I was initially trying to limit myself to looking at one a day but then stopped trying to limit myself to looking at one a day and now I’ve looked at all of them. (Is “look” the right verb? Not sure. “Book” may not be the right noun, either. These book pamphlet art zine comic things are fun though).
This is what a few of the books look like out of the box:
Jacksonville Public Library’s Zine Collection is one of the first–and largest– such collections in the Southeastern United States. Librarian and collection archivist Josh Jubinsky was kind enough to talk to Biblioklept about the collection, the essence of punk, the future of zines in an increasingly technologically-mediated world, and the million-fart bill. We corresponded via email, although we could have done the interview in person easily–in full disclosure, I should mention that Josh lives down the street from Biblioklept World Headquarters.
Biblioklept: What is a zine?
Josh Jubinsky: A zine is a self-published pamphlet that ranges in format, size and topic. Although zines are clearly something dating back to the chapbooks of beat poets, to early science fiction fanzines and writings, to the 1960’s super hero comic zines such as Alter Ego which help spearhead a comics industry focusing more of masked avengers than horror and romance stories – my involvement with them has been only over the last 10 or so years and from a predominantly punk background. Whether the zines are music fanzines, literary journalistic diatribe, or DIY projects of a particular focus they are grounded largely in a punk music subculture and involve some sort of activism or simply an independent alternative media appeal. Physically speaking, a zine is typically a stack of 8 1/2 x 11 paper folded in half and stapled along the folded edge – although size and format does drastically vary.
JJ: The collection at the library had it’s grand opening party during the October Artwalk of 2009. It was started mostly on donations we had accumulated from my contacts from having a record store and distro [Deadtank distribution — ed.] (the store for 2 years, and the distro about 8.). We’ve gotten some funding from the library that, while it may not be much money compared to many other library activities, it goes a long way when you’re purchasing zines that cost $1-$2 a piece. Everything in the collection circulates, nothing is purely a reference material. As of now we have about 500 zines, and most everything has been checked out at least once. The circulation stats are great considering the size of the collection, averaging around 100 – 150 items a month.
Personally, it’s become a great vehicle for me to branch out into other programming at the library. I work in children’s library so in the past my programming outlets were confined to children’s programming – storytimes, outreaches to schools. I took that and applied my personal tastes and preferences to the job by teaching guitar lessons, doing classes on bike repair and safety, getting a children’s band together and having kids play all the instruments à la Rock Camp. But that sort of personal job molding increases tenfold when you can do programming in the name of the zine collection. The outreaches are to the Harvest of Hope Festival, to Cinema Sounds, to punk rock shows in warehouses. The programs are bands playing and zine authors reading or being part of a panel discussion. And that focuses back on my being in the children’s department. I started and now run a weekly creative writing and comic drawing class for kids called Zine Machine. The projects the kids work on get put into a zine that becomes part of the library collection. We’re not just creating library patrons, we’re creating authors.
B: Zine Machine sounds really cool. What are some of the things the kids are writing about?
JJ: The first issue was just completed. It’s writings, collages, comics, etc. from January to April. The writing covers everything from short bios on themselves (with self-portraits of course) to designing a car. Some writing prompts are for basic journal entries, writing a review of a book, movie, or video game, asking things like what sot of super powers they’d like to have and why, describing how they think libraries could be better. . . It’s really interesting to see what kids come up with and how they approach the writing and the comics. The class is for kids ages 8-13, though I can’t seem to say no to the 7 years olds that show up. To talk about the difference between a magazine and a zine and have the kids understand that – to be exposed to what an advertisement is and why they are in magazines – to learn about why zines are important and how hey can do this themselves – it’s all really empowering for anybody, especially young kids. Before these kids even have it ingrained in them that “writing is hard” or “what you do isn’t good enough” or “it’s hard to get published” – they are learning and experiencing the opposite. The next issue won’t be from as long a time period of writing.
We’re focusing all month on a single project of designing a country. They are drawing maps, flags, and currency, making laws and deciding things like the country motto and tree. I am so excited about it. The variations in projects from kid to kid are so vast. The variation is amazingly refreshing – amazingly unique- for someone who’s only been alive for 8 years. Some kids have currency that is all based on roman numerals they look up, and others – the king of the country “Only Boys!” has currency based on farts. Everything from a 5 fart coin to a 1,000,000 fart bill. The class is hilarious and fun.
B: I guess you know you’ve made it when your face is on the million-fart bill.
One of the things I like about zines is that they tend to be the products of a very personal, different perspective; they tend to be obsessive and weird. Do you have any particular favorites from the collection you could highlight for us?
JJ: One that I really enjoyed and I wish I saw more of is A La Maison. It’s a french zine, written in English though. It’s a guide to the city of Lyon, France by some people who live there. Definitely a punk perspective on the city, maybe like a punk travel guide. It goes through the city section by section with what bars, falafel places and record stores are best. And it comes with a CDR of all these bands from Lyon. It’s amazing. The people who put out the zine set up a show for my band [Josh is in about seventy bands –ed.] when we toured Europe. I got the zine for the library when their band came through Florida on tour. Touring with your band selling a zine and CDR for a few bucks, advertising how awesome your town is – it’s amazing. Another favorite of mine is a zine called Snakepit. It’s perfect for the short attention span comic reader. Books compiling the issues focus on an entire year of his life, where every three panels is a day. Some Florida ones I love are America? by Travis Fristoe and Seven Inches to Freedom by Joe Lachut. Travis is just an amazing writer that I can’t recommend enough. Joe’s zine is primarily about music, record collecting in terms of hardcore punk. We have the book version of Zine Yearbook 9; it’s a good “best of” type-thing that helps find what you like.
B: You bring up punk music, which many people closely associate with zines. What about non-punk zines? Or is zine-making punk in and of itself, despite aesthetics/ideology/taste/style?
JJ: We’re getting into really loaded words here, and I don’t think a conversation about what I think is punk and not punk will be too helpful for anyone. But yes, there are plenty of “non-punk” zines in terms of subject matter. Though to me they almost all seem like something punk – indeed not by musical interest, but an aesthetic appeal or just the fact that you’re doing a zine. People may not identify with being punk in some way, but if you do a zine you have a lot in common with punk. In terms of like doing it yourself, being part of a grassroots publishing world – in part, the medium is the message. I can’t really separate myself from that, although lots of bizarre gray areas exist. Are those little religious pamphlets people leave at the post office punk? Are these zines? That’s people expressing themselves, right? And they are sharing there thoughts at a grassroots level. Essentially, they already have the most published book in the world working for them. Take for example the Zine Machine zine. Nine year old kids aren’t automatically punk for contributing to a zine. But more punk than a kid who didn’t, maybe? It’s a very empowering exercise. It’d definitely be appreciated by anyone I’d consider punk. Does that sound too insular?
The zine collection is definitely helping me to branch out and find zines that aren’t somehow tied to the music scene I’m part of, to find zines besides fanzines, or amazing literary zines that are of course full of punk culture references or that I first got into because I know the author some other way (his or her band, label, meeting them at a show). Being a part of creating this is helping me understand it all more.
B: Why are zines important or meaningful in the age of the blogging? How are zines different than blogs? Is technology bad for zines? What’s the future of zines?
JJ: Maybe this sounds like an overused reason for me (since it’s the same main reason I give when people ask why I have records), but, essentially that zines are tangible. Personally, that tangibility helps me remember them. I can barely tell you what I read online yesterday, but I can tell you about the book or zine I’m reading. You can bring zines along when you go on a tour or go fishing or go to the bathroom or sit in the park – and you don’t have to have an expensive device you must charge to read them. They also exude a sense of time and place. A zine is self-contained, obviously not in literary or musical references, but you can’t get bored with it and click to an updated version. You can’t add it to your blog reader. Like a record, it’s not convenient. It’s romantic. You aren’t jogging while listening to an audio book – you aren’t trying to maximize productivity. You sit, enjoy and get fresh air at the same time.
The interruptions are minuscule compared to reading something online. Right now as people are reading this I bet they have other windows open – your friend messaging you, some work you need to finish, your email. These readers won’t read this without clicking over to something else. What sort of compromises are we making, as readers, with this convenience? How much are we losing from what we really want to be doing by always trying to do something else in tandem? Technology isn’t bad for zines, it’s just different. Blogs and zines, these have very different cultures around them. You used to mail order zines from a paper catalog or get them at your local record store. Those catalogs are gone. Those stores stay open largely because some kid who doesn’t care about his credit is paying rent on his credit card, or people live in the back room. I’m not saying any of this is good or bad, it’s just different. The idea of convenience is literally changing our landscape. Sometimes it’s more convenient to work around modern day conveniences, and even when it’s not, you want to because it’s what you love. Zines help me relax. I like [love — ed.] your blog and I have one too, but – the internet is so full of crap. It just adds to the rushed feeling of our days. Increasingly days are becoming more and more just a series of errands and obligations. When I want to read something, I don’t want to be in front of the same machine, sitting in the same position, probably at the same place, that I do work at.
I see the future of zines as a larger part of what Jacksonville and Florida is about. Our collection here is great and items circulate rampantly. On the librarian level, we just presented at the Florida Library Association conference to roaring optimism. People are scheduling us to teach classes about how to start a zine collection. I’m hoping the local populous answers this collection’s existence, answers the authors whose work are represented with works of their own. What you do, what you write, what you create can be part of the library. It’s not lowering the bar for what we catalog – we use the same standards any other department does. It’s adjusting the aperture of our collection. We’re letting in more light, more opinions, more voices. The goal of a library it is to create equality, to level the playing field. Any economic background or any ethnic group, the library is here for you to use. Now, more than ever, it’s here not just for its community to become it’s patron, but part of its collection.