At Los Angeles Public Library's Edendale Branch in Echo Park, three spinner racks located near the checkout desk hold an incredible diversity of voices. Here, you might come across an issue of "Dead in Hollywood" dedicated to the short life and tragic passing of James Dean, or a thin collection of stories and images from the community that, in 2017, was fighting against evictions at 800 Traction Avenue in the Arts District. Here, you'll find slick, but still independently made, photography collections, photocopied comics, political works and personal narratives. It's an eclectic collection of art and writing filled with voices that are often missing in mainstream media.
"I've personally learned so much through the zines that have been donated," says librarian Angi Brzycki by phone. She launched Edendale's collection and is now stationed at the Frances Howard Goldwyn-Hollywood Regional Branch Library.
With zines, it's grassroots and personal.Daniel Tures, LAPL librarian
Zines are, essentially, homemade magazines with small, sometimes minuscule, print runs. They have a history that includes the fanzines that popped up in connection with science fiction and horror entertainment in the early-to-mid 20th century and underground music publications in the later decades of the 1900s. Zines have been associated with various social and political movements, including feminism (particularly Riot Grrrl in the 1990s), animal rights, labor and LGBTQ+ activism. They can be closely connected to both art and comic books, as artists sometimes release their own work in this format. In fact, while there have been designated events for these self-publishers, like L.A. Zine Fest, you may have also stumbled across them at Printed Matter's L.A. Art Book Fair or San Diego Comic-Con. Zines have also sparked aesthetic trends, like cut-and-paste punk rock iconography and the recent revival of Risograph printing.
At several Los Angeles Public Library branches, you can explore the variety within the zine world. At the Hollywood Regional Branch, one zine challenges readers to "Abolish the Non-Profit Industrial Complex," while another recalls "That Time We Went to Japan." Inside the Baldwin Hills Branch, there's a stunning selection of artists presented in "El Gen Egoista: 19 Artistas de Mexico." Meanwhile "Aurtistic" shares the art of children with autism and "The Vision" brings together the voices of the Teens Leading Change Media Lit Now Project at Boyle Heights' Benjamin Franklin Library. Amidst the collections, you'll find works that look every bit as polished as magazines and ones that appear to produced almost entirely by hand.
"The zine collection has a different vibe from the regular collection, most of which comes from big publishers and is very mediated," says Daniel Tures, the librarian who now works with Edendale's collection. "With zines, it's grassroots and personal. We get a lot of zines that are much more scrappy and underground and personal and homemade than you would see in the regular collection."
The simple fact that anyone can make a zine, regardless of whether or not they know how to use InDesign or have the money for a large press run, opens up the medium to a bevy of voices. "At any age, someone can make a zine with very limited resources," says Brzycki, a zine-maker herself who has also led workshops on the subject and interviewed zine creators for Los Angeles Public Library.
With zines, people can make their own space for the stories and ideas that matter to them. Anaheim-based artist MV Garcia, creator of "This Goth Bitch" and "Hey Ghoul Friend," advises people to make what they want to read, but can't find. "That's what happened when I made 'This Goth Bitch.' It was fashion and goth subculture and comics from a queer point of view," they say. "I was able to blend things that I had not seen anyone else doing that I wish existed, so just made that and found out, after I made it, that there were other people that were into it too."
Your personal point of view might resonate with more people than you suspect. While attending art school in Chicago, Taleen Kali, who later founded "Dum Dum Zine," made "Talzine." "I wrote about being Armenian and living in Chicago and having Chicagoans not know what an Armenians were," she recalls. "It sold out at Chicago Zine Fest in a few hours. I didn't know it was going to be so popular."
Back in 2017, Ziba Perez, who had founded Long Beach Public Library's zine library, was hired at LAPL's Baldwin Hills Branch Library. There, she suggested building a zine collection. "I had help from my senior at Baldwin Hills and my co-workers at Baldwin Hills for processing them," she says. Perez also encountered librarians at other LAPL locations like Brzycki, then at Edendale, who were similarly interested in bringing zines onto their shelves. "We really got it going so that it was cataloged. That's the big part, getting it cataloged so that people can search the website. It's really important," says Perez.
Today, there are six libraries in the LAPL system with zine collections — Baldwin Hills, Benjamin Franklin in Boyle Heights, Cypress Park, Edendale, Goldwyn Hollywood and West L.A. — but anyone can search the collection online and you can order specific zines to be delivered to your own LAPL branch library.
Moreover, virtually any zine can be donated to LAPL's collections. "All they have to do is contact the branch and say, I have this zine that I would like to submit to the library," says Brzycki. "We submit the cataloging record to our cataloging department and they process it and it's usually on our shelves. It's really cool." Brzycki says the most recent donation she saw come in was from a student in London who submitted a zine as part of a class project.
You might be thinking, why make a zine when you can just post your opinion on Twitter and share your photos or art on Instagram? There are plenty of reasons why zines have managed to thrive when online content has come to dominate the media landscape.
"There's stuff that I've published online that doesn't exist anymore," says Brzycki. "With zines, everyone can document a point in time and then, in my opinion, it will last a lot longer than the stuff that's on the internet."
She points out that zines can also help break down the "digital divide," as they can be read by people with little to no internet access.
Zines also provide a break from our screens. "We don't always want to be on our phones and want to have a break and see something that we can collect," says Perez.
In a way, it's more of a creation of an object, a product that you created that represents you.Daniel Tures, LAPL library
Plus, zines are an opportunity to truly be an independent publisher. "In a way, it's very non-corporate because, when you're doing social media on one of those big platforms, you're part of a big, corporate communication experience and they have access to all your material and you rely on this big international network of data collection," says Tures. With zines, though, you're working largely outside that system. You don't have to create work that is designed to do well on Twitter or Instagram.
"It's much more personal and tactile," says Tures of zines. "In a way, it's more of a creation of an object, a product that you created that represents you."