How the zine can be a tool for social change

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Zines are political by nature. “You can't analyze a piece of art na ang mode lang ay teksto lang,” says writer Adam David who recently led The Art of Doing's zine-making workshop. “Because everything is informed pa rin, ‘yung creation niya ay informed ng circumstance ng tao.” Photo by KRISTELLE RAMOS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Zines have a long history of accompanying subcultures and political movements around the world. The Great Depression saw the rise of science fiction fanzines, and in the ‘70s, punk zines were all the rage. Zines were important for the riot grrrl movement in the ‘90s, and until now, people still make zines to express their respective views, in real life and on the internet.

The zine is fast, cheap, and easy to make, which is why it’s usually the medium of choice for people who have been ostracized, marginalized, or oppressed. The zine serves as reference or official literature for their mobilizations. It is photocopied and distributed by hand, usually for free or cheap, as a reflection of their views and as a proposal for the future. It’s essentially a manifesto and an art form rolled into one.

As part of Art of Doing’s latest flash exhibit entitled “Hubad na Katotohanan,” writer and self-publisher Adam David talks about zine-making in a workshop called “Make Your Own Propaganda.” Here are eight takeaways from the workshop to remember before publishing your own zine.

Zine Making Adam David Adam David with one of his own self-published zines. Photo by KRISTELLE RAMOS

The first rule of self-publishing: DIY.

Do it yourself. Most zines are done this way. If you’re looking to spread a message that is more or less subversive, you have no choice but to self-publish. Unlike books which are backed by traditional, mainstream publishers, your zine will get no help from the Man, so don’t expect to get money from distributing your zine either.

“Self-publishing is, after all, also a means to insist that we create art for reasons other than pandering to a market or making a profit,” said David in a previous interview. This is why zines are usually considered part of the self-sustaining small press.

Make a manifesto, not propaganda.

“I think any publication should strive towards [a] manifesto in the sense na mind-expanding siya, na pinapataob niya ‘yung current thinking mo tungkol sa maraming bagay,” says David in the workshop. “‘Yung small press ‘yung mas merong lugar para dun. Kasi nga hindi siya monitored ng market.”

David further explains that propaganda, by definition, involves messaging wherein the reader is coerced “into believing a truth that is not necessarily true.” Manifesto, on the other hand, is an expression of your inner truth, or that of the movement where you choose to belong. Manifestos are proactive, David says, and they encourage the reader to join a cause or a mindset.

During the workshop, David holds up a copy of “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to show the importance of the permanence print gives. The approximately 80-paged pamphlet — which was probably one of history’s first “zines” — was the catalyst for many political movements that followed it, and remains relevant up to now, precisely because it’s available on print.

Zine Making Adam David Zines can be distributed online as PDF files but with tangible copies, more texture can be added, especially if your zine is going through old-school photocopiers. It can have a rough or rustic feel. Photo by KRISTELLE RAMOS

Steal, don’t borrow.

As with any artistic discipline, it’s helpful to remember the quote attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” If you’re not yet ready to construct your own manifesto in the form of a zine, you can start with a simple premise: deconstruction (of work that already exists).

This can involve experiments with blackout poetry, word randomizers, or even memes. For example, David re-published the poetry compilation, “Crowns and Oranges,” (by various authors) as “Crows and Rages,” with some words erased from the poems. The recreated edition includes a short essay explaining how plagiarism can turn into art.

David also tells about how he makes word randomizers out of Javascript, where he works with a set of chosen words, and uses programming to create random lines of poetry. As for memes as inspirational source for zines, he shows a copy of “The Face of a Marcos Apologist” as example. Authored by Mac Andre Arboleda, the zine merely contains pictures — composite selfies — of Twitter users who joined the “Win a Date with Sandro Marcos” contest.

Accept that your work will be edited multiple times.

Your work isn’t perfect. No one’s is. Edit yourself constantly, or be willing to be edited. This is precisely the reason why all publications go through several editions, and zines are no exception.

David’s book, “El Bimbo Variations,” is already on its sixth edition, and in each one, he changes about eight or nine parts. But he says that this will probably be the last edition of the book.

While editing is good, also be willing to let go of your work at some point. The Cult of Done Manifesto by Bre Pettis and Kio Stark says: “Once you’re done, you can throw it away.” Doing this reflects that you have faith in your practice, and the fact that you can progress with better writings in the future.

Zine Making Adam David “I think any publication should strive towards [a] manifesto in the sense na mind-expanding siya, na pinapataob niya ‘yung current thinking mo tungkol sa maraming bagay,” says David in the workshop. “‘Yung small press ‘yung mas merong lugar para dun. Kasi nga hindi siya monitored ng market.” Photo by KRISTELLE RAMOS

Utilize both physical and digital spaces.

The advent of the internet has made it easier for writers to publish their works independently because it’s an additional, cheaper platform. Publishing your zine both physically and on the internet is not only a way of maximizing resources, but also a means to spread your message to a wider audience.

Besides the digital word randomizer, David and his partner, Conchitina Cruz, made a website that contained poems in a specific layout, which had hyperlinks within hyperlinks that branched out to other poems and short stories, making up one big narrative. In relation to that, David has also made some of his works available as downloadable PDF files in his blog. “Masaya ang piracy,” he says, and piracy highlights the portability and non-profitability aspect of zines.

Social media can also be a tool for promoting your zine. Other than that, there are repositories online, such as The Anarchist Library, where people can upload their writings and have it printed and photocopied as zines by others. This is effective and almost cost-free because someone else is willingly doing the paperwork for you.

Compile and collaborate.

Another good idea to jump off from is the concept of a zine compilation by various authors. It’s a wonderful tool to get like-minded people to work together for a single cause or mindset, and be able to express it too. If you’re going to DIY a zine, it wouldn’t hurt to DIY with your friends. Writers who work with illustrators can create a powerful small press publication that marries words with images.

David, for example, has facilitated several compilations, including “Daloy: A collection of writing by the Filipino migrant women of Batis AWARE (Association of Women in Action for Rights and Empowerment).” The zine is a collaboration between the publishing group The Youth & Beauty Brigade and the NGO Batis AWARE, as well as the result of writing workshops provided for Filipino migrant women workers.

Zine Making Adam David The zine is fast, cheap, and easy to make, which is why it’s usually the medium of choice for people who have been ostracized, marginalized, or oppressed. Photo by KRISTELLE RAMOS

Make your work photocopy-friendly.

Mass production is easy these days. When making the manuscript for your zine, keep in mind that it will be inserted in a photocopier, so a proper layout design helps. Otherwise, you can just spread your zine in a PDF online, which is also a form of reproduction. But with tangible copies, more texture can be added, especially if your zine is going through old-school photocopiers. It can have a rough or rustic feel.

“Remember, the art of writing is always an act of autobiography,” writes David in “Instructions for the Inclined.” Multiplying your publication means multiplying yourself, and your mindset.

Think outside of the paper.

Zines lie on the line between poetry or prose and informative pamphlets. They have to be more or less “scientific, precise, artistic, and funny,” according to David, in order to get the message through.

A zine can be as experimental as you want it to be; you can play with typography to emphasize certain passages, or include inserts and even stickers or patches as a little gimmick. There are many zines today that have an interactive element to make the reader more involved.

A way of thinking outside the paper is also by thinking about context, or the current socio-political climate. How will your zine contribute to the literary ecosystem? While you don’t have to be overtly or blatantly political, accept the fact that zines by nature are political. “You can't analyze a piece of art na ang mode lang ay teksto lang,” says David, “because everything is informed pa rin, ‘yung creation niya ay informed ng circumstance ng tao.

Thus, politicality is also the nature of the small press. David adds: “Small press publishing is fortunately broad enough politically that it can address everyone across the class spectrum, but it also addresses a specific enough concern that it fortunately becomes overtly political. It is in that sense that the small press is truly anarchist.”