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The Zinester's Dilemma: Part II
Feature piece for Chicago-based arts publication Gapers Block


Just because some of us out there make zines doesn't mean everyone knows what they are.

The following is a sort of guide for zinesters as to how to approach questions, concerns and misunderstandings regarding what we do by the non-zinesters among us, one that is clear and thoughtful without being condescending or insular. This guide doubles as an introduction for anyone who's curious about zines. Feel free to guide and be guided by it!

You may recall the previous installment of The Zinster's Dilemma on how to explain zines to very supportive, very confused parties. Well tarry not, for there are more people out there who may prove tricky.

How about an issue rife with boundary problems:


"Hello Miss Yowell. I've reviewed your resume and your portfolio and it looks like you'd be a great candidate for a position here. After our last interview, I discussed your addition with members of our board and we think you're good to go. Just one last thing--I used technologically savvy, somewhat ethically dubious software to infiltrate your social media presence, and I've been wondering, what exactly are zayyyyns? Zins I mean? And what is this one I read about, Flush? Seems to be about toilets?"


This is not a direct transcription of actual events, but the possibility of it always hangs over my head. As a rule, I don't post anything on Facebook, a blog, etc. that could be taken as a detriment to my character. But something I think of as A-OK might be considered liability according to the varying and unpredictable tastes.

Putting out a zine is a lot like a Facebook account. It's probably something only my friends will see but there is the potential that anyone could look at it. It kind of sucks to have to cloister your personality just because there's an iota of a chance your new boss might see and then hate your zine.

I attach my actual name to almost everything I write. There's no hiding behind "That Pizza Girl" or a Nicki YOWL alias (although these are two I did consider adopting.) I view claiming all of my work as a professional strength rather than a weakness. Especially since, as of late, the majority of my published work online (ahem, perfunctory industry shut-downs,) vanished from search engines and has no static link to send as part of my portfolio. Gee, thanks publishing world!

Perhaps there are employers out there who would not appreciate a narrative ode to taking a dump or elaborate charts about dog breeds. Maybe using curse words or talking about taboo topics out in the light isn't what I'll be hired to do.

Still, I think zinesters often undersell the quality and hard work they put into their publications. True, not everyone may share your opinions about militant organic farming. Your boss might think your comics about lesbian kittens are weird. You may alienate coworkers when they find out you've spent the better part of two years exploring the subtle nuances of collating, double-sided copies and varieties of saddle stitch binding form. Oh well.

If zinesters claim and stand behind their work more publicly, they can show Mr. Bossman that making a publication is actually a job in and of itself. Haven't zinesters all acquired skills from making their respective projects? Thanks to zines I've learned more job skills than over six years of higher education in the humanities ever gave me: I taught myself Photoshop and InDesign, learned how to manage contributors, mastered the inner workings of copy machines (a go-to skill in the office), devised editorial structures, provided myself a real, albeit small audience, promoted my work, wrote press releases, organized events, etc. A job never would have allowed me to do all of that, especially on my own terms.

The real "marketable" quality of a zinester, as far as job seeking is concerned, is the initiative factor. Who absolutely needs to make a zine to survive? How numerous and difficult are the obstacles to actually producing it? Why not use the opportunity to showcase your skills and introduce self-publishing to a new group? I say, huzzah.

It's easier to be up front than to put tons of energy into keeping work dwelling in obscurity. Besides, I know I wouldn't want to work some place where I was looked down upon for anything I've made. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but there's nothing I am ashamed of in that stack of pages on my shelf. I know some out there may have a trickier time, especially if they're being confrontational about issues that deserve critique. Still, even if someone disagrees with why you made a zine or what it contains, you deserve respect for putting your voice out there and for having the wherewithal to provide an avenue for that expression.

Despite all that, this is still an issue I struggle with. Have you guys ever encountered these problems? How do you deal with the foreboding threat of the "wrong person" finding your zine, especially one that pays you?

The Zinester's Dilemma: Part II