ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies

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Print_and_PDF Culture: The Transmediation of Public Intimacy, Allied Readership and Feminist Collage by Millennial Zinesters

By Claudia Maria Acosta

The zines that most librarians and punks-turned-scholars grew up reading, printed matter already limited in quantity and circulation scope, are treated like rare remnants of a radical past. Creator and reader history is imbued into a zine’s worn and warm pages; their material past is well documented by perma-folded creases and tears, water damage, loose or missing staples, penned footnotes and doodles in the margins. The cheap creation of most printed zines that were meant to be immediately circulated also comes at the expense of posterity: zinester Moe Bowstern sums it up when she says, “it’s only a dollar ... but I can never replace it” (Biel 4). The esteemed materiality and quasi-permanence of paper zines, and the affective rituals of zine-making, are often at the center of the definition of zines. Veteran zinesters will define zines strictly as tangible print objects and overwhelmingly value their print status over any e-iteration. The exacting distinction and privileging of paper is apparent: zinesters told grrrlzine scholar Allison Piepmeier that “real zines are Xeroxed,” asserting that the “feeling of a printed document is never going to lose its appeal or be replaced by an electronic alternative” (65). Zine World, a now-defunct major independent zine directory, has argued in earlier publications that “Zines are different from e-zines, which are ‘zines’ published on the Internet, via personal webpages or email lists.... [T]here are significant differences between the two genres, and we choose to retain the distinction. When Zine World says ‘zine,’ we mean something on paper. We only review zines” (2).

The embodying power of paper certainly connects creators to readers, readers to fellow readers, and would-be creators to their first creative project; the personal zines they author act physically as a “kind of bodily engagement or a bodily surrogate that encourages intimacy [and] connectedness” (Piepmeier 70). Still, Zine World’s misunderstanding of the difference between form and genre is a common mistake that I think inadvertently represents some zine makers’ disregard for or technophobic reactions to the supportive potential of digital spaces. The irl/URL divide between self-published print and pixel isn’t so much a matter of so-called genre; it’s a consistently made value judgment which prioritizes print as formally gasping its last breaths of air. Anna Leventhal argues that the two are separate but somewhat equal: “a PDF or other scanned format of a zine, even if it is entirely readable (which scans are not necessarily), is not a true preservation [or copy] of the work but a different version of it, akin to the idea of “migration” in the realm of new media preservation” (11-12). The new media “migration” Leventhal discusses here considers an irl-to-URL transmediation as unilateral, the digitized space serving as some zines’ final resting place. These supposed dichotomies in modes of materiality are relevant in comics studies as well—comics being an increasingly interdisciplinary field of study, its alternative press upbringings having developed in tandem with the larger, radical self-publishing movement. In Between Pen and Pixel: Comics, Materiality, and the Book of the Future, Aaron Kashtan emphasizes comics’ “tendency to use their own material properties for expressive purposes, comics [rendering] the rhetorical effects of materiality visible” (282). It is this overt visibility that help us see comics’ “flexibility” in transitioning between print and digital formats, the contemporary comics distribution system having evolved in a way to facilitate this sort of remediation in both directions at once (156, 37).

The ongoing conversation surrounding digitized zine publishing narrowly focuses on a scanner-to-screen media direction, one which funnels straight through old to new medias by formally distinguishing between the two as though the two are competing for attention and space. I contend that young zinesters aren’t necessarily migrating from the scanner directly to the screen, or making such clear distinctions in their own work, but continually creating and exchanging back and forth through irl and URL social spheres. They were born in the very beginnings of blogs and raised in the immediate crux and transitional period between analog and digital arts, remediating both old and new medias naturally. They participate in both old and new modes of zine circulation and creation, interchanging alongside the proliferation of social media platforms by producing original printed works using content from the Internet and vice versa. Web-based encounters with independent publishing and other one-off zine materials not only reenact much of the same affective dynamics as their real-life counterparts—the inherent ephemerality or contested stability of zines, the act of (over)sharing to an allied, curated audience, the protective layers of anonymity—but also both inform and interact with them. The implicit paradoxes involved in the making of an autobiographical zine, or perzine, are further complicated by its translation into a pervasive, public digitized media ecology and Internet.

In search of safety and solidarity, women, girls, nonbinary, and queer creators have always cut out the mogul middlemen of the publishing world to allow themselves the space to build upon their own identities on their own terms by designing, compiling, curating, and illustrating their own publications. The self-publishing histories of small press comics and zines undeniably overlap, jointly born out of a desire to rectify their erasure, chauvinist misrepresentations, or censorship. Queer comics authored by non-men have adapted to the abject erasure of empathetic queer narratives from the very beginnings of zines, almost always self-published if not collaboratively made by the surrounding counterpublic to the heteromale-dominated 1970s San Francisco comix scene (Galvan and Misemer).

Self-publishing women cartoonists involved in the circulation of these sorts of anthological works (e.g. Wimmen’s Comix, Tits & Clits, Twisted Sisters) like Lynda Barry or Mary Wings got their respective starts by scanning or photocopying their work into zines. Barry sold her first self-printed comics to Printed Matter, the renowned zine and book nonprofit arts organization and bookseller, for twenty-five cents each; Wings drew and photocopied the first lesbian comic book, Come Out Comix, in the basement of a local radical women’s karate school (Chute 221, Hall 3). And the communities of the allied alternative press and certain zine circles alike have often reciprocated support one another’s work in solidarity of their shared experiences, establishing relationships and rapport. A handwritten note to Barry from a Printed Matter volunteer declared that Barry’s work “completely changed everything for me, because I thought comics were a way that you could write about really sad things, and write about long stories, but there wasn’t anyone who was doing it. They got it and I thought OK, well somebody else is getting this” (Chute 164). Raw and earnest in her autobiographical work, Wings included her address on the back cover of Come Out Comix, inviting readers to interact and purchase future issues directly from her in a manner not dissimilar to the indie economics of zines and the small press.

Independent cartoonists have thrived in tandem with the self-publishing models and do-it-yourself ethos central to zines, with the earnestness of autobiography and collective expression that builds on affective communities. Zines of then and now call close attention to their own tactility, their relationships to materiality and reader-creator intimacies and feedback loops in which big- and-small press comics alike are well-versed. Interactive, interweaving imagetexts and visual story-building allow creators to write those “really sad things,” and to reach others who get it too. Allied readerships, affinity politics, and issues surrounding privacy and in-community gatekeeping have informed distribution and publishing for non-men comics creators and zinesters alike, addressing shifting albeit continuous dynamics of public intimacies in the back-and-forth remediation of visual narratives on a variety of platforms. The local zines I engage with here, all authored by Florida zinesters if not regularly distributed in Florida, are Body Posi #1 and #2, Fine Whine: A collection of poems and musings by: PSEUDO and their respective Wordpress blog, “Ugly Sobbing,” and Consent Zine by an anonymous author and their respective Tumblr blog, “changing towards consent.” All serve as case studies and, moreover, living testaments to the multimodal flexibility of a visual medium still rife with radical potential, still figuring itself out to a live readership that may or may not “get it.”

Bumpy Bodies: Body Posi, Personal Touches and Collaging Yourself

One such zinester is Bri, an educator now living in Gainesville, who collaborated with friends and Internet friends-of-friends alike in putting together Body Posi (2017)—a collaborative, collaged zine celebrating “the awesomeness of femme/non-binary/queer bodies.” Submissions are accepted via Facebook and Gmail, and both existing issues are made up of handwritten playlists, illustrated or collaged avatars, uncensored or self-censored nude portraits and iPhone selfies, and personal essays. The zine features multiple mirror selfies and even a collaged avatar of the editor made up of jean fabric, magazine clippings, felt, stickers, colored markers, and patterned wallpaper (Figures 1-2).

Figure 1: The front and back cover spreads of <em>Body Posi</em> issues.
Figure 1: The front and back cover spreads of Body Posi issues.
Figure 2: Bri’s collaged self-portrait and key from <em>Body Posi #1.</em>
Figure 2: Bri’s collaged self-portrait and key from Body Posi #1.

Bri is keen to underscore their preference for print; the physical creation and collaging of zines is “extremely important” to them and their art practice, paper zines’ handmade quality imparting a particularly “personal touch, something that is impossible to recreate [online]” (Bri, “BP ZINE QUESTIONS”). Both issues of Body Posi do still engage thoroughly with digital technologies, the papered parts and digital references interacting with one another more so than competing for material space in their zine-making practice. Body Posi synthesizes screenshots of texts and NSFW iPhone and Photo Booth selfies, layering phone shots over construction paper cut-outs, interacting with figures born out of magazine clippings and felt. Meaningful text is both hand-drawn and typed out in Microsoft Word, collaged cutout words are stickered and stamped and glue-sticked. Collaged, conversational portraiture in Body Posi resonates deeply with Lynda Barry’s full embrace of lush collage in her comics- and image-making, Barry’s textural style and multi-dimensional collage art understood as “a subjective, bodily ruffling of the smooth, objective ‘perfect’ surface of the printed page,” which she lovingly describes as “wrinkled” (Chute 188). What Hillary Chute describes as “extrasemantic” in Barry’s decorative, maximalist style, an embodied ruffling that just about overflows past the printed page, is paralleled in Bri’s collage-making as meaning-making in both issues of Body Posi (Chute 186). In line with the canonical zine-y-ness of taping a chopped bit of your hair into your zine, Barry cuts out bits of her pajamas and incorporates patches of herself into One! Hundred! Demons! (2002), as Bri does the same with their jean fabric into their collaged, andro-avatar.

Both Barry and Bri empathize with the written word, experimenting with mixed typography and bubble letters as a means of connecting with readers via subjective or “” (Chute 36). In her close readings of Barry’s crafted comics, Chute claims that handwriting is an “irreducible part of [comics’] instantiation… intimate and site-specific,” speaking to the papered vulnerability offered up to readers by the author directly (36). The handwritten quality of zines has been viewed as crucial to the performed and displayed intimacies of perzines as well, their papered vulnerability acting as an open invitation to readers to reciprocate and create alongside them. Kashtan argues, as I do, the wider implications of these formal attachments to remediated print and the digitized page. There is an active interplay between “actual and apparent touch,” the reality of handmadeness less important than the appearance of it; the complex interplay present in concealing and revealing your true self and your personal “bodily marks” in autobiographical works happens in tandem with this (73). The typewriter, for instance, is often characterized as a physical and more honest mediation between handwriting and the computer-generated word, even though many zinesters now make use of its generic font on their word processors anyway to pay homage to the visual aesthetics of their riotgrrrl [1] predecessors—a comparable phenomenon to comics would be cartoonists creating a digital font from their own handwriting. Self-publishing allows for a greater control over what and how you share certain parts of yourself, and millennial zinesters decidedly oscillate between the formats and platforms at their disposal, in the in-betweens of precision printing and digitized, documented mistakes.

The rough, unedited “evidence of the creator’s hand” for instance, is still noticeable in contributor Vi’s essay[2] in Body Posi #2typed via Microsoft Word, the zigzagged red underlines that denote grammar and spelling mistakes that Vi has purposefully left in rather than edited out (Piepmeier 67). For these corrective lines to have come up at all in the cut-up printed version we see pasted into Body Posi #2, Vi must have taken a screenshot of her writing, decidedly revealing some of her process to the reader, inviting us in rather than shutting us out. Alternatively, another personal essay featured in Body Posi #1 authored by J appears to have been typed out with an actual typewriter, in unevenly dispersed ink with X’d out mistakes also visible to the reader. Remnants of imperfection, assumed urgency, or cathartic desperation are not tethered to only the written word, and millennial and younger zinesters express as much through analog as well as digital channels, oftentimes simultaneously.

Kashtan’s focus on these remnants, the “imprint of the artist’s hand” in comics as is central to much zine scholarship, is brought up by ImageTexT reviewer and book historian Ruth Ellen St. Onge as perhaps exaggerated: an “over-privileging of the hand of the cartoonist [which] obscures the reality that the decisions of other agents of print and digital production play a role in comic book design and production. … What of the hands of the inker, colorist, letterer, editor, printer, publisher, and distributor?” (Kashtan 163, St. Onge). Kashtan’s prioritization here of a supposed comics auteur feeds into the idolization or artists’ cult of personality of cartoonists accepted into the scholarship canon that overshadows the collaborative, creative licenses of all those involved in publishing comics. These collaborative dynamics, typically rendered invisible by a titular face, play out much differently in zines and self-published works. In a submissions-based perzine like Body Posi, though a sole editor is usually responsible for gathering and arranging material on the page, no one contributor takes up more space than another. I am aware that Bri is the main editor of Body Posi because I know them personally, but their name only appears under their own submissions, not on the title page or further credited in any way anywhere else. Bri is ostensibly the inker, colorist, letterer, editor, printer, publisher, and distributor themselves, but their role in the production of these two zine issues is less important than the culmination of the personal entries that make them up. And of the invisible hands of which St. Onge reminds us in comics, there are still others visible in and visibly unique to the continual feedback loops of self-publishing communities—the readers and eventual readers-turned-creators themselves. In Body Posi #2, Bri goes on to share “SOME NICE TEXTS” with us from contributor Lulu to a close, unnamed friend on gender invalidation and supportive community: “and anyone who invalidates u really doesn’t care about u / because i don’t know about u / but i just want my friends to feel fulfilled and happy.” They go on for a long paragraph or two more in separate screenshot text messages, ending on “sorry for the big text hahaha.” We see no green- or blue-tinted reply from the texts’ anon receiver, so what was said or what can be said is left up to us.

The texts, as with the iPhone selfies, are another “personal touch, because those texts were directed towards one person, so the reader feels as though they are hearing these affirming and positive things from a close friend of their own using a form of communication that may be familiar to them” (Bri, “BP ZINE QUESTIONS”). We supersede a supposed lover as the recipient of the nude selfies taken by Lulu earlier in the zine, and we supersede this anonymous best friend—the conversation can continue, via email submission. This kind of audience-driven, participatory feedback loop that motivates readers to generate their own readership, or to participate in a collaborative perzine project, parallels what these zinesters do insofar as promoting their own web presence and redirecting readers both online, then outside to zine-making workshops and zine fairs. Kashtan is right to question the “privileged means of access [and] the comforting illusion” attached to handwriting as opposed to typography, the fantasy or performance of closeness in the handemadeness of some autobiographical comics; these performances of intimacy and public privacies are intrinsically linked to dynamics within self-publishing circles as well (61). But the ways in which queer and feminist self-publishing have always operated, democratically and more out-in-the-open (or out of the closet, so to speak) alter our baseline assumptions of literature as a whole. These methods allow for an actual accountability to readers, a self-set standard and commitment to your readership that cuts through the comforting illusion—if you doubt the authenticity, the familiarity of the personhood presented to you, you’re more than invited to verify and even participate yourself.

Setting the Florida Zine Scene and its irl Remediations

Zines happen sprawled onto beds and bedroom floors, via direct message and email correspondence, across the street and across state lines; they happen in real life, in-person, and eventually offline. Newsletters like Maximum Rocknroll (now existing strictly online, their final fanzine printed May 2019) serve and preserve the scene in “perform[ing] the function and provid[ing] the form for erecting a collectivity of geographically distant persons on a foundation of seven-inches, zines and mixtapes” (Nguyen 176). The interior collectivity, engaging through written or typed words and pictures using crafty pseudonyms, is exteriorized at the shows millennial zinesters review or self-promote themselves and their friends through, or at the independent zine fairs and fests they attend and live-document on social media. The transmedial encounters with the politically-personal that shift from paper to pixel and back come to fruition in these irl social spaces, revealing the faces behind the usernames and obscured avatars. The independent media ecology of zines has continually exteriorized its readers-turned-creators across its own print history, the incorporation of social media serving zinesters as another networking tool for booking irl shows and tabling events as well as an interactive platform for personal writings and imagetexts in and of itself. I focus on the radical print history of Florida zines and their paper-trailed networks in particular here to set the stage for the transmedial continuities present in reformed zine scenes that intentionally nourish zines by queer women and non-men on platforms they themselves control and share.

Florida-based publications and their riotgrrrl producers and reader-creators of the 1990s to early 2000s often coalesced at shows, whether they were hosted at a punk house or a public community space such as the Civic Media Center[3] of Gainesville or the now-defunct Third Place Anarchist Youth Center (1996-1999) of Sarasota County—the punk histographies formed around these community spaces, both home to massive zine collections, have forged well-documented archives of formative Southern punk music. Riotgrrrl zines, zines by women of color and queer zines certainly circulated in Florida, though grrrl zine-makers were predominately white and middleclass. Third Place and the Sarasota County/Venice, Florida zine scene as a whole offered respite for riotgrrrls like Jenna Delorey of Libel (circa 1993-1999) and later successors of the Sarasota scene like queer Asian zine author Jackie Wang of On Being Hard Femme #1 (2009) and Memories of a Queer Hapa (2007-2009); issues of Grindolandia (circa early 2000s) and I dreamed I was assertive (2000-2008) by Mexican-Cuban American riotgrrrl Celia Perez from Tampa, Florida can be found at the Civic Media Center; Libel #6 reviews Gainesville riotgrrrl perzine Yard Wide Yarns, started in 1993 by Jessica Mills, who was also interviewed for the sixth issue of America? (circa early 2000s) by Travis Fristoe. No Idea, a punk music review zine started in 1985 by Var Thelmin and Ken Cofflet, later expanded into No Idea Records, an independent record label enlisting the very same artists once intently reviewed in their zines. The ostensible canon of this state-wide zine scene occurred not in a vacuum, but amongst a collective of scenester participants with a tangible, personal investment in their work and the creative work of their peers. They actively reviewed and referenced each other in an attempt to collectively sustain their creative independence and the reaching potential of the radical press moving forward.

Most millennial zines of any circulation range circumvent these traditional paper trails, or at least incorporate the Internet to some extent in wider promotional postings. Body Posi does, with promotion posts on Facebook, an email or direct message (via Facebook Messenger, Twitter, or another social media platform) submissions process, and later PDF distribution via Gmail. I first encountered Body Posi #1 and #2 in a scanned format, emailed to me in multiple PDF files with thorough printing instructions, readable both on- and offline despite a few page discrepancies. The genesis of Body Posi as a collaborative zine for non-men stemmed from a tweet by future contributor-friend Chloe, which Bri responded to and followed through on when Chloe was unable to commit enough time to editing and collecting submissions. I learned about Body Posi through Facebook, through Bri’s posts—my friendship with them also developed mostly online, through mutual friends. By creating and sharing details about upcoming events online, Bri is capable of reaching farther and wider for future friends and collaborators alike with mutual interests, like zines: “I get really excited when these people I don’t know as well are into the idea and feel compelled to share!! ... I like using the internet for these kinds of things because it pushes me outside my normal group of friends and gets the attention of other people that I may not know as well. I get to know the people who respond and find out that we have similar interests and want to work on similar projects” (Bri, “BP ZINE QUESTIONS”). Publicizing and promoting within your own social sphere of influence online allows for others tangentially in your sphere to connect with you too, facilitating a more immediate exchange through interested parties as opposed to waiting to hear about it through the grapevine after the collaboration has already happened.

Rather than guide readers to a certain P.O. box for fan mail, or mail-order catalogues to buy compilation cassettes by local bands, contemporary zines with a distinct Internet presence or appeal like Body Posi will link you directly to contributors’ creative work. Eclectic, handwritten and handpicked playlists (Figure 3) accompany every personal submission in Body Posi and redirect the Internet-using reader to their streaming service of choice, most likely to their own Bandcamp[4] pages. Central and North Florida punk bands like Night Witch and Alumine are featured, the lead singer of the former having created her own lyric zine named after the band as well as YOU’RE STANDING ON MY NECK #1 (2018), another printed half-size zine guide on how to book your own punk shows. Both Bri and Vi play in Gutless and Cooper! respectively, often on the same bill. Ideally, local readers could make it out to shows to support and meet these same bands irl; Bri hosted live zine release shows for both issues which included live readings of text submissions by contributors and music performances by themselves, Vi, Lulu, and other contributors. All of these events were promoted via Facebook and other social medias as well as in printed flyers distributed throughout town (Figure 4).

Figure 3: A playlist for us by Bri, from <em>Body Posi #2.</em>
Figure 3: A playlist for us by Bri, from Body Posi #2.
Figure 4: A collaged PowerPoint slide from my presentation at the 2018 University of Florida Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels (themed “ImageTech: Comics and Materiality”). Pictured above are printed screenshots of the Facebook event for the <em>Body Posi</em> zine release party and other Facebook messages between Bri and I, PDF attachments sent via Gmail, and a printed-out playlist by Chloe. All personal messages were used with permission from Bri. To make these Powerpoint slides, I first printed these screencaptures, then collaged them onto a sheet of paper alongside sequins and other decorative objects while leaving room for later edits, scanned it, then inserted GIFx I found on giphy.com.
Figure 4: A collaged PowerPoint slide from my presentation at the 2018 University of Florida Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels (themed “ImageTech: Comics and Materiality”). Pictured above are printed screenshots of the Facebook event for the Body Posi zine release party and other Facebook messages between Bri and I, PDF attachments sent via Gmail, and a printed-out playlist by Chloe. All personal messages were used with permission from Bri. To make these Powerpoint slides, I first printed these screencaptures, then collaged them onto a sheet of paper alongside sequins and other decorative objects while leaving room for later edits, scanned it, then inserted GIFx I found on giphy.com.

In organizing the 2018 Gainesville Zine Fair, myself and the other coordinators at the Civic Media Center similarly made it a point to book the after-party show with bands with members who had tabled with their zines earlier that day, like Community Couch and Wet Breakfast—the latter gifted me a vegan cookbook made with touring artists like themselves in mind, bound with loose-leaf binder rings and small slabs of recycled cardboard taken from a grocery store. It happened more than once that I, in announcing a rollcall to figure out which tablers had and hadn’t arrived to the Gainesville Zine Fair, unknowingly called familiar usernames and zinester pseudonyms aloud to find these tablers actually seated right in front of me; formerly anonymous faces were rendered real-life friends matched up to their corresponding names or nicknames or pseudonyms, known through a half-digitized mesh of social media networking and zine-sharing distribution networks or zine fairs I had attended in Tallahassee and elsewhere.

More than a few zinesters who tabled or attended the Gainesville Zine Fair earlier that Saturday afternoon had traveled from other cities in Florida, including Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Pete, and as far south as my hometown of Miami; long distances and longer drives are made short by a zine ethos that vehemently prioritizes and is “deeply bound in the actions, locales, and concerns of local communities,” and it is by this palpable civic duty and responsibility in dedicated, local organizing that I decidedly locate my writing about these works within personal networks in Florida and the South (Leventhal 2). Local zines’ non-canonical writing, as Leventhal puts it, does not contribute a sense “of national identity, or even a sense of personal identity with reference to the nation, but rather uses the language of the majority to articulate a politics of displacement, smallness, and minority” (2). Queer zines like Body Posi and the others I discuss here purposefully position themselves outside of an appropriative canon that has denied them and that they want no part of anyway—the decentralizing medium of the Internet which “fosters a broader, more global (deterritorialized) consciousness” is refocused by zine-makers who use the tools at hand to narrow in on their respective communities in need and within reach (2).

The Queer Zine Archive Project and People of Color Zine Project assert as much, outlining how the “...digital circulation and digital encounters with zines carry enough of the rolling force of the print page to cultivate critical consciousness action in the material world” (Brouwer and Licona 80). Body Posi cultivates a collective consciousness such as this, as does Consent Zine (Figure 5), an educational zine and fold-out poster I’ve found multiple colored copies of at tabling events. Stickers and fold-out posters based off the series have been scattered around the Civic Media Center and exhibited at the 2018 Survivors of Violence Art Exhibit, a traveling exhibition featuring artwork and performances from victims and survivors of interpersonal violence. Complete with definitions of rape culture and active consent, researched statistics with corresponding links, and how-to sections like What do I do if I’m sexually assaulted? and How can I help prevent sexual assault?,Consent Zine works as a primer for these concepts in terms anyone can understand. In the same way that Body Posi will direct readers to music streaming sites via handpicked playlists, the print version of Consent Zine directs readers to the Internet via reference links, including a link to their Tumblr page (changingtowardconsent.tumblr.com), through which you can access printable PDF versions and a QR code to scan with a smartphone (Figure 6).Consent Zine is more than a zine—it transmediates from zine, to fold-out poster, to matching stickers, to an active Tumblr page that continually shares stories and commentary and educational threads by survivors of sexual assault. As the original zine-makers and Tumblr admins remain anonymous, they in turn produce and maintain a platform for the formerly voiceless. Anti-copyright printed and pixeled zines alike share this same goal, to boost the voices of marginalized people, to foster a supportive community made up of marginalized people, to educate as many people as possible by freely, willingly providing the basic templates for you or anyone be a reader, creator, and activist all at once.

Figure 5: The front page and fold-out poster featured on the back of each <em>Consent Zine</em>, downloadable on changingtowardsconsent.tumblr.com. Artist unknown.
Figure 5: The front page and fold-out poster featured on the back of each Consent Zine, downloadable on changingtowardsconsent.tumblr.com. Artist unknown.
Figure 6: The back page of <em>Consent Zine</em>, featuring a QR code that directs the reader to their Tumblr page. The author suggests that the reader help raise awareness of the dangers of rape culture in their own communities by distributing this zine and poster in public spaces.
Figure 6: The back page of Consent Zine, featuring a QR code that directs the reader to their Tumblr page. The author suggests that the reader help raise awareness of the dangers of rape culture in their own communities by distributing this zine and poster in public spaces.

Here are my “N U D E S”: irl/URL Public Intimacies and the Perzine Paradox

The intricate dynamics of publicizing intimacy comes off as oxymoronic at first; in sharing with peers, allied readers, or URL followers, zinesters invested in making perzines inevitably and ironically censor parts of themselves so as to shield themselves from unwanted attention. These concerns are universal to the core of autobiographical or autographical works, transmediating while tempering certain fears through multiple mediums with potentially different audiences. In this section, I outline these conflicts: the multimodal fears of sharing yet sharing anyway, the autographical layers of visual presentation or avatar-making, and zinemaker PSEUDO’s multi-platform, transmedial modes of poetry and spoken-word art, which demonstrate the crossover potentials of documented, shared traumas.

Uncovering heretofore invisible bodies is important for zinesters representing themselves in independent media, but there can be an unwanted flipside to visibility when it comes to very vulnerable photos and text shared in assumed confidence. Lulu recognizes the sex/body positive potential in their nude selfie-taking, but openly complains to us about some of the unsolicited aftermath from scrutinizing readers: “My Favorite Part About Taking Nudes Is ... that is makes people I definitely don’t talk to anymore all of a sudden assume it’s ok to ask me about my sexuality / it makes people assume that it’s ok to ask me about my gender / which makes me question my gender when really me taking nudes has nothing to do with my gender / if you didn’t care about my sexuality before please do not ask me about it now just because u see a picture of me in the...N U D E” (Body Posi #1). Multiple queer zinesters bring up this same intrusive line of questioning that sometimes results from their sharing, one that comes out more of a morbid curiosity than of empathy. Though Lulu and other Body Posi contributors are willfully vulnerable, there are also implicit lines drawn between welcome and unwelcome engagement, between positive identification and disingenuous misreadings.

Steve Bailey and Anita Michel get at this seeming “obvious paradox” when they consider perzine culture in the wider cultural frame, in how the perzine is predicated upon a “particularly intense form of self-expression and the creation of a uniquely personal textual object while at the same time requiring a community of (relatively) like-minded zinesters for readership and distribution” (Bailey and Michel). Perzines occupy some liminal space amidst private and public sharing—an intimacy that’s exchanged between a close-knit circle of a few friends, and a declarative statement that needs to educate-by-example as many readers as possible. Bri safeguards their deepest secrets and rants from public perversion, more than aware of their responsibilities as the issues’ main editor. They’re cognizant of the perzine paradox and fully accept the misreading risks for the grander sake of forming community with like-minded future friends, to “let our voices be heard and to empower others who may have similar stories” (Bri, “BP ZINE QUESTIONS”).

Trust in extended readerships is multidirectional, flowing between the contributors, editor/distributor, and friendly or unknown readers; Bri admits as much, and knows “that most people I have shared the zines with recognize the sensitivity of the content, and because of that, they try to limit who they share it with as well. I think that the people who have submitted to the zines have shared it with people they know that I don’t know, and I suppose it can keep going from there.” Though the “assumption of trustworthiness helps to make the reader an ally,” this trust proves to be conditional and guided by a certain discerning intuition as unique to each creator as their zines are (Piepmeier 63). For the Tallahazine Fest in February of 2018, Bri left the original, collaged versions of Body Posi out on their table, but kept the few actual take-away copies of it in their folders, tentatively hidden from view: “As people admired others’ work, I tried to determine if they had come to appreciate and learn, and if I got bad vibes, I put the zines away” (Bri, “BP ZINE QUESTIONS”). They mostly maintain this relatively close range of readership by delivering zines by hand or via direct email, making “sure it falls into hands that will value what they are seeing and use it to get a better understanding of that person and the world.” Bri’s mindful gatekeeping keeps intrusive outsiders out and protects their contributors from disingenuous readers.

We learn a privileged bit about Chloe in Body Posi, but we also never see her face. We never see the faces of so many of these otherwise unreserved contributors, be it covered by their phone mid-mirror selfie or framed out of the Photo Booth picture. There’s this leftover air of shyness, of tempered vulnerability or self-censorship for the sake of protecting their wider reputation in the real-world, or just as a personal prerequisite for sharing at all. Selfie-taking allows for a certain control over your images that unveils more than it conceals by virtue of its concealment, the device itself often acting as a real-life censor bar. In hand-drawn self-portraits like Bri’s and Coral’s, the contributors’ faces are left purposefully blank, unidentifiable, ambiguous and androgynous, and thus impressionable; Chloe frames only her chest and stomach in her pictures; Bri further hides parts of their body in their photographed poem about their underwear with a conveniently-placed black cat; Aly lies beside a pile of brushes for her painted-over selfie. Hiding in plain sight or website and re-framing what they reveal to readers, these contributors seem skeptical of Piepmeier’s perhaps naïve presumption of an inherent trust within the half-public consumption of zines and zine cultures by those on the purportedly same page. But what is most radical about their vulnerability—an assuaged access or performed in bits, strategic or overtly mindful in its excess—is that they share anyways, shooting a distress beacon and knowing someone will see them as they are.

The thought processes behind sharing or not, the self-image-making process of “autographics,” as described by Michael Kersulov in his writings on trauma in the adolescent autographic, are as follows:

a culmination of social practices authors pieced together not only from past experiences … but also with interaction authors have with the perceived and actual audiences that read their work … the autographic self-image is constructed through a layered process in which the author consults her past experiences or imagined image of the self due to social experiences with the physical image presented on the page and, most influential, the author’s plans for the reader to view the author’s self-image … the multimodal nature of graphic literature allows such layering of the self-image construction to move beyond any similar process that exists for traditional image-less autobiographies. (Kersulov)

This sort of embodied, visual layering is then inherently multimodal and participatory, collaged not in isolation from others but comparatively amongst peers and strangers alike—zinesters like Bri, Chloe, and Coral are self-consciously visualizing their own queer selfhood for readers as well as for themselves. Coral demonstrates as much in their androgynous avatar (Figure 7), multi-layered and -dimensioned, pasted over a rolling tulip field and trail that stretches back into the horizon and then layered over a starry, illustrated article on the zodiac. Their solid blue sky is positioned over a diagram of a constellation, deepening our perspective and widening our prospects by the inclusion of this everlasting, almost fantastical space. The gentle but staunch “LET ME GROW” that curves over Coral’s flower figure is contained, like a flowerpot or planter that stifles growth. The cut-out words veer off to the right, and those last letters shrink in size as they spill over the side of their head. Coral not only layers their past, their present or imagined body, but also their future. Sharing with readers their dreams of the future, Coral demands that we let them grow into themselves, speaking directly to both their actual and perceived audiences to make a personal point extending figuratively, visually off the page and onto the next.

Figure 7: Coral’s self-portrait from <em>Body Posi #2</em>.
Figure 7: Coral’s self-portrait from Body Posi #2.

For Mike Gunderloy, creator of Factsheet 5, and co-author of The World of Zines, this kind of anonymity or facelessness lies at the centerfold of perzines: “[Perzine-making is] a way of corresponding with any number of people simultaneously while maintaining an aura of intimacy and friendship…because this intimacy is conducted through the mail, the editor/writer remains faceless. S/he can be whomever they want, without any limit to his/her own unique form of expression” (Gunderloy 28, quoted by Bailey and Michel). We seem to know so much about the Body Posi contributors, but only what they’ve been willing to share with us (or, share with Bri, who shares it with us), their communication according to Woodbrook and Lazzaro as “specifically predicated on [their] expressions of individuality, and their control of its dissemination” (9). Zinemaker PSEUDO echoes this brand of identity-forming power, explaining their pseudonym as meaning “fake in Greek because I feel that the way I present myself online or through my art is entirely up to me and does not actually have to be a reflection of me” (PSEUDO, “Zine-y Interview”).

PSEUDO actually thrived online before they started making zines irl, going by their artist pseudonym as a username before they chose it as their zine-making moniker for print. Fine Whine: A collection of poems and musings by: PSEUDO is a perzine inspired by their blog as well as their Bandcamp page before they ever put anything down on paper (Figure 8). A six-page perzine-anthology of confessional poetry that PSEUDO wrote while in high school, then collected and published physically, debuted at the Miami Zine Fair in 2016. Each scanned page of Fine Whine harbors its own single, handwritten journal entry jotted down on lined notebook paper, and the earliest dates back to 2013. In gathering their own semi-sacred artifacts for this zine, PSEUDO looked back at both their old journals and their old WordPress blog—uglysobbing.wordpress.com, last updated October 7, 2014—for potential material. In an interview I conducted with PSEUDO, they explained to me why that particular digital timestamp mattered so much:

The poems I wrote in high school were all as I was experiencing mania for the first time and I did not even realize that (you can see on my website that I wrote and uploaded 7 poems on January 28, 2014). I appreciated that mania at the time because I had felt depressed for so long that it felt like I was finally through it. I also began uploading music I was making as well as spoken word onto my Bandcamp and it didn’t dawn on me that getting little to no sleep was a result of a manic episode until I came down from it and felt like I had crashed. (PSEUDO, “Zine-y Interview”)

PSEUDO felt through their confusion in a live but, paradoxically, private setting; the evidence has since lasted for them to keep referring to when they need a reminder of how far they’ve come since then.

Figure 8: A collaged PowerPoint slide from my presentation at the 2018 University of Florida Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels (themed “ImageTech: Comics and Materiality”). Pictured are printed screenshots of poem titles from PSEUDO’s WordPress blog, of their Bandcamp page, and a scanned section of a handwritten page of <em>Fine Whine</em>.
Figure 8: A collaged PowerPoint slide from my presentation at the 2018 University of Florida Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels (themed “ImageTech: Comics and Materiality”). Pictured are printed screenshots of poem titles from PSEUDO’s WordPress blog, of their Bandcamp page, and a scanned section of a handwritten page of Fine Whine.

Rather than being simply digitized or scanned for screen consumption, Fine Whine intermixes multiple mediums, not denying their digital roots or overshared Internet inspo. Accurately dating printed matter like zines is its own tenuous task and guessing game, flipping back and forth for references to whatever small-time album had been reviewed in that issue to look up the release date, referring to other tangential zines and source materials to find even an approximate year; given the ephemeral nature of paper zines that were never made with posterity in mind and were made durable enough only to share a few times until they fall apart, zinesters looking back on older works will have a hard time piecing together their own affective timelines. A time stamp inextricably links your posts to a personal timeline that encourages and facilitates an at-home Internet archival practice, a regular reckoning with an affective past, as exacting as to the hour and minute, that informs your mark-making now.

Conclusion

So many young queer and non-men zine authors today share with us the rawest excerpts of their lives, electing to be vulnerable within their own networks of support either online, in print, or in some transmedial space in between. These creators tend to know exactly who is being exposed to their own exposing work, to their selves. But semi-public intimacies are nonetheless performed, at least in part, in public. The reciprocal trust enacted and expected of readers is unique to perzines and/or self-published autobio comix like the ones I have discussed here, with creators willing to take a small risk if it means connecting in solidarity with an empathetic, affected stranger who may learn something new about themselves in the process. In a mesh of lowly-lit selfies, screenshots taken of intimate text conversations, collaged self-portraiture, and angry and anonymous vents juxtaposed with scrapbook stickers and miscellaneous doodles, zine creators compose complex autobiographical narratives inextricable from the diversity of images that make up the many formats, web platforms, and pages of their lives. Queer perzines and autobiographical comix coexist with and inform each other, if there are very many substantial differences to be drawn between the two at all.

Web-based and -friendly zinesters like Bri, the Body Posi contributors, and PSEUDO aren’t abandoning the originating craftiness of zines’ visual history, nor do they actively participate in “supersession,” a new media commodification and marketing tactic which assumes the practical “death” of aging technology by virtue of newer technology set to “replace” it (Duguid). Media archivists warn against the dismissal and misinterpretation of the way “varying media forms heretofore had a hand in constructing our modern world…, understand[ing] these media forms not in terms of their commodifiable capacities but through their enduring functions and qualities” (Liming 142). But there is no viable threat of supersession here, or within zine-making as a whole, because no one technology neatly replaces the other. Collage-making as an accessible editorial tool, its facility for real-life group collaboration, the humble aesthetics of an accumulated and shared materiality—all endure for millennial zinesters alongside new technologies that further a radical accessibility and awareness for future contexts, generations, screens and machines.

Notes

[1]Riotgrrrl was a feminist punk movement of the 1990s and early 2000s celebrating women and teenage girls in punk music scenes, speaking out on issues concerning sexual harassment and rape in politically radical or punk spaces, equitable representation, and sexism. Riotgrrrls also founded their own zine-making and -sharing networks to promote their own music, writing, and art. Florida-based riotgrrrl zines will be discussed later in this section.

[2]I omit visual examples of some of the close readings I conduct here and in other portions of this article in order to respect the privacy of the Body Posi contributors and other referenced zinesters who use pseudonyms or include nude photos or vulnerable stories from their lives in their work. Although these zinesters consented to self-publishing personal content, this informed consent does not extend to revealing or outing their whole selves in an online academic journal. My thoughts on empowered privacy, public intimacies and consent-centering, allied readership are developed in a later section.

[3]The Civic Media Center (CMC) is an alternative library, reading room, and radical infoshop founded in 1993 in Gainesville, Florida. It currently functions as an active community space and meeting place for grassroots activist organizations, and regularly hosts live music events and programming aimed at supporting multiple intersections of marginalized groups and their needs. The CMC is also home to one of the largest zine collections in the Southeastern United States, the Travis Fristoe Zine Library (www.civicmediacenter.org), at which the author formerly volunteered as a zine librarian.

[4]Bandcamp is an American music-streaming and –purchasing platform that has proliferated in use among smaller bands and musicians looking to distribute their music independent of a label. Artist pages are customizable, allowing users to adjust the color of the font and background of their page and sell their own merchandise directly through the site.

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