What is a zine and how can it promote mental well-being?
Something bothering you? Why not produce, publish and distribute your own magazine on this subject? All of this creativity is therapeutic, stimulating and fun
Many of us like to be creative, as a way to support our well-being and to express ourselves. And alongside more notable artistic outlets, such as painting and poetry, is the world of zines.
In his fascinating book on zine culture, Metro Notes, author Stephen Duncombe defines fanzines as “non-commercial, non-professional, small-circulation magazines that their creators produce, publish and distribute themselves.”
Zines often contain a mix of materials: poetry, collage, sketches, first-person thoughts, tips, photos, lyrics – whatever the creator wants to include. There is also no set method for producing them, as zines can be handmade, with elements pasted or drawn directly onto the pages, photocopied, or created entirely digitally.
Some people make zines just for themselves, or as gifts for friends. Others print copies for wider distribution. Increasingly, zines are available to be viewed or purchased online on platforms such as Etsy.
For decades, zines have been used to share interests and experiences, from sci-fi zines of the 1930s to Riot grrrl zines popular in the 90s. They can be on literally any subject: there are zines available on everything from The little book of rabbit behavior To Doing Stuff Outside – A Guide for Anxious Autistic People.
Being self-published, zines are a place where we can control the content. This makes them perfect for sharing a wide range of experiences, such as the experiences of marginalized communities.
“We don’t need to follow someone else’s framework or rules when we have creative outlets like zines,” says advisor Jane Fellowes. “If we feel passionate about sharing a part of our identity or our history, then we can express it creatively. It gives us the space to tell our own story in a way of our own choosing, not someone else’s. There is great therapeutic value in telling our story, and in being welcomed and accepted by others.
Mental health is a common theme in contemporary zines. Author and journalist Erica Crompton started Hopezine after losing two childhood friends to suicide. “I wanted to use my own experience and that of others to give hope to anyone who is feeling weak or suicidal,” she says. Erica publishes Hopezine quarterly, and it includes a combination of articles, short stories, poetry and artwork.
“I’ve always believed that writing can help us deal with difficult feelings,” Erica explains. She also sees Hopezine as an opportunity to give voice to friends and colleagues, who can sometimes be overlooked by more traditional forms of media.
“Zines allow us to create something as unique as ourselves. They are a form of free expression, where parts of ourselves can be creatively explored and presented with freedom and choice.”
The value of zines as a space for marginalized voices is a sentiment shared by professional artist Deborah Rogers. Deborah is the founder of the participatory arts organization The Cultural Sisters and has led a project with the YMCA encouraging participants to create fanzines.
“Zines can help give a voice to someone who might be feeling speechless,” Deborah says. “Self-publishing is extremely stimulating, and that’s where zines came and grew.”
Zines are one of my favorite creative activities. I find it cathartic to have this space where I can write candidly about my experience with disability and mental illness. One of the great advantages of zines is the way you can use different artistic techniques. On one page I can include a poem, on another a collage of words from doctor’s notes, rearranged to reflect and subvert how alienating those notes can seem.
“I think zines allow us to explore a problem in depth, with each page looking at it from a different perspective, using a different material or technique, to look at the problem differently,” says Deborah.
“Zines allow us to create something as unique as we are,” says Advisor Jane. “They are a form of free expression, where parts of ourselves can be creatively explored and presented with freedom and choice.”
I also made zines as gifts for friends, pages full of meaningful things for us. Many people share their zines more widely. Erica publishes print copies of Hopezine to friends and family, then around 700 PDFs are sent to colleagues, past and present. She also sells them on her Etsy store, and archives them on Hopezine.com.
The power of zines also comes from their ability to connect communities. “Zines can help you feel heard and valued,” Deborah says. “They can help connect people to each other or be a voice for the community. “
Zines are a hallmark of many subcultures because of this ability to connect people. It can be really rewarding to read a zine that resonates with your own experience.
“They provide us with something to focus on that will be interesting and useful to others, which can give us meaning and purpose,” says Jane. “Creativity allows us to explore, be and express our true selves. “
Create your own fanzine
A good way to start is to decide what you want your zine to be about. Try to think of a theme, like “living with anxiety” or “my favorite family recipes”. Consider if this is a project for yourself, a giveaway, or do you like the idea of giving it away?
Zines can contain a range of creative techniques. One of my favorites is to use “found objects”: objects that surround us all. It could be newspaper clippings, old train tickets, receipts – anything goes! These can be kept whole or arranged in collages.
If you feel stuck, try “free writing”. Take 10 minutes to sit down with your notebook and write. You can use a keyword or keyword phrase that sums up the theme of your zine as a starting point.
Maybe you have some illustrations or photos that you would like to include? Lists are also very useful. It could be the music you listen to, the places you want to visit, the stereotypes you want to challenge, or your ambitions.
The other consideration is how you are going to put it together. I like to use quality A4 paper folded into an A5 booklet. Once it’s done, and I’ve made the photocopies, I staple them in the middle. I once used thread to tie it up – which was beautiful, even though sewing paper is time consuming and tedious! There are also various techniques for folding paper, with many guides available online.
Plus, you can create zines electronically. Erica’s Hopezine is a great example of this, and it provides both PDF and print versions of the finished job.
You might, like Erica, collaborate with others. Do you have friends who write poetry or create works of art? Some fanzine makers publish calls for contributions online. It’s a great way to bring diverse voices together around a theme, once again building a sense of community.
There is no right way to create a zine, so relax and have fun creating something personal and a perfect space to explore your experiences.
To connect with a life coach or to learn more about the power of zines and creative writing, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk