Most of us can still recall the sweet scent of a dusty old book, or the warmth of a freshly printed sheet of paper in the palms of our hands. As we move to Kindles and smartwatches, a few remnants of the past still remain in our culture. Somewhere between these two worlds of digital and analog, zines were born. It might be true that zines today are not always created by physically cutting and sticking pieces together, then being photocopied, but they are still a mix of traditional print and current day thought. One contemporary concept that zines have long caught up on, is following up on their printed version with a strong online presence. While zine makers often use their websites to share artists’ works, link to their sites, and implement online tools to promote themselves, the printed versions offer a more tangible viewing and reading experience. These publications typically cover a range of niche, underground and often controversial topics, in the realms of music, art, design, culture and more. To explore this subject further, we caught up with the minds behind three zines that we love. Here are their journeys, motivations and inspirations:
PM Megazine: a safe and accessible platform for artists to share their work
“Having our zine work on a digital and print platform allows it to be relevant in the digital age, as well as maintain its allure as a printed art object,” explain the co-founders of PM Megazine, Sara Phillips and Angela Mazza. As an artist herself, Sara believes that tactility in the creative world is important. “There is something about being able to pick up and engage with the pages to view the artwork that gives you a stronger connection to both the images and the artists,” she says.
Understanding, from personal experience, the frustration of getting your work out there for people to see, Sara and Angela aim to provide artists with an accessible platform that enables them to share their art with a large audience. With an overriding message of inclusivity, Sara believes that “any creative expression has the right to be experienced and celebrated”. Gathering artists’ work and compiling them in a way that highlights their strengths, the two minds behind PM Megazine have created an inspirational publication, full of bright bold colors, surprises and a vibrant, funky vibe.
The challenges of creating a zine
As idyllic as it sounds, creating your own zine has its difficulties, especially if your mission is as ambitious as Sara and Angela’s. They’re just on the start of their journey and the zine is still very small and new, made up of two people that develop the project in their spare time. Having the motivation to “not let the distractions of everyday life get in the way of your mission,” is tough, but having already created three successful issues, it seems they’re definitely on the right path. Advertising and distributing the zine is one of the biggest challenges they face. Currently, it’s mainly promoted via word of mouth and social media marketing.
Collaborating with creatives
Despite all the hard work, there are many benefits to this kind of project. Both co-founders enjoy contacting artists, designing the page layouts and producing the actual zine. They work with a wide range of creatives, from Nancy Rosen, the artist behind the Netflix TV Show Grace and Frankie, to multidisciplinary artist Rae Senarighi. You can explore some of the other works on their website, where they feature poems, short stories, video art and more. Sara tells us how she’s constantly awed and inspired by the works she receives for submissions and loves opening up her email to see what awaits her. “It has really helped me in my own practice to see how other amazing artists work and to learn about their process and how it differs from my own,” she explains. Reaching out to artists through social media, personally inviting them, using resources like Chicago Artists Resource and hanging up posters, Sara likes to think of it as a “guerrilla warfare art campaign.”
Create Zine: a unique independent self-promotional marketing tool
Showcasing the works of talented creatives from around the globe, Create Zine is a “marketing tool in the guise of a sweet looking zine,” as described by Alicja McCarthy and Jules Beazley, the publication’s co-founders. Interviewing a selection of artists and featuring their creations, their aim is to provide a source of inspiration, as well as promoting artists and placing them “in front of those who have the power to commission.” With years of experience working in the creative industry and the fields of arts management, representation and marketing, they know how to find the right target audience for the artists. By developing a “tangible, beautifully printed product full of fresh and exciting creative talent, it allows the reader to take a step away from their computer and into our world,” they explain. “We wanted to curate something real and beautiful that would last and could be shared physically.” And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Curating the zine
The brightly colored zine, brimming with intriguing visuals, wouldn’t be what it is without the outstanding artists that are showcased in it. We’re all used to doing a bit of social media curation on our own feeds, but when it comes to finding creative individuals, Alicja and Jules scour the earth. “We search through websites, blogs, magazines, social media and exhibitions – it’s incredible how much talent there is out there,” they explain. “We want to have a balance in the zines by showcasing art, craft, graphic design, direction, illustration, printmaking and typography, so it’s time-consuming, but we’re quite nerdy like that. It’s what we do.” They go through hundreds of portfolios, hand selecting each piece of work to make sure that the professionals they showcase are highly skilled and talented. They take great pride in them, as well as in the overall result, whose visual language is defined by the artists themselves and Create Zine’s brand identity. Despite the different style of each of the works, the pages of each issue come together to form a cohesive (and beautiful!) look.
Thorough down to the last detail
Their attention to detail doesn’t stop there – when initially choosing which paper to print on, they were faced with a dilemma. “We loved the grainy, non-pervious nature of newsprint, but the colors did not pop and vibrancy was lost,” explain Alicja and Jules. Eventually, they decided to go for Cyclus offset, which they describe as “an excellent recycled stock that does precisely what you want it to do.”
A success story
Alicja and Jules’ hard work certainly pays off, especially when they manage to succeed in their mission to promote talents and get their voices heard. In their last issue (that you can download from their website here), they wrote and designed a feature about Easle, a new online creative commissioning, folio and project management company. “Within days of the zine being sent out to our audience, they’d had contact from an advertising lead who said they had seen the piece in the zine,” say Alicja and Jules. Fran Danczak, Head of Communications at Easle noted that “it’s so unusual to get such a clear pathway to key players within the creative community, knowing that the work is going in front of the right people. As a printed product, Create Zine gets to them directly, in a physical form, helping to really stand out and get noticed.” That is precisely what the zine is all about, so keep your eyes open as Alicja and Jules continue to explore new territories and opportunities in the near future.
Cool Brother: an ever-expanding family of bands, illustrators and young creatives
What started out as a final third-year project during a BA in Advertising at London College of Communication, gradually blossomed into a beautiful zine that’s now stocked all around London. Whilst studying, Woody Cecilia, the founder of the zine, realized that she was in fact totally disinterested in advertising. Thanks to the support of her tutors and interning at UNCUT and NME, she began her voyage into the world of music journalism. Although she describes that first project as “pretty awful looking” in hindsight, it combined her love for making, writing and bands. After graduating, she essentially landed her dream job writing for a number of other magazines. And yet, she missed doing her own thing and felt that she wasn’t completely creatively fulfilled. “So, this year,” she tells us, “I decided to do Cool Brother full time. It was my New Year’s resolution – the only one I have ever stuck to!” Now, Cool Brother is quarterly, free and can be found in inspiring shops, venues and galleries throughout London.
A collaborative effort
For Woody, the zine is all about collaboration. The idea is to “bring together emerging illustrators, photographers, bands, writers and young creatives – and to inspire others along the way,” she explains. Woody does the styling, editing, creative direction and online work, joining forces with Emma Balebela, the zine’s art director (and “the bee’s knees, truly,” says Woody). Together, they work on the design and distribute the zines. They’re the only permanent team members, but many additional artists and bands also contribute in the making of each publication. Woody describes how involving the musicians in this way “uniquely levels out pedestals between bands and their fans, introducing snapshots into the lives of some of the DIY music scene’s most exciting acts.”
Finding and reaching out to other creatives
In a dream world, we’d all be surrounded by wonderfully imaginative people who are raring to do lots of cool creative things. But that’s not always the case. Woody uses Instagram to search for photographers and designers to work with, trying to check out each new artist that follows them on the platform. As for finding musicians, she explains that “the best way to discover older bands is by working your way back through the musicians you like. If you like DUDS, find out who they’re inspired by. If they like The Fall, give them a listen – then find out who The Fall was inspired by too.” When it comes to smaller bands, she recommends catching the support acts at live shows.
The zine’s visual language
This passion for music and creativity continues onto each page of the carefully curated and designed zine. It’s bursting with life and vivid imagination, as each page is filled with an unusual color palette, typography, photography, unorthodox compositions, and more. Making sure each section looks different from the last keeps things exciting for the zine’s creators, as well as for the readers. “If we’re excited by what we do,” say the minds behind the zine, “the chances are someone will find a use for it and share that excitement with us.” The zine’s visual language, described by Woody as “creatively unconfined, maybe?” cohesively merges imagery with text, forming beautiful spreads. As Woody sees it, “Great content and design are of equal importance. If you’re able to do both? Boom, you’re golden!”
Having recently been diagnosed with adult ADHD, Woody describes how, despite her natural curiosity, she tunes out quickly and gets distracted or bored of things easily. But she feels that when people break out of their magnetic states, they’re often their most creative, absorbing things visually and picking up on tiny details – which she finds can be great as a writer. She now understands how to embrace her ADHD and it actually helps her in her work. She says, “I can hardly turn my brain off! I lie awake at night planning the next issue of Cool Brother instead.”
Woody’s enthusiasm and love for her job doesn’t end here. When distributing the zine, hearing people’s kind and supportive words makes all the difference. She describes how she was thanked for “doing something worthwhile” at Voodoo Rays and was given a free vegan pizza. “I was so excited – just like, free pizza? Done! Time to retire and start that gardening career now. I’ve peaked too early, it can’t get better than this.”
Cool Brother’s second issue, Easy Easy, is out now.