- Cassandra Bristow
On Tuesdays, We Make Zines
During the fall 2021 semester, classes at Pratt were predominantly on campus, rather than online or hybrid. Students had the ability to return to a life of in-person classes, coming closer to a “normal” college experience since the pandemic caused a worldwide shutdown in March 2021.
For me, setting foot on campus after a year and a half of uncertainty felt like I was one of the frightened Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, hesitant to come out of hiding, just in case the Wicked Witch was poised to strike me once I emerged from the shadows. It was as exciting as it was disorienting, but mostly, going back to school felt surreal. It was an adjustment, and at the heart of the strangeness was a desire to rediscover community that wasn’t just through my laptop.
During the beginnings of my search for comfort in a tangible school setting, my close friend, BFA printmaking junior Eliana Szabo, approached me with the idea that we create and co-host a zine club. Zines (short for magazine) are handmade books or booklets that tend to emphasize a specific topic. A common form of zines is “fanzines,” which are self-published homages to specific people or subjects within pop culture.
Fanzines were Eliana’s introduction into zinemaking. I got into the zine world later, but that didn’t stop Eliana and I from discussing zines and showing each other what we were working on. The second she pitched the concept, I was all for it, and next thing I knew, we were writing a proposal for Zine Club outside of a coffee shop. By October, it was official. Now, for the rest of the school year, during Tuesdays from 12:45pm to 1:30pm, you can find Eliana and I hosting another session of Zine Club.
During the fall, we typically met in the Alumni Reading Room, on the third floor of the Pratt Library. Eliana and I have one of our two amazing faculty advisors, Holly Wilson, to thank for reserving that space. There, we conducted zine software workshops, one page zine collage sessions, and most importantly, created a place where everyone could pause between their classes to discuss a common interest and inspire one another. We started meetings with everyone participating in a show-and-tell of zines that they’d been inspired by. Dominica Paige Giglio, who is the second faculty advisor of Zine Club, always managed to bring work that the entire room found inspiring, leaving us collectively in awe.
Right before Thanksgiving break, I hosted a casual interview with Holly and Eliana. The conversation followed one of our best Zine Club meetings yet. The chosen project that week provided an opportunity for everyone to create their own zine out of one single piece of paper folded into a tiny booklet. Holly provided us with a plethora of varying collage material, resulting in unique zines from every participant. During our conversation, we discussed the importance of zines, Zine Club, and what camaraderie on a Tuesday afternoon meant for our collective readjustment back to a life on campus.
Although the pandemic’s future, and a safe return to Pratt’s campus during the spring, feels much more uncertain, I take comfort in knowing that Zine Club will continue to facilitate its strong sense of community on or offline. Until those Tuesdays became a regular part of my life, I’d never encountered a cluster of Pratt students so invested in inspiring each other. I’ve watched everyone who attends leave at 1:30 with an extra bounce to their step, verbally expressing gratitude that they were able to have a mindful creative pause during their day. This little collective offers a warm and fulfilling environment every time. As I live through a time when things can feel so fragile, I consider myself lucky to have a space where I can put all my worries aside and focus on my excitement, waiting to see the zines people bring or create during our shared pocket of time. -
Cassandra Bristow: Why do you like zines? How do you think they form a community?
Holly Wilson: Growing up as I did in the ‘80s and ‘90s, zines were a primary form of communication. Before the internet, you made community and kept in touch with people through trading zines and buying people’s zines. It’s how you found out where the music shows were happening and who was playing where. That was my community; going out to see live bands. That was initially how I got into zines and that sense of community has always been important.
Zines are an automatic way to communicate your thoughts. You don’t have to go through any external platform or publication.
Eliana Szabo: From the perspective of someone who wasn’t involved in [any] of that, I think it’s great to have a physical means of communication in a world where everything is so online. Being able to hold something that your friends make is a wonderful feeling that I don’t think many of us have in the age of the internet. Zines are a beautiful way to connect with people in a way that isn’t so digital.
CB: I was going to say something similar [to Eliana]. In a digital world, it’s really nice to be creating things that are tangible and distributing them among people and friends. The relationship between tangibility and community is really important, especially now going back to Pratt [on campus] too. Being on Zoom and having a very different form of hybrid classes, it’s been very strange to be back on campus. Even the zine club we had on Tuesday [before Thanksgiving break] where everyone was making zines felt really impactful, because a year ago, that couldn’t have happened. Then it did, and we were all making things to pass around and look at.
HW: It’s an interesting perspective [for you] to have as someone who saw the before and after. I wonder about the students who are just starting, and this is their first or second time being on campus. It’s just got to be really strange. It’s a hard adjustment to go from high school to college anyway, but it’s got to be exceptionally challenging now. And [last year there was less] making community in the studio classes you have, which is sort of what we were doing in the last zine meeting. You can’t really get that on Zoom. I’ve heard, anecdotally, that a lot of clubs [this year] are getting more participants than they expected, because of that craving for community.
CB: There’s a relationship, too, between common interest [in clubs] that I don’t think happens [outside of clubs] at Pratt because of how isolated the majors can be. I wasn’t even in Foundation Year as a writing major, but being in writing means I’m always in a different realm from the people in Fine Arts.
ES: That’s a point I wanted to bring up too. Zine club is accessible to everyone regardless of major. A writing major could do it, a photo major, a print major. Zines are a great medium because they take all kinds of artistic disciplines and anyone can do them.
HW: You don’t need any special skills to start [a zine]. You don’t need a specific software or anything like that to do it.
CB: I also loved that people brought zines to the last [club meeting]. Everyone tends to have something in their possession that could be considered a zine. You probably have some book that your friend made or some thing that you bought at MOMA PS1 or something that qualifies as a zine. It’s cool to see people consider that and invest themselves in it.
It’s interesting to see how people want a space for their investments outside their major or immediate artistic practice. Zines aren’t as much a part of Pratt as they should be.
ES: I think our [meeting] last week was so great. It was a perfect break in the day where we could socialize and be creative. It wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing. We were doing something that felt productive. We were engaged, and it felt rewarding. I had so much fun at that.
HW: We could do that every meeting!
CB: It was crazy how many collage books you had that we could use, Holly.
HW: I rescue books all the time for the purpose of zine workshops. I have enough to last for a thousand zine workshops.
CB: Going forward with Zine Club, what are some things you hope to see in terms of community? What are some thoughts about community and the community that’s emerging from this?
HW: More of a student connection to the Zine Collection in the Library. The project that I work on in my spare time is writing summaries of the zines. I’ll check out ten at a time, come home, spend a couple hours really digging into them and writing summaries. When you get them out of the collection, they’re in the bag. You have to open it and take them out, but if you have a summary on the back, you can just read that and it gives you a sense of if it actually interests you and is something you’d want to look at. If students were interested, we could have students help on that project, especially writing students!
ES: One thing that excites me about Zine Club is seeing freshmen join. I love that it’s not about Cassie and my friends hanging out; it’s become more than that. It’s a space for new Pratt students to be a part of the community. It’s a welcoming space, and far from friends of Cassie and me just hanging out at lunch time.
CB: It’s cool to see people who don’t know the Pratt campus well learn about things, like the Pratt Zine Archive. That was something I didn’t know about until after my sophomore year.
ES: Or even the Imaging Center.
CB: Yeah! Being able to teach people about Pratt facilities. Annika [Godura, member of Zine Club], during the InDesign Workshop, offered information about the Imaging Center as someone who works there that was helpful. It’s nice that it’s not just us running it and telling people how to make zines, but an ongoing conversation between us and people we aren’t necessarily close to about how to make things and make the most of Pratt.
ES: At the core, that’s what zines are: distilling information. Not only are we sharing information about the subjects of our zines, but we’re sharing information about Pratt.
HW: There’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t know that came out of that [conversation]. And I’ve been at Pratt for fifteen years!
If you’re interested in joining Zine Club this semester, meetings will resume on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. Pandemic permitting, these meetings will be in-person, but if not, the club will be conducted over Zoom. Our digital time will be utilized to teach online tools for zinemaking that have been incredibly useful to Eliana and I, where our in-person meetings will incorporate both digital and tangible exercises. If you’re looking to join, email Eliana Szabo (email@example.com) or Cassandra Bristow (firstname.lastname@example.org). We are crossing our fingers that we will be having a Zine Expo toward the end of the spring semester, and would love to have your zines be a part of it!
Illustration by Eliana Szabo