Monday, December 13, 2010

Keeping the zine spirit alive

On a chilly October night, three people huddle around a table in Toronto.
As they casually discuss page layout, it seems as if they could be assembling a newspaper, or a glossy magazine, maybe even a plain-text newsletter.
Except that there are no computers in the room. Instead, resting upon the centre table are the tools of their trade: Scissors, glue, and various types of paper.
It only makes sense that Patrick Mooney is at the table – he's just the kind of guy who does things himself. A lifelong Toronto native, Mooney is a co-founder of the Toronto Zine Library (TZL), one of the largest collection of zines in the city.
“I always thought they were cool,” he said. “I thought libraries should have zines, but they don't really take them seriously. So it was like, I guess we'll have to do it ourselves.”
Housed in the second story of the TRANZAC building near Bloor and Brunswick, the staff at the Zine Library on this night is working its own, self-titled zine, which provides information and upcoming events at the library.
For the uninitiated, zines are independent publications, usually the work of a single author. Self-publishing may not be the easy way, but for 'zinesters,' it's their way.
The personal nature of zines reflects the specific mindset of their authors, according to Harley Paegot, who has published about a dozen zines in the past 2 years.
“If you go to a zine fair, you'll find lots of zines about being queer, being vegan, being indie or whatever,” Paegot said. “The idea is, 'Because I'm not being represented in the mainstream magazines, newspapers or on TV... I want to find like-minded people.'”
Paegot says that the creative freedom inherent in zines helps to balance some of the work involved in putting them together independently.
“There's just the freedom of not having an editor breathing down your neck,” he said. “So even if you're just writing a poetry zine... you can put out what you want to put out, without having to worry about criticism or somebody saying, no, you should tweak that or you should change that.”
The DIY mindset of zine-makers is not lost on TZL volunteer staffer, Chris Landry.
“Zines have a kind of ethics to them,” Landry said. “They have a sort of rebellious spirit.”
Landry believes zine culture exists as a bastion for the marginalized, pointing to the way that many authors use them to work through their personal issues.
“It seems like people use zines for really specific, topical things,” he said. “People who can't really share these things in public life... It gives people a chance to sort of reach out without having to deal with social stigma.”
Zines provide an outlet, if not a living. In fact, there's little, if any money to be made, according to Mooney.
“Basically all of the funding for this (library) comes from either our own pockets, or people buying memberships. We'll do some fundraising from time to time,” he said. “It's the kind of thing where it's not commercially viable.”
Paegot, whose zine Yard Sale contains personal reflections, writing, music reviews and interviews, points to the cost of production as one of the biggest challenges for zinesters trying to make it on their own.
“It's very rare that you make any money from zines,” he said. “My goal was just to break even, which was a struggle in itself.”
For someone desperate to share their thoughts with the world, a more financially sensible option might be to open a website or a blog. But for Paegot, a former blogger, the shift to zines provided a personal, tangible connection that the online environment couldn’t match.
“If I'm going to invest all this time into putting something out there about myself, I like when I'm done to have something physical in my hand,” he said.
“I have a stack of these little booklets that I can show people and hand to people, and that people can put on a bookshelf and have for years.”
For that reason, Paegot believes zine culture is likely to live on in some form or another.
“There will always be a certain target audience who wants something tangible, something physical in their hands, and there's always going to be a niche for that,” he said.
Mooney echoes that notion, saying that zinesters will continue to do-it-themselves, regardless of how niche it may become.
“We did a (workshop) at a high school once, and I don't think anybody knew what a zine was. But there's always going to be the five kids in the high school who know what zines are,” Mooney said with a laugh.
“They just weren't in that class.”

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