McGill’s creative students are building a niche community focused on zines, small, low-circulation publications. Historically used as a tool for marginalized groups to post content, zines harbor a dialogue that does not match mainstream rhetoric. Today, groups of university students use fanzines to discuss relevant social and political issues.
On the McGill campus, students used zines to start alternative conversations. For example, F MOT Montreal is a biannual publication that was launched in the winter of 2014 by a group of like-minded McGill students frustrated by the lack of feminist publications on campus. Judy Huang, U3 Science and Immunology, has been part of the collective since 2015 and believes that a tight-knit community is at the heart of zine culture.
“[The] the heart of zine making is the community itself, ”said Huang. “[Zines] are often more specialized than literary magazines or scientific journals […which] makes [them] a very good platform to connect students with each other […] to find other people who are interested in the same things.
While the collective accepts members from all over Montreal, the WORD F community is mainly made up of McGill undergraduates. The post features original visual and written content that deals with feminism and hosts launch parties for like-minded people across town.
“As a collective, we also organize events to celebrate and promote our zines,” Huang said. “We usually try to feature other artists, poets, musicians from Montreal and more.”
But Word F is a place of largely feminist content, for many student associations, zines are a way to raise awareness of their unique mandate. McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (MORSL), which aims to promote religious literacy on campus, has been publishing its own zine for 18 years. With five payments per year, Based collects student poetry, short fiction films, visual arts and photography, all on the theme of religious literacy.
“As Based is specifically named by MORSL as McGill’s student spirituality magazine, we act as a medium for McGill’s creative body ”, Based editor Mackenzie Roop, U4 Arts, said. “In this way, Radix is really serving a niche community. ”
Roop aims Based to be a space where students can express their spiritual needs and conflicts. She believes fanzines are particularly well suited for this purpose, as fanzine makers work outside traditional publishing channels, allowing more freedom in content and style.
“It feels good to be able to have space for thoughts that seem to have no direct application. [and] recognize and work on inner perceptions and beliefs in one’s life, which are separate and therefore often considered “less important” than professional or educational pursuit. It is a fairly magical and special safe space where all beliefs come to life, as a process of life and breathing, but also as a physical reality.
While all Basednumbers dating back to 2000 are digitally accessible on the MORSL websiteRoop believes that the physical nature of zines plays a role in their popularity.
“The translation of invisible mental and emotional processes, God, [and] the mind,[into the] physical was [at] at the forefront of human activity for millennia, ”said Roop. “A zine is the very essence of this [translation]. ”
Roop’s broad definition is useful in that it puts the finger on the expressive freedom of the medium. But because some zines are produced on a larger scale than others, the term “zine” can be an elusive classification. Zoe Shaw, U3 Arts, is editor of VEG, one of the creative writing fanzines run by McGill students. She thinks the label comes with some flexibility.
“I’m not entirely sure what we would consider a zine,” Shaw said. “When I think of zines, I think of little hand-bound chapbooks, but of course that can mean something else. To me, a zine is really what you make of it.
VEG, founded by McGill students 14 years ago, is based in McGill’s English Department and publishes student contributor prose and poetry alongside the visual arts. The current team has been working to make their issues smaller and more portable, which Shaw hopes makes the content accessible.
“One of our favorite things to do when releasing a new issue is to leave it everywhere,” Shaw said. “In the English department, we have all these debates on the materiality of texts. But it’s really fun to be able to read poems in a [small book] you can take out of your jacket pocket or [from] between the pages of your calendar.
VEG is primarily based at McGill […] but tries to foster connections outside of McGill and encourages Montreal alumni to stay involved.
“The founders really wanted a place for young readers and writers to access the artistic work of the community in and around McGill,” said Shaw. “We had a McGill [alumnus] who is in a graduate program at UM helps because he was in the neighborhood. VEG is truly a community open to anyone who understands and can keep up with our schedule.
As VEG is open for submissions from around the world, the zine featured contributors from cities such as Toronto and Las Vegas. Shaw remembers a great experience communicating with an artist based outside of Montreal.
“The contributor was involved with Toronto’s creative scene, but was able to attend the launch and perform,” Shaw said. “It was this pure moment of exchange between the communities.”
the English Department Student Association (DESA) recognized how zines bring people together by organizing a fanzine fair on campus earlier this semester. The student association elects a VP Journals & Affiliates each year, who works to strengthen the links between the English department and local literary publications.
Sylvie Schwartz, U3 Arts, is the outgoing vice-president of DESA journals. Although she works primarily with academic journals, Schwartz believes that self-publishing is a crucial avenue for college students.
“I think self-publishing is primarily important because it showcases student work,” Schwartz said. “Especially at McGill, [which doesn’t have] a fine arts or creative writing program, self-published journals and other related organizations are the primary resources for students to showcase their creative output.
To discover new fanzines, McGill students can visit the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) -McGill on the corner of University and Pines, which maintains an extensive zine library. However, the zine culture extends far beyond the Roddick doors. Since 2002, Montreal has welcomed EXPOZINE, the largest annual comics, small press and zine show in Canada. With providers sharing content produced in English and French, EXPOZINE has played a vital role in creating a space in the Montreal community to showcase the alternative edition. Another downtown resource is ARTEXT, a library, a research center and an exhibition collective which held a fanzine-making workshop at McGill in January 2018.
The burgeoning zine community talks about the limits of traditional ways of publishing. For students with dense programs, reading and making zines can be a unique source of comfort.
“The low distribution of zines makes it easy for a person to put everything [themself] there and express a degree of emotional vulnerability, ”Huang said. “It really gives a smoother reading experience. “
For Shaw, reading zines on his way to campus rekindled his interest in creative writing.
“I spend three hours a day commuting by public transport [and] it’s hard to bring out my Norton Anthology of Shakespeare in the subway, ”Shaw said. “I took some of the zines that were lying around my house and started reading them. [As] this is my last semester, it was really nice having little poetry snippets, fiction short films and essays while i was standing in the subway. It refreshes my mind and reminds me why I read poetry.
As Finals season rears its ugly head, and MyCourses textbooks and tabs grow in number, quiet reading can seem like a distant memory and creative pursuits a long forgotten chimera. Taking a zine can remind us that reading and writing don’t need to be programmatically dictated, rigorously edited, and caffeinated – there is a whole community of zine makers and readers out there. proof even.