To the unfamiliar, the concept of zines is a little bizarre. The hand-assembled leaflets, covering topics from politics to poetry, are usually printed on someone’s at-home printer, which was a massive upgrade from the ink-blotted copies that came from old school mimeographs. Zines have always often been the products of radicals and outsiders, using the simple medium of copy paper and ink to explore and critique huge concepts in art, politics, and literature.
The rise of zine culture coincides with the punk rock movement. Young punks would use the leaflets to pontificate about anarchy and social justice. Before that, activists of all stripes had been using the format to communicate organizing techniques and share tips on everything from first aid at protests to how to shoplift (and thus, protest capitalism) more effectively. Zine culture has flourished in cities Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Seattle, but in Dallas, it seems to be nearly nonexistent.
On a recent trip to Austin, I stumbled into Monkeywrench Books, an all-volunteer radical bookstore and gathering space. In addition to books on Marxism, protest, and feminism, an entire bookshelf was dedicated to zines, and featured prominently. The brightly colored pages, many of which had been copied and re-copied probably hundreds of times, covered an impressive breadth of topics. One explored the concept of binary gender. Another was a critical look at the environmental justice movement, illustrated by snarky (and raunchy) political cartoons.
Upon returning to Dallas, I decided to seek out a similar collection of radical, unconventional DIY literature. It took a little more searching than I expected, because Dallas’ zine scene is only (finally) starting to warm up. You have to look for them, but there are plenty of people creating, sharing, and enjoying zines in this city, even if a community really hasn’t started to coalesce around them just yet.
When Randy Guthmiller, a Fort Worth Native, moved back to Dallas after attending college in Massachussetts, he began making zines for one reason: to make friends. I would ask people if they liked shapes, if they said yes, then they got the zine and that was the beginning of a conversation,” says Guthmiller. “That’s how I managed to make all my friends in Dallas and let people know that I’m an artist. It’s fun and lighthearted but also a sort of serious introduction to me and what I like to do.”
From there Guthmiller has built a sort of tiny zine empire, starting his own publishing platform for local artists, including the Observer’s own Lauren Smart. Guthmiller now publishes zines for twelve artists, and has started reaching out into the broader, global zine community to help bring them exposure. At present, zines from Guthmiller’s publishing “company” are sold in art houses and galleries in Los Angeles, Austin, Houston, and Chicago.
But mostly, Guthmiller wanted to look inward, and start building a local community around zines, which is where he got the idea for the Dallas Zine Party. The inaugural party, a “celebration of zines and micro-publications,” will be hosted at The Wild Detectives in September. Applications to table and sell zines at the Dallas Zine Party close on July 5th, and at present, Guthmiller has seen a larger response from the arts community in Dallas and beyond than he ever expected.
I figured I’d have a handful of people, but so far I have over 20 people apply to be a part of Dallas Zine Party,” he says. And it isn’t just Dallas artists who are interested — people from Austin, Houston, El Paso, and even Southern California have applied to be a part of the event, the first-ever of its kind. “It’s much bigger than I was anticipating,” says Guthmiller, “But several people in Dallas who are really excited about debuting new zines.”
Creators of zines of all kinds can apply to be part of the Dallas Zine Party, where they can set up a table and sell (or give away) their publications and other merchandise. Of course, the underground nature of zines makes it difficult to say who will be distributing what kind of publications at this inaugural event, but if recent developments are any indication, this could be the kick-start that Dallas needs to build a community around the diverse world of zines.
To that end, Guthmiller is bringing in collaborators. In an upcoming project with the Dallas Public Library, the Dallas Zine Party will host a panel discussion on zines, along with a workshop that will give attendees hands-on experience in making them. The Dallas Public Library’s Central Branch will also be home to a forthcoming zine library, the city’s first-ever. At present, plans for the zine library only include publications from Guthmiller’s press, but he’s in the process of reaching out to other creators of zines in the city to include their work.
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And there are a few that already exist. Richland College art professor Dwayne Carter has been making zines since at least 1998. The latest, a photo novella entitled Madness, explores what it would be like to navigate Dallas in a post-apocalyptic world. “I’m sort of a lone wolf,” says Carter, “but there is a network out there, it’s just not mainstream.” Carter’s zines can be found at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary and Keith’s Comics, which plays home to a variety of independently drawn comic books and visual zines.
“People say printing is dying, but I’ve gained a new appreciation of print and objects. The more you do in the virtual world, the more you crave the physical,” says Carter. “I think when we go somewhere, you like to pick stuff up and keep it in your hands for a while, even if you discard it later.” He’s sure that there are other people out there who feel the same way, and he’s started to reach out and find them.
Still, Dallas’ zine scene needs more diversity, more perspectives from people of all races, gender identities, and economic status, something that up-and-coming, if erratic, publications like THRWD are already doing a lot of. It needs more poetry, more photography and graphic art, more content that (for whatever reason) just doesn’t fit in with traditional media outlets. Even if there are some growing pains along the way — not every zine is going to be great, or even good — there is always benefit in adding more voices and more art to the conversation.
If we want to grow a scene that is robust and encouraging of new, up-and-coming voices, we’re all going to have to participate. If you’ve been kicking around the idea of a zine or want to do some creative work with creative people, go ahead and apply to table at the Dallas Zine Party before applications close on July 25th. You’ll have to be proactive and put together a zine between now and September, but the payoff is that you’re helping grow a scene that could bring some much-needed diversity to Dallas’ cultural landscape.