"You don't need anyone's permission to make a zine. You just need a piece of paper, any kind of writing utensil," Ziba Perez said on a recent phone call before quickly modifying her statement. "You don't even need a writing utensil. You can just rip up newspapers and stick them down to a piece of paper and make collages and that's your voice."
When it comes to making zines, there are no fixed rules. These homemade magazines can be handwritten on notebook paper or typed into a computer layout. You can make a single copy for your personal file or order a print run of hundreds, maybe even more than a thousand, copies. Your major limitations might be time, skill and budget but, with some imagination, you can work around those too. "Don't be intimidated," says Perez. "You will see all types of budgets for zine-making and all types of experience and that can be intimidating."
Perez has a lot to say about zines. She's a young adult librarian at Los Angeles Public Library's Baldwin Hills Branch, where she helped launch their zine collection while working with other librarians in the system to begin cataloging these independent publications. Her personal history with the medium goes back to Perez's days as a student at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, when she contributed to a friend's zine. In 2012, Perez debuted her own zine, "Zebra Radar."
Just do it and use what you have. When you see postcards on the street for businesses, that can be material for zines.Ziba Perez
The first thing you'll need, though, is some inspiration. For Perez, "Zebra Radar" emerged from her scrapbook, which contained cut-up band posters, stickers, stamps and photos. "That, to me, I realized, was a zine. All I had to do was scan it," she says.
And, like Perez, you too might see a zine in the material that you find and collect. "Just do it and use what you have. When you see postcards on the street for businesses, that can be material for zines," she says. "Discarded magazines, newspapers, junk mail, whatever. If you have a favorite fruit, and you get coupons, you can cut it out and glue it on."
As a child, MV Garcia made zines with cut-out magazine images that ran alongside fictional stories about celebrities. By their teens, the Anaheim-based artist had moved on to making one-of-a-kind mini-comics. Garcia went on to study fashion and fine art in school and returned to zines years later on a lark after hearing about L.A. Zine Fest.
"The first zine I made in my adult life was "This Goth Bitch, #1." I really only made it because I needed something to sell at L.A. Zine Fest," they say. Since "This Goth Bitch" debuted in 2015 as a parody of a fashion magazine, Garcia has released seven issues of the zine, which has become an outlet for their illustrative and comics art. Garcia also launched a second zine, "Hey Ghoul Friend," which they release annually for Halloween. Both zines are made in a DIY style that is accessible for people who are new to zine-making and working with small budgets.
"Almost everything that I do is hand-drawn, cut and paste. It usually starts in my sketchbook," Garcia explains. "I amass whatever drawings that I do over a few months and then, when the time comes, I will rip out all of the pages of my sketchbook and cut out all the drawing that I have and then start to piece it together, cut-and-paste style."
Garcia likes to take the cut drawings and move them around on the page to see where they will best fit. Painter's tape or "something with very little stick" is ideal for this process. Sometimes, Garcia photographs this process to keep a record of what might work. When they've finalized the layout, Garcia turns to a glue stick or bottle of Elmer's glue to fix the images to the paper. The challenge is often keeping the pages in order. With this method, you are physically folding paper, so page one and page two will most likely not be on the same sheet. "It can be a little confusing and it does take a little while to figure it out," says Garcia.
There are a few items Garcia likes to have handy while making zines: a variety of black ink pens, including ones that make thin lines and ones that make thicker lines; scissors; an X-Acto knife for cutting detailed drawings; a cutting mat; painter's tape; correctional fluid and a few magazines in case they want to cut out words or single letters that can be used in the zine.
As for printing copies, Garcia usually goes to a mom-and-pop shop. "There's still FedEx/Kinko's if you're in a pinch, but they're kind of expensive for me," says Garcia. Check your own neighborhoods, or neighborhoods near colleges and universities for indie spots. Garcia prints issues as need, which could be a run of 40 for a new issue that is making its debut at a festival, or 10 to 15 to add to their Etsy store. "Whatever I don't sell, I will usually ship to the bookstores that carry my work," says Garcia. "It's always good to have extra on hand."
Taleen Kali made zines in college and decided to up her publishing game shortly after graduating from art school in Chicago. "The bigger that the zine gets, or the more involved that it gets, it's going to cost money, especially if you're going to make multiple copies," says the L.A.-based founder of "Dum Dum Zine." "Printing isn't cheap."
Kali was in Los Angeles when she enlisted friends when she enlisted friends to contribute to what would be the first issue of "Dum Dum Zine." She had a few hundred dollars saved up and used that to bring the zine to life with 2,000 copies printed on 11" x 17" newsprint, which she and her friends proceeded to wheat paste all over Chicago before she moved back to Los Angeles.
A decade later, Kali and her collaborators are currently working on the seventh issue of "Dum Dum Zine." Each issue takes on a different theme and format, which can make the production costly. The team has run Kickstarter campaigns to fund past issues. For the forthcoming issue, readers will be able to download a copy and print it out at home. It was a decision made as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I really wanted to do an issue, I just really didn't want to crowdfund or put any financial pressure on anyone, including myself," says Kali.
If you have a zine and want to expand your skill set, Kali has some suggestions. While she learned programs like Photoshop and InDesign at school, YouTube has been a reliable source for picking up new tricks. Swapping skills with friends — i.e. you teach them something in exchange for giving you a how-to — is a good way to go as well. "That's also super zine culture, doing a skill share," says Kali. "It's like doing a zine trade."
While her zines have grown more elaborate with time, Kali, who has also led workshops on the subject, stresses the accessibility of the medium. She mentions how a single 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper can be transformed into a quarter-fold zine and how automatic writing exercises can result in a zine. "It's limitless," she says of the possibility with making zines.
She adds, "What I love to tell people is that it doesn't have to look any certain way, as long as it's an expression of what you're thinking or feeling."