How to Make a Zine

Feeling boxed in by traditional professional or academic publishing outlets? A zine—a small self-published pamphlet or booklet—can be a powerful tool for unlocking creativity and expanding the reach and impact of your work.

 

Simplified illustration of a book with vines growing around it.
Image description: A book sits open and is drawn to appear as if it were blooming from a plant stalk. A yellow flower rests on the verso page. The vine the flower is attached to loops around the book and down over the recto page. Miguel A. Cardona

Learn about the craft. An important form of self-publishing, zines have a rich history in social and political movements. There are many artistic forms and practices that can contribute to a zine, such as bookbinding, printmaking, collage, typography, and illustration. If you are able, consider seeking out some formal or informal training in these media to get a better sense of the possibilities. We recommend Esther K. Smith’s How to Make Books (2007) for the autodidacts among you.

Consider your audience. Who is this zine for? Is it for people in your field site? Is it for fellow anthropologists or other academics? Will you hand them out at community events? Conferences? Include them in your tenure file? Leave them in coffee shops? Mail them to people? These considerations will help you figure out the content, layout, and how many copies you will print.

Collaborate. You don’t have to build this alone. Zine making can be a participatory process with your interlocutors. It can also be a way to foster connection to a local artistic community. Is there a local designer or an artist whose work you admire? Make sure to give just credit and compensation to your cocreators.

Start small. Choose a bounded section of your project to communicate in zine form. This could be an ethnographic vignette. Or an accessible explanation of a theoretical concept. It could be a series of photographs or illustrations. Or a series of quotes from interlocutors or textual artifacts. Or some combination of all of these. If you want to think bigger, consider publishing multiple volumes over a longer span of time.

Take risks and be creative. Depending on your audience and goals, a zine is an opportunity to try new genres, forms, styles, and techniques. Think about what the form can do for you that a monograph or a journal article or a website cannot.

Prototype. Prototype. Prototype. Experiment with different sizes, materials, and layouts. Print multiple mock-ups before doing a full print run. Remember that the zine will be consumed in multiple different scaled experiences (cover-to-cover, a series of individual two-page spreads, etc.). Give limited mock-ups to your friends, colleagues, and interlocutors for feedback. If you are doing the construction yourself, measure twice, cut once. Keep track of your process with notes and photographs so that you can replicate it (or help others replicate it) later. Not feeling crafty? You can always send a PDF to be professionally printed and assembled.

Share. Think about the zines’ futures. Where will they circulate? Consider working with local librarians, bookstores, or archivists to preserve copies for the future. Should you digitize your work so it can have a wider reach? Where will the digital version “live?” Will you sell the zines, donate them locally, or give them away for free?

The sky’s the limit in the creative world of zine making—spread your wings by incorporating this impactful tool into your anthropological practice!

Kathryn A. Mariner is the Wilmot Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester. Miguel A. Cardona is assistant professor of new media design at Rochester Institute of Technology. You can learn more about their zine collaboration at www.fertilegroundroc.org/the-zine.

Cite as: Mariner, Kathryn A., and Miguel A. Cardona. 2020. “How to Make a Zine.” Anthropology News website, November 20, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1541

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