Cutting up magazines for a collage, writing a diary entry, drawing a self-portrait, coming up with a haiku: This isn’t fifth grade. It’s the Emily Taylor Center’s virtual zine club, and it is much more than arts and crafts.
A zine, short for fanzine, is a radical medium that lives outside the confines of the publishing and journalism industry. Zines are self-made with self-published texts and images often stapled together and reproduced with copy machines. They have history in the punk and feminist movements, and often deal with social justice issues by being used to spread messages. Zines have a reputation as the medium of the unheard. You don’t need a degree or credentials to get your message out there through zines. They are often traded or sold for little money.
Megan Williams, the assistant director of the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity, initially started the virtual zine club in collaboration with KC Zine Con organizers in the spring of 2020 as a response to the pandemic. She has a long history with zines and gave zine workshops at KU and in the Lawrence community before creating the club.
“I much prefer the in-person community that forms when you can be together in the same physical space,” Williams said. “But to be honest, I think that it kept me sane over the course of the pandemic because it was one of my few outlets to be with like-minded people and to make something, which for me is very cathartic.”
In January 2021 the club shifted to focus on KU students by partnering with Students United for Reproductive & Gender Equity with the tagline "make zines, do feminism!" Members meet every two weeks, and each meeting follows a theme usually involving social justice led by a presenter that gets the conversation going. Everyone is then encouraged to create a zine based on that week’s subject or work on any other project before regrouping to discuss. While the meetings have themes, conversations often flow freely and transform into discussing personal experiences and feelings.
KU is home to a large collection of zines in the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. This zine archive was gathered from a former Lawrence-based activist group, Solidarity. Keeping with the tradition of justice and revolution, Williams’ zine club places a large emphasis on feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, anti-racism, indigenous activism and other forms of progressive social movements. The club fosters a culture of openness and inclusivity that participants can feel when they log onto the zoom meeting.
“We're trying to center marginalized women [and] women of color and then at the same time, make the space as open and welcoming to everyone as possible,” Williams said.
Imani Wadud, a KU doctoral student from Washington D.C., will be discussing Black and abolition feminism in the virtual zine club on April 26. Wadud said she has been participating in the club to get back into zine making. She is currently researching Black visual culture and community-based projects in the department of American studies and part of her dissertation will be presented in zine form. Wadud said simply creating for fun can be an act of resistance when the world is pushing you to work and meet deadlines constantly.
“There's a certain type of trust that has to develop between [you and] whoever you're passing the zine on to and hoping that they get out there. Because oftentimes you don't hear something back. And there's something thankless about that,” Wadud said. “I feel like we live in a culture right now that demands instant gratification. Even when we create artwork, we want it to sell, we want the likes, we want the gaze on us, and I feel like zines allow for you to do an introspective practice of thinking about how you relate to people in the world.”
Ayah Wakkad, a KU doctoral student from Jordan, has presented twice in the virtual zine club. Wakkad’s research in the English literature program is on the influence of British writers on Arab prison writers in the 20th century. Her presentation in March dealt with women resisting oppression. Wakkad said she enjoys the casual atmosphere and community that the club creates.
“I'm a Muslim, Arabic, [a] woman and international. So, it's interesting. I think what I liked about the club is their commitment to diversity, inclusivity and equity,” Wakkad said.
“Much like feminism is for everybody, zines are for everybody,” Williams said. “When we don't know about something, it is kind of like scary at first, but I just want people to know that this is mostly meant to be a welcoming space, and anybody can make zines.”