Media Activism: Zines

I’m currently taking a class at Kutztown called Activists Writing Media: Composing Democratic Futures (yes, it’s as rad as it sounds). We’ve just finished reading The Alternative Media Handbook, which discusses various forms of alternative media and their uses throughout recent history. In my next few blog posts, I’ll be exploring a few of those forms and their use in vegan advocacy.

First up: Zines!

Zines are a fantastic way to distribute printed material outside of the publishing mainstream. They can be—and are—used in a variety of ways in vegan activism. They can be educational, the zine being a vehicle for getting the word out about the whys and hows of a vegan lifestyle. The vast majority of vegan zines I’ve come across are cookzines, such as Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk and Papa Tofu. Cookzines can be a great way to give a few starter recipes to new vegans, or take a closer look at specific types of vegan cooking: for example, Kelly Peloza‘s Vegan Candyland has recipes for homemade versions of your favorite candy bars, and Kittee Berns’s Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food is full of information and recipes about vegan, gluten free (xgfx) ethiopian cuisine.

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There are also vegan comic zines where the content is less informational and more entertainment. These include Lisa Coulson‘s Tofu Pirate Comic Adventure Zine of Fun (pictured below) and Soyfucker. The latter is not necessarily vegan-themed, but created by a number of vegan artists and writers who submit their work.

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As Joe Biel says in The Alternative Media Handbook, “the time and materials necessary to create a zine are seldom matched by revenue from sale of zines” (298). Most zines are either given away for free, traded, or sold at low cost, according to Katie Haegele. However, zines can also be used for raising funds. Stephanie Bogdanich put together the cookzine Sunny Days in Texas to raise money for Sunny Day Farms, a farm animal sanctuary that was facing financial crisis due to severe droughts. People from all across the Lone Star State contributed vegan recipes to the zine. Copies were sold for $10 each, both in print and online as PDF. Many people (including myself) were willing to spend the extra money on the zine because the money was going to a good cause. $1 from each sale of Coulson’s Tofu Pirate comic zine, mentioned above, also went to the same organization. Soyfucker’s website states that “after printing and postage costs, all proceeds from each issue will be donated to a different animal charity.”

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One of the great things about zines is the creativity that goes into putting them together. Some are entirely hand-written, like Gabrielle Pope’s Buhbah Cooks Around the World, pictured above. Others are typed, or a mixture of the two. They can even be something else entirely. Most zines are completely low-tech productions. Biel states that “the technical approach to zine making takes a backseat to what it is that you need to get out” (298).

As far as making physical copies of a zine for distribution, there are many different avenues. Haegele says that “the more handmade among them are printed on specialty paper or paper made from brown grocery bags, bound with twine; fastened with metal brads, plastic garbage bag fasteners, rubber bands or duct tape; and adorned with stickers, glitter, photographs or rubber stamps” (109). I knew one zine author who had the secret copy code from working at Staples and was able to print free copies of her zines that way. Those who are in school can take advantage of free printing on campus, depending on your situation. Most universities offer a number of free copies to student organizations. For example, my group (VEG) gets a default 100 free pages a month from the copier, and all we have to do is ask and that number gets raised to 500.

Once a zine is put together and printed, there are a multitude of ways to distribute them. Zines are sold online on personal websites, Etsy pages, or blogs, either as hard copies or PDFs. They can be found in stores such as Herbivore in Portland, OR and Wooden Shoe Books in Philadelphia, PA and sold at festivals and events. The Alternative Media Handbook talks about zine distros that bring together various zine creators and distribute their work. Pioneers Press, formerly Microcosm Distribution, is one such distro that is vegan-run. Zines can also be distributed online, usually in PDF format. The Talon Conspiracy (formerly Conflict Gypsy) has a large online library of zines dating back to the 80s. Their goal is to “preserve the history of protest movements for animal rights and environmentalism” by “collecting various newsletters, magazines, and other items, and making them available for free on the website.”

To finish things off, I’m going to leave you with some feel-good words from Haegele that I appreciated reading: “It is worth noting that, while flaming and bullying are common nuisances for online self-publishers, negative feedback is rarely a concern for those in the print zine community. They are probably too busy peeling glue off their fingers” (110).

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