From the rebirth of indie bookstores to the return of music on cassette, it’s Millennials and Xennials who are driving the push toward the personal, the analog, and the handmade. But giving the middle finger to corporate anonymity is a founding impulse behind—among many other historical examples—Henry David Thoreau walking out of his pencil factory to live at Walden Pond, the early-20th-century Arts & Crafts movement, and of course, punk rock.
Online culture is existentially exhausting. Leaflets and pamphlets have been around since the first dissident who had a friend who ran a print shop. It’s no wonder zine culture is having a renaissance.
"Anyone can make a zine. It’s a culture of DIY. You don’t even have to be interesting to anyone but yourself," said John Gabriel, who’s been making zines for 20 years and whose work will be on display at the Hard Copy Zine Faire, coming to Whitty Books on Jan. 26.
Operating outside the mainstream channels of writing, publishing, and distribution, these handmade publications have played a key role in countless countercultures, from the Star Trek fandom to the Riot Grrrls.
"It’s such a cool way to put your ideas out there," said Victoria Moore, co-founder of Whitty Books. "People think making a piece of art or writing something has to be a huge production. Zines are a really stripped down, simple way to put something out without the pressure to be perfect or going through ‘professional’ channels."
For Whitty Books, hosting a zine event feels like a natural development.
"There hasn’t been a real hub for zines since Holy Mountain shut down," Moore said. "When we opened the store we knew we wanted to carry local authors and artwork. We put out a call to zinemakers as well and got some good responses." Locally-made zines are prominent at the shop: a solid selection sits in a rack right by the register.
"A lot of people who came in kept talking about Zine Fest and asking if we knew if there was another one planned," Moore continued. "The last one was in 2016, at ahha, put on through Holy Mountain, and the one before that was at Charles Page Library. It definitely made an impact. We got asked enough times that we thought we should move forward with it."
With its Yves Klein-blue walls and boldly curated selection, Whitty Books itself feels like the bookshop version of a zine, where you can get a vivid reminder that sharing books and words and creativity with real human beings might just help you be a better version of yourself.
"I first started making zines as a teenager," said Jenna Buschmann, one of the artists who’ll be featured at the Zine Faire. "I liked the independence of it, making something on my own. Most of my zines are writing zines, which seemed like an easier route at the time than submitting for publishing. It was all under my control. When I found out there was a community or culture around it, I just fell in love."
For Tony Delesdernier, a professional writer who is venturing into zines for the first time, the appeal is manifold. "The aesthetic of DIY has always attracted me. Hand-screened record covers, things like that. Also, there are lots of things I want to do, but I don’t really want to go through a publisher. It doesn’t have to be commercially viable, which is what attracts me to zines in general."
Gabriel, Buschmann, and Delesdernier agreed that seeing their work in physical form—instead of online—is a huge draw for zine-making and zine events like this one. "Blogs are essentially online zines," Delesdernier noted. "Would blog culture have been what it is without them? But I would rather do this than post my work to a blog in the same way I wouldn’t put my music online. It just gets lost there. Here’s this thing I made that I can physically put in your hands."
The Hard Copy Zine Faire will feature 14 artists, as well as work from students in the eighth grade zine class at Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, with whom Buschmann and Moore have been sharing their experience in zine culture. A DIY station will be set up where people can make their own cut-and-fold zine—and maybe share it with a whole new circle of friends.
"It’s a feeling of physical accomplishment," Buschmann said. "With a blog, it’s anonymous; I don’t know who’s really behind the screen. With these, it’s more personal, and there’s more of a relationship with people—whoever might pick it up."