Behind the Zines

To share and spread ideas before the internet, people had to get creative. A lot of this creativity manifested itself through ‘zines’—DIY magazines put together by writers, artists, fans and everyone in between. Zines—pronounced zeens—could be mailed, passed around via friends or acquaintances or distributed at events. What’s even more spectacular about zines is the way that they have endured; even with the rise of the internet, the culture is alive and thriving, and zines are being created and distributed daily. 

The College of Charleston’s library houses an expansive collection of zines donated by Alison Piepmeier. The publications are maintained and accessible to all students. Junior English major Reese Addison discovered the collection because of her Writing Across Contexts class, taught by Dr. Jacob Craig. 

“Every time I check one out, the guy who gets it for me is like, ‘nobody has checked these out before, but now so many people in the last couple months… they’ve been getting them’,” Addison said, “and he’s like, ‘it’s great, but I don’t think anyone knew they were there.’”

Professor Piepmeier was a Women & Gender Studies professor at the college. She developed a fondness for zines because of the relevant themes, be it feminism or anarchism. When people found out about Piepmeier’s interest, she began receiving zines from various creators. 

“She was sent them over time by people who knew her,” Addison said. “She collected and compiled them and when she passed away she donated them to the library. She actually wrote a book called Girl Zines and focused on some of the ones in this collection as a reference.” 

Many zines are colorful and decorated with hand-drawn art, each unique in their own way. Often, their appearance transcends their subject matter, catching the eye of someone who may not have been inclined to pick up an essay about anarchy or a book of parenting tips, both of which were subjects in zines that Addison encountered during her delve into the library’s zine collection.

Using the Piepmeier collection, students in Dr. Craig’s class “profiled” various zines. “We had to look at one zine, how it was made, were their choices very deliberate,” said Addison. It’s safe to say that this in-depth zine exploration not only gave Addison a new perspective on the culture, but a respect and love for it as well. 

“Dr. Craig says… the whole point [of zines] was to ‘make an exigence salient.’ Probably the first people who were going to buy your zine if you’re selling it, or pick it up if you’re handing it out, are people who are already interested in the topic, but then they can give it to people who aren’t quite as familiar with it. And then they’ll be like ‘oh, I had no idea this was a problem, but now I do, and I feel so connected to this person who’s created it because they feel so real.’”

In the same way that vinyl records survived the development of new, more convenient technology, zines have kept thriving as part of subcultures or DIY scenes who want to share their information in a more personalized style, tethering the reader to what the writer has to say in ways that a blog post or social media share cannot. 

Addison personally personally found “what’s cool about zines sometimes, is you can go to zine fairs and most of them are like new, but you’ll get zines sometimes that someone has owned in the past and there will be like a coffee stain on it, or a pencil mark, or water droplets, and you’re like ‘someone else owned this’ and you feel this connection to that person who you probably don’t even know, but it’s like, we have this shared experience of reading other peoples’ experiences. And even though they’re paper, they’re very ephemeral. It just feels so connecting.”

Zine culture is kept alive by creative minds who want to continue to share their ideas and lives in ways that are personal, informative and interesting. To check out many eye-catching, quirky and interesting zines from Piepmeier’s collection at the library, one can look at a list of zines on the College of Charleston library’s website and ask for the zines at the circulation desk.

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Zoë Murrie is a Junior Communications and Women’s and Gender major from Columbia, SC. When she’s not writing, she loves plants, burritos and house shows.

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