We love printed zines and we are excited to announce that July is back as the International Zine Month this year! In celebration of IZM 2022, we reached out to its founder Alex Wrekk.
For many years Alex’s life revolves around making zine-related things happen. Their life is full of zines, buttons, vegan food, travel plans, DIY witchcraft, a garden and space for a cat in her bed. Alex started Brainscan zine in 1997 and published the amazing Stolen Sharpie Revolution: a DIY Resource for Zines and Zine Culture book in 2002. The book has been the go-to guide for all things zine related and reprinted seven times since then! Besides that she is organizing the Portland Zine Symposium, coordinating with Zine Event Organizers around the world, updating the zine event listings on the Stolen Sharpie Revolution website, hosting the Nobody Cares About Your Stupid Zine Podcast and singing in a zine-themed punk band called The Copy Scams!
What a great start to the International Zine Month 2022!
Hi Alex! You’ve been involved in independent publishing for a long time now. How did you get into zines? When was your first contact with the zine community and culture?
I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah in the 1980s and ‘90s. At some point in the late ‘80s, I found a local music newsprint broadside sort of zine called SLUG (Salt Lake UnderGround) and in the early ‘90s, I found a free zine by a local musician with poetry and art and thought it was cool. In the mid-’90s, the father of my high school boyfriend was a monitor for AOL chat rooms and he bought some zines he found there and let us have them. I was really fascinated by what I found. In 1995 I spent half of my classes in my senior year of high school in our graphics lab screen printing bootleg band shirts and scribbling things to put in the zine I did with my little sister, Fun in a Bucket. By 1997 I started Brainscan zine and I was the merch kid for a local band and had a tiny box of zines I would bring to shows to sell and I would hang around in the basement of the Salt Lake public library, which was one of the first zine collections in a public library. In 1999, I moved to Portland because I had zine pen pals here and I guess that’s where zines really became a huge part of my life. In Portland, I found the Independent Publishing Resource Center, and out of that community rose the first Portland Zine Symposium in 2001.
What does being a zinester mean to you today? Do you mind sharing a personal definition of what a zine is and why it matters to have a vibrant zine culture in the age of social media and podcasts?
First, I think “zinester” is a self-selected term. Not everyone who makes zines wants to identify with the term. To me, to be a zinester is to make physical zines, call yourself a zinester, and engage with other folks who also like and make paper zines as a form of expression. I think the physical tangible aspect is what makes it different from social media and podcasts, but social media and podcasts can amplify zines and zine culture.
For the definition of zine I’ll take that from my book Stolen Sharpie Revolution:
Your book Stolen Sharpie Revolution has been reprinted many times since it first came out in 2002. How did the idea of writing a how-to guide about zines come about? Can you share some more information about the book for the people who haven’t stumbled across it yet?
The first edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution came out in July of 2002, so this year is the 20th anniversary and it just went into its 7th printing with over 50,000 copies in print! In the beginning, I had seen the same issues and problems with zines like writing in pencil that didn’t photocopy well, margins that got cut off, or people asking how to get cheap copies or postage or find zines distros. I had intended to pull a bunch of things I had learned over the years and make it a zine, then someone said I’d never be able to steal enough copies for the demand it would have, so we got it professionally printed. The first edition was printed on paper that was one step above the newsprint with hand-stapled cardstock covers and a template to make your own envelopes stapled in the middle.
The title pretty much says it all: Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Resource For Zines and Zine Culture. I think it has grown and changed with zines over the last 20 years as zines have grown and changed. It explains what zines are, why people make them, how to make them, and how to interact with other folks who also enjoy zines from attending zine fests to having penpals. There’s also the StolenSharpieRevolution.org website that I’ve wanted to make a resource for the changing parts of zine culture like zine fests, zine distros, and shops that sell zines.
The International Zine Month has been going on for years. How did you come up with the idea and how do you think the zine community has evolved in the last decade?
International Zine Month was started in either 2008 or 2009, I don’t remember which. I mostly was just curious as to how fake holidays ended up on those lists of celebrations and wondered if I could do it for zines. It turned out to be super simple so I registered it with Chase’s Calendar of Events and that was it. I picked the month that already had the 24 Hour Zine Thing and it went from there.
Zine culture has definitely changed in the last decade and the decade before that. It’s all a continuum and it’s such a versatile medium that it has space to grow and change. Sometimes that just makes me feel old since my experience with zines came out of DIY Punk so to see it move beyond that is exciting, but also bewildering for an old person like me. Besides zines moving out of punk spaces into more mainstream places, I’ve seen more comics in zine spaces than there used to be. A lot of them have the DIY spirit of zines and fit right in, but I’ve also seen people using zine fests and zine spaces as more of a consumer platform to sell books rather than being part of a community and that always makes me sad.
Do you think more people have started making zines since the beginning of the pandemic? Do you think zine making is somehow connected to staying at home or having a certain privilege or access (home, Internet, leisure time, etc.)?
I don’t know. I joke that every few months there’s a “Zines are making a comeback!” article when a bunch of us are looking around wondering why they never noticed us still making zines all these years. It’s like object permanence and zines. I do think that there is privilege in being able to print zines as copy costs have gotten ridiculous but I think people will always find a way to make their zines if they want to, but It can be a really lo-fi medium that is pretty accessible for any skill level.
You’re singing in an awesome punk band called The Copy Scams with lyrics revolving around everything zines and zine culture. It would be great to hear more about the band and the influence of punk on your life.
Copy Scams sounds like mid ‘90s era pop-punk that could have been on Lookout! Records. It started as a joke when Steve Larder from Rum Lad zine in the UK was staying in my basement in 2010. He joked that we should start a band and in two weeks we got some zine friends together, wrote some songs, and performed them at the Portland Zine Symposium after party. In 2012 we went to the UK, played some shows, recorded a record, then put out a 10”—a novelty record size for a novelty band! We played another show in Portland in 2015 when Steve was back over visiting. The most hilarious though, was when I went to Australia in 2019 and the fine folks at the Sticky Institute joked that the Copy Scams should play. I said that if they could pull some zinesters together for a band I would sing….never taunt Australian zinesters! They called my bluff, got a band together, and we had a few practices and played a show before the Festival of the Photocopier in Melbourne.
Zines and DIY punk have both been part of my life since I was a teenager so Copy Scams is the culmination of these two worlds.
Tell me about your Brainscan zine and the topics that have been important to you as a zinester?
I just turned 45 and started Brainscan when I was 20 so it has grown and changed with me over the years. It started as pseudo-intellectual ramblings and personal and travel stories. I’ve written about falling in and out of love, getting an IUD, recovering from an emotionally abusive marriage, and thoughts on place and growing up. My latest two issues have been about building my personal secular witchcraft practice. It’s been all over the place and so many zines I’ve started and not finished. One thing I have really enjoyed with zines is the ability to make photocopier art for the layout using cut and paste style by hand.
I’ve always loved zines that showed me new information and new experiences. Some of my favorite zines have been about when people write about their passions whether it’s about making your own kombucha, British folklore, or anarchist history.
Can you share some zines and resources on reproductive health and pro-choice? Do you think that zines are still important part of the queer and feminist communities?
Some of my favorite zines show that the personal is political. I think Doris zine has always done a great job of weaving personal stories and political stories into the same thing. I think zines will always be an important way to express ideas in a very real way that you may not see in traditional media. It’s DIY and you can make it yourself without needing to be an authority or ask for permission so I think it will always be an excellent way for the queer and feminists communities or any marginalized community to speak to each other with their own words without censorship and creating safer spaces for their words and self expression.
Do you have a bunch of new zines to read for International Zine Month 2022 this July? What about re-reading some old zines?
I always have new zines to read! There’s a giant pile by my bedside but I do think that IZM is a great excuse to revisit zines I love and remind me of why I got into them in the first place.
Any advice for newbies into making zines or folx who want to start a zine distro?
Just do it. Make a zine. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just make something you are happy with right now. In the future, you will be able to look back at how you have grown and changed as you develop your style. If you start a zine distro, only carry zines you really like and will stand behind. Also, don’t run consignment, everyone hates it and it’s a pain to keep up with.
Thanks! Check out my distro at portlandbuttonworks.com