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To mark The Lily’s first birthday, we made a 22-page zine about secrecy. We’re calling it “Incognito.” Inside, you’ll find comics by Ann Xu and Katie Wheeler, a photo spread of leftovers from ex-lovers, and five essays, including three by zine makers Brittany Couch, Emerald Pellot and Kerri Radley. The essays – about everything from family secrets to disability – are poetic, at times jarring, and occasionally humorous. (One even ranks the best cheap hot dogs: 7-Eleven, Costco or Ikea?)
We also included secrets submitted anonymously by some of our readers. Chances are, you’ll be able to relate to some of their admissions:
“I think my friends are bad people, and I am too for judging them,” one person writes.
“Being a mother and wife is exhausting,” a woman shares. “I don’t think I want to do it anymore.”
“My self-worth is built on others’ judgment and acceptance of me,” another reader divulges.
We all have secrets that are hard to acknowledge. Sometimes, it helps to know that others share our feelings and thought processes, even if we don’t know the person. That’s why “Incognito” is coming to Lily readers in zine form.
Zines – short for magazine – are do-it-yourself, small-circulation publications. There aren’t many rules or barriers to creating one: A zine can be words-only or consist of only drawings. Most combine the two. Anyone can make a zine as long as the individual or group has ideas, paper, pens, glue – and if you want to distribute your zine – access to a photocopier. Although you can find some online, zines are rooted in print culture, and you’ll find them for sale at independent bookstores and zine fests.
Libraries around the world are also adding zines to their shelves, stacks and catalogues, broadening the types of stories available for public consumption.
Zine content may differ from what you’re used to seeing in libraries. That’s because, unlike authors, zine creators don’t require a publisher’s approval.
The zine world gives them a “space where they can have all the power,” explains Jenna Freedman, the associate director of communications and zine librarian at Barnard College. Zinesters aren’t creating content for mainstream consumers; they’re writing for their peers. That changes how stories are told. Freedman uses the topic of self-injury, which most commonly occurs during adolescence and early adulthood, as an example.
“If there weren’t zines in the library catalogue, you’d mostly be reading what psychologists or journalists have to say about [cutting],” she explains. “You’re not reading what these teens … are writing about the experience for each other.”
Zines also contribute to the national narrative. Copies of the zines “Bikini Kill,” “Girl Germs” and “Jigsaw,” for example, document Riot Grrrl, a movement started by punk feminists in the early ’90s. “Panther Sisters on Women’s Liberation,” published in 1969, talks about sexism within the party. Freedman’s zine, “Lower East Side Librarian,” allowed her to share certain aspects of her life for years. Recording day-to-day life matters, she says.
“You know that quote, ‘History is written by the victor?’ ” Freedman asks. “I want history to be written by everyone. When you look at culture from 20 years ago or 100 years ago, it’s the every person who is going to tell you what life was like. It’s not reading the biography of a president or a movie star. They didn’t live a normal life. I’m living a normal life – and who wants to even get into what’s normal?”
Freedman, who has spearheaded Barnard’s zine collection since its inception in 2003, says libraries should be a “welcoming space.” Housing zines, which often represent marginalized groups, helps achieve that goal.
“I want a collection that, at least to some extent, mirrors our population,” Freedman says. “I want it to be a place where people of all identities can come and see themselves. When you walk into some spaces, especially in an Ivy-affiliated college, you’re going to see a lot of pictures of white people hanging on the wall. But when you pick up a zine, it’s a lot easier to find yourself.”
That’s one reason why Malana Krongelb started a zine library at Brown University, where she is a senior. She discovered zines her freshman year when Bluestockings, a campus publication, released “Silence + Voice: Sexual Assault at Brown.” The zine struck a chord with Krongelb, who had been sexually harassed as a student.
“It was the first time I felt heard,” Krongelb tells “Drawing a Dialogue,” a podcast. She saw that a zine could preserve experiences that are sometimes overlooked or brushed aside. “It could not be erased.”
Meg Metcalf, a librarian and women’s, gender and LGBTQ studies specialist at the Library of Congress, agrees that zines give people a sense of belonging.
Looking at a zine is a “cathartic, creative experience that connects you to this community that you can’t always find in real life,” Metcalf says. “You can feel so isolated, and then you can pick up a zine and feel like, ‘Maybe I’m not alone in this.’ ”
“Incognito” wouldn’t exist without the inspiration we gathered from the zine community, so we asked seven librarians or enthusiasts to share one from their collections. Here are their picks:
Recommended by Shannon Keller, the Helen Bernstein librarian for periodicals and journals at the New York Public Library
In 1981, Lisa Baumgardner published the eighth issue of her “Bikini Girl” zine in New York. Baumgardner was part of the East Village arts scene during the ’70s and ’80s, and she included fellow artists’ work in the pages of “Bikini Girl.” She edited under the pseudonym Deena Schwartzbaum. During a conversation that appears in the zine with poet and photographer Gerard Malanga, Baumgardner remarks:
In “Bikini Girl” No. 8, Baumgardner also documents her own experiences as a woman.
“I appreciate the focus of this issue,” librarian Shannon Keller says. It’s “on being unequivocally you, an individual with something to say and a life worth living.”
Where you can find the zine: Visit the New York Public Library’s Dewitt Wallace Periodicals Room to view a copy of “Bikini Girl.”
Recommended by Kelly Wooten, librarian at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University
In the late 1980s, Sarah Dyer began collaborating with musician and zinester Var Thelin on “No Idea,” a nationally distributed punk zine. In addition to editing, publishing and distributing the zine together, Dyer and Thelin started a record label and organized punk shows. Despite their equal partnership, Thelin got all the credit.
To cultivate a network of so-called girl zines, Dyer started Action Girl Newsletter. She reviewed zines written by girls and women that she found. People would send Dyer their zines, and Dyer would make sure the world knew about them. The newsletters were later compiled into a larger zine, “Action Girl Guide,” which was published around 1992. In the first issue, Dyer lays out the requirements for submitting a zine for review:
In 2000, Dyer donated more than 1,000 zines, which she had accumulated over the years while publishing her newsletter, to Duke’s Sallie Bingham Center. “Action Girl Guide” serves as a “directory of 1990s zines by women and girls that form the heart” of the collection, librarian Kelly Wooten says.
Where you can find the zine: “Action Girl Guide” is available to read, along with thousands of other zines, at the Rubenstein Library’s reading room at Duke in Durham, N.C. The library is open to the public.
Recommended by Meg Metcalf, librarian and women’s, gender and LGBTQ studies specialist at the Library of Congress
For “Femme Frontera,” Arlene Mejorado and Adriana Monsalve took their cameras to two “borderlands” to interview and photograph the lives of immigrants. Mejorado captures the space between California and Mexico, and Monsalve focuses on the border between Texas and Mexico. The zine oscillates between English and Spanish, and the authors include personal statements about what “femme” means to them.
“I glow when nurtured by the weary hands of mothers, aunties and abuelas, women who stroke my back with all the gentleness of millenniums past,” Monslave writes. “Femme is ancient. Femme is feared. Femme is queer. Femme is frontera.”
Recommended by Jenna Freedman, associate director of communications and zine librarian at Barnard College
Joyce Hatton published her first issue of “Think About the Bubbles” in 2012. It focused on her “struggle to keep my mental health stable,” she wrote on Tumblr. “My goals are to validate the thought processes of people with mental health issues; and to give people without mental health issues a glimpse of what life is like with one.”
Using handwritten essays and illustrations, Hatton also touches on racism, family relationships and her cat. In “Think About the Bubbles” No. 8 – titled “Trust the Knife” – she documents her breast cancer journey, which she goes through while getting sober and managing her depression.
Recommended by Hana Zittel, a librarian at the Denver Zine Library and Denver Public Library
“Invincible Summer” No. 2 is one in a series of perzines – a diary-like, personal zine – that captures what life was like for artist Nicole Georges in 2002. Using comics and essays, Georges illustrates her life in and around Portland, Ore., from what she’s deemed the cheapest and tastiest things to buy at Trader Joe’s to how her dogs are slowly ruining her orthodontist’s work:
Recommended by Jeremy Brett, curator of the science fiction and fantasy research collection at Texas A&M University’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives
The first issue of the artzine “Future Fantasteek!” was published in 2008 by Jackie Batey, an illustrator and senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. The pages of Batey’s zines often feature illustrations with a satiristic flair. In issue 18 of “Future Fantasteek!,” originally published in February 2017, readers follow two characters: a red, scraggly creature named Autocorrect and Bluebird of Happiness.
“I love all of Jackie’s zines because they are such beautiful, colorful examples of the artzine form,” curator Jeremy Brett says. “Her illustrations pop – indeed, they explode – and she offers small observations about life that can be tender, thoughtful and caustic all at the same moment.”
Recommended by Malana Krongelb, founder of Brown University’s zine collection at the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center
“Muchacha” is a Xicana feminist fanzine compiled by Daisy Salinas. In its eighth issue, “Nuestros Cuerpos/Our Bodies,” Salinas examines reproductive justice in Texas. She covers the formation of the Cicada Collective – a Texas organization dedicated to making sure marginalized communities have access to resources and information about reproductive health – and includes women’s stories about abortion.
Krongelb, the founder of Brown’s zine library, notes that although this issue of “Muchacha” was published five years ago, “it could have been written yesterday.”
We printed 300 copies of “Incognito” and sold out. The zine will be available in certain bookstores in the near future. We’ll update this post with those stores as they become available.
The Lily is hosting a zinemaking workshop at East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C., on July 25 at 6:30 p.m. Admission covers the cost of our zine and supplies. Click here to sign up.