Article: Beginning With Zines

This article was originally written on request for Queensland Writers Centre, for a workshop that was cancelled following the February flood. The idea was to give potential attendees a taste of the content: what we’d be discussing, how to make it work for their individual publishing needs, as well as the practical background from which I teach. If you have questions about developing book publishing skills through zines, or are interested in hiring me to deliver this workshop, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

My fascination with zines and indie comics began with pop culture conventions of the mid-noughties. My classmates and I drew and wrote things in high school, creating short panel comics mostly for entertainment. But when I started going to cons, I discovered a wealth of creators turning their comics and writing into a serious business.

Of course, cons were far more accessible to indie creators back then. A table cost next to nothing, which meant folk of all skill levels and financial means could get one. And this meant there was a greater variety of content, wider networking opportunities, and room for artistic apprenticeships to blossom.

These days, publishing content yourself is much harder—particularly at cons, where creators often spend their entire weekend making costs back. Traditional artists have to compete with the rise of digital webtooners, who produce content at a much higher frequency with lower costs. And for small-time publishers—many of whom dabble in genre, and are therefore excluded from ‘literary’ spheres—increases in minimum print numbers driven by larger publishing houses often leaves them with book stocks to either give away or store.

The bad news is that anyone looking to dabble in print as a career must be prepared for the costs, and they must be prepared to keep going in spite of failure. The good news is that this is the very reason zines and indie publishing continue to find a market.

By the time convention tables became too expensive for emerging creators, there were already networks breaking off to start their own festivals and markets. We’re talking about events like Melbourne’s Festival of the Photocopier and Tonerpalooza, Adelaide’s Zina Warrior Print Fest, Sydney’s Otherworlds Zine Fair and Digital Writers Festival, and even ComicStreetAU right here in Brisbane.

These spaces mirrored literary festivals by granting literary merit to zines and indie comics, and it’s not uncommon these days to see creators who straddle both worlds. What they mean for emerging creators, too, is that there’s still space for them to develop their craft, find an audience, and flourish in independent publishing.

As an indie creator, you will always find an audience who adores what you do if you make the effort. Never mind the income: it’s immensely rewarding when you peer across the table and see someone flicking through your zine or comic, visibly ready to tell you it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever read.

In collaboration with Queensland Writers Centre, I’m about to use my ten years experience as a reader, publisher, and facilitator of zines to show a room of burgeoning authors how they can turn these wide-eyed browsers into readers for life. Attendees will have the opportunity to experiment with different zine forms and learn how to adapt them in order to develop publishing skills that fulfil their individual needs. We’ll explore how zines act as the ‘ultimate response to media’, but also how zine publishing mirrors the larger publishing world in terms of networking, resource management, and marketing.

I hope to see you there.

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