Finding our voices through zine-making

Posted by on Aug 31, 2013

Many years ago, standing in line at the grocery store with my mother I wondered why the same faces were always on the covers of magazines.

Meanwhile, I had notebooks filled with words and drawings, none of which I thought were good enough for public consumption. I mean, after all, I didn’t look like any of those people on the covers of magazines, nor was my life anywhere as interesting.

Or was it?

I started to read about independent media and self publishing and a big door opened for me in the world of zines. I realized that I do have a story to tell. Everyone does. And it’s just as important as anyone else’s. Even those actors on “Friends.”

Zines are, basically, booklets ranging in size that are usually (but not always) made by hand – as in pen and paper – and photocopied and distributed for free or very small amounts of money.

Zines can be about anything. Many are written about bands and music – these were once called “fanzines” – which is where the word “zine” came from.

I have written zines about New Orleans and Bjork, among others, and I have read zines about parenting, ketchup and the future of human existence.

For me, it is just another way to express myself through writing and a fun world without borders or rules. I love to share this with other people. Especially children.

I was thrilled when Pfister Artist-in-Residence Stephanie Barenz asked me – and my partner, also into zines – to teach a zine workshop for seven students from St. Marcus School in Milwaukee as a part of her and her husband’s Our Story Arts program. Her husband, Zach Wiegman, is a full-time teacher at the central city school.

My partner, Royal, and I have taught zine workshops for kids at Milwaukee Zine Fest, held every November or December at the Polish Falcon in Riverwest. (This year it is Saturday, Nov. 9.) We have called the workshop “Z is for Zine” and have also taught it out of our home.

Teaching a zine workshop at the Pfister Hotel was definitely a beautiful collision of my worlds, but that isn’t what inspired me last week during the workshop.

It was the kids. Those kids!

They were attentive, engaged and incredibly creative. They understood the zine concept almost immediately. We showed them how to fold a piece of paper into an eight-page “mini zine” and they had ideas for their themes within minutes.

Tanya’s zine was about saving the world and featured a character named Destiny. Gabriel’s zine was centered around a rooster with tap shoes who did not tap dance (although he said he was making a sequel zine during which he might actually tap dance, but he might not.)


Joel made a stick figure Superman zine while Gavin made a zine with drawings of food items dressed up in clothing. You know, like a slice of pizza wearing a shirt and such.

Astashia loved typing out her zine ideas on our vintage Royal typewriter – she said she had never typed on a manual typer before – and she contributed the tap-tap-tapping sound to the workshop. Nikayla’s zine was a story about living in a house with 10 kids and two adults.

We brought with us stacks of different zines and at the end of the workshop, the kids asked if they could each have one. We said yes and, interestingly, two of the seven picked one of our favorite zines of all time, “Write Now,” written by a Chicago artist and zinester named Neil Brideau.

If there’s one message we hope the kids took away from our zine workshop, it’s this message that Neil illustrates inside his entertaining and empowering zine.



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