials from the 2000s and 2010s, Meyers wanted to illustrate how practices that became highly visible during the pandemic have been documented in zines for decades prior to 2020.

“An uptick of participation in mutual aid -aid for everyone, by everyone- accompanied the pandemic,” she explains.

The abundance of pre-2020 zines in VCU’s collection could indicate that students and young people aren’t as into making zines as they were 15 to 20 years ago. So, is Generation Z into making zines?

“Yes, absolutely and it’s true for both physical and digital zines,” Meyers says. “One of the main arguments I tried to make through this exhibition is, while the specific circumstances have changed, people still make zines to play, agitate, and be in community when under duress.”

“Zines from the Pandemic and Beyond,” through August at VCU’s Cabell Library, 901 Park Ave., library.vcu.edu

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