Exploring zine culture in the depths of St Kilda
Sipping a frothy latte on a perfectly vintage crate in a perfectly vintage cafe, I realised something. I was tired. Tired of the carefully created and curated content dominating my vision: social media feeds, billboards, movies, newspapers and books. An endless stream of perfect breakfast shots, flawless faces, Instagram influencers, manicured dishevelment, token races, the least confronting images, or cute furry animals which tickle all demographics (Star Wars, anyone?).
Underneath it all, is a nauseating feel of control. Control that inevitably leads to manipulation. We can sense that deep down, we have been studied and lied to in order to lighten our wallets, to press the like button, to give our hearts and minds to the corporate machine. In this environment of digital marketing perfection I choose to embrace my un-photoshopped face and look the other way. Begone unnaturally happy people drinking organic kombucha looking down at me at the red lights! Middle finger to the far away beaches harassing my Google search!
Today, I crave something real. Something with fewer middlemen, less marketing, less psychological studies dictating the interaction. Something old fashioned and tangible and fucking real.
Enter the zine. Wait, what is a zine, you ask? Zines are a subculture, and although it’s hard to generalise about a culture, I’ll try anyway:
Zines are the punks of the publishing world. It’s all about the DIY. Little cheap handmade books on anything, by anyone. Powerful, right? They are out of the mainstream, self-published with tiny circulations. They can be controversial, niche, rebellious or just plain ol’ cute – and anything in-between. The fact that anyone can be an author (plus editor, publisher, art director) is a damn beautiful thing. The photocopy machine and the zine is a match made in heaven. And finally…. Zines are powerful. Never underestimate the power of communication, of rebellious ideas and conviction. Consider Martin Luther, who changed the course of religious and cultural history in the West with an early form of zine. In 1517 he penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. It was a proto-zine that divided a religion and, as a format, snowballed through history, becoming the voice of energetic movements: punk, feminist, queer, nerd, etc.
Adding to the underground allure, it’s hard to actually find zine culture in Melbourne. You have to search to find it. The Sticky Institute in Degraves subway have long been a bastion of zine culture, and hold the annual Festival of the Photocopier to celebrate it in all its glory. And in St Kilda? The library has a shelf dedicated to zines, as well as accepting zine donations. So you can imagine my face when I was walking down Acland Street and saw a little wooden sign: “Zines and art prints 5/17 Irwin Street.” This had to be investigated.
I walked into a little gallery called TooT Artspace and met Jade. An intimate artist-run, contemporary art space in the heart of St Kilda. Yay for artists running their own space!
TooT Artspace is also an affordable art space which allows artists to test out new and more challenging ideas, to interact with their peers and the wider public. Walking up to it, I was pleased to see the shop front showcases a collection of small affordable artworks. And on the left side was a dedicated wall of zines! My interest was sufficiently piqued.
With all that rebellious DIY creativity oozing out of the walls, it gave me the itch to make one.
When it comes to zine-making, “what should it be about” is one of the hardest questions. And lucky for me, Jade – who makes several awesome zines herself – was there to help me. Her philosophy is not to rush the idea, but let the content drive the zine. “Inspiration will come,” she reassured me, “just give it time.”
So what do you need to make a zine? Not much. Zines thrive on minimal and cheap products. A lot of the appeal is about just using what you have in an imaginative way. And once you start looking at the possibilities in using various objects around you, creativity starts to flow.
Jade started by showing me some of her techniques – as well as her very cool old school typewriter. The first method was a very direct, handmade style. We started with literally opening a sketchbook and photocopying that. Voila! Instant edgy zine content – handwriting, doodling united with the raw black and white contrasts of a photocopy.
Following on, we got a bit creative and started photocopying different objects onto the page. Ripping pieces from other books and laying it onto that. My favourite was an ornate letter “T” on a retro coaster. I felt like photocopying everything.
This was getting fun. And seriously addictive.
Next, Jade showed me a different approach to zine-making, which stems from her graphic design background. This involves actually using layout software to layout your pages and graphics, and then printing them, rather than photocopying. You can get fantastic results this way – Jade even screen printed some of her covers – but there is a steeper learning curve, though even basic word processing software can be used.
To tie it all together (bad pun intended), binding. Jade recommended a long-arm stapler because it’s perfect for reaching in from the edge to staple your zines. But there are many other methods, such as using an elastic band or string instead. And there you have it! A zine, born into this world, ready to start a revolution.
Now, I challenge you to make one. The easiest possible zine is to use just one a4 piece of paper and photocopy onto both sides. Once you have that done, just fold it in four to make a little booklet.
So what’s the point, you ask? In this internet age, why not go digital, publish a blog and reach a much larger audience? I think it goes back to the start of the article. There’s something more real, more human, about holding a physical object, crafted with love and care (even if it was just a photocopier). Or maybe the unique feeling of being one of a few people in possession of this little thing. Funnily enough, the digital era allows more zine lovers and makers to connect across time and space.
At the end of the day, it’s fun, cheap and you can possible to create a social revolution. What’s not to like?
Where to find more zines in St Kilda?
St Kilda Library has a dedicated zine shelf (You can even make one and donate it to the library)
Shop 5, 17-19 Irwell St, St Kilda / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Phone: 0402 656 778 / https://tootartspace.com
Shoutout to Sticky Institute – found at Degraves subway (in the city) has been a guardian of zine culture in Melbourne since 2001.
Originally written for the May 2018 edition of St Kilda News. This is a piece about the emerging zine culture in the St Kilda area.