Everett Rand was living in a tiny cabin in the woods of rural vermont with no running water and no electricity, manually cutting and pasting drawings, comics and poems into his first attempts at a handmade zine. Sixteen years later, having survived the rise of the Internet, Mineshaft is thriving, with a circulation of 1,500 and regular contributions from big-name illustrators such as Robert Crumb, Pat Moriarity and Christoph Mueller.
Mineshaft is a success story, but its origins are standard when it comes to zines: Start with nothing, employ passion and produce something you love.
Rand is the sort of creator you'll find at Zine Machine, a free festival for printed matter where you can browse and buy from more than 60 zine-makers, comics artists and indie authors from around the country.
The festival is the brainchild of Bill Brown, a documentary filmmaker and author of the zine Dream Whip; Bill Fick, a printmaker who runs Supergraphic studio; and Rand. All three live in Durham; Brown and Fick teach at Duke. It's co-sponsored by Duke's Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, which has a collection of more than 5,000 zines by women and girls, some of which will be on display.
Last July, the Bingham Center hosted the Zine Librarians unConference, held annually in different cities, which drew about 30 zine librarians from all over the country to attend educational sessions, plan outreach and give public readings. So why another zine festival so soon?
"The Zine Machine fest will be more for creators to sell their work and network with other artists and writers," says Bingham Center librarian Kelly Wooten. "I hope it will draw attention to the vibrancy of the local and regional art community and remind people that print culture is still vital."
The festival took root when Supergraphic hosted the Durham Indie Comics Expo in 2013, an event that was meant to become annual, but fizzled. Fick and Rand wanted to try again, opening the doors to more than just comics artists. Meanwhile, Fick and Brown had applied for a North Carolina Arts Council grant to fund a mobile zine-making truck—a "zine machine." The grant fell through, but the name stuck around.
"It's a great opportunity for people to come together and do something real and authentic," Rand says. "Whatever the destiny of the Zine Machine Fest is, the reaction we've had so far is incredible."
Zines enjoyed counterculture prominence in the 1980s and '90s as a handmade form of self-expression—an alternative to commercial magazines. With writing, art, comics, photography, photocopies or any combination thereof, zines created a space for unknown artists and writers to make themselves heard.
"There was this golden moment before the Internet happened when the P.O. box was such a magical thing, and mail was such a magical means of community," says Brown, who founded Dream Whip in 1993 in a small town in West Texas. "There was this sense of cultural isolation out there, and zines were a way to communicate with the bigger world."
Blogs have threatened to fill that niche. A web-savvy generation has countless ways to connect with the world, yet some are looking for an alternative—maybe something more fulfilling, something that won't disappear in an infinitely moving timeline of ephemeral likes, favorites and reblogs. Zines' renaissance in recent years might owe something to '90s nostalgia, but also to a backlash against the abstraction of the Internet. The words "real" and "authentic" keep surfacing in conversations about zines.
"There's a reawakened interest," Brown says. "Printed matter is such a different thing from the Internet—it's tactile, you can hold it, there's a culture attached to it that's offline. After a decade of being online, there's an excitement about being offline, with real stuff."
"I'm amazed to see all of the people who are making zines today," Rand says. "When I started Mineshaft, there was no interest, there was no money. I just did it because I wanted to, and I think that's what a lot of people are doing now."
Zines' content ranges widely. What all zinesters seem to have in common, however, is a desire for something personal.
"Someone writes you a letter with a couple of stamps, and you send them this thing you made at home—it's hands-on, you've touched it, you put all this effort in," says Trace Ramsey, a Durham resident who's been writing the autobiographical zine Quitter since 2005. "I'm not really a big talker, but I can put a loss into words [on paper], and I hope it will resonate with other people who have had similar loss." He will display Quitter at the festival, as well as a bird-themed zine made by his young daughter, which, he says, has sold more copies than his own.
"There's a power in something that's hand-held," says Tristin Miller, who has been collecting zines since 2005. Her own, Finding a Place and Trusting it for a While, collects small drawings of what she calls "repetitive mark-making." Every morning, she makes a new one and puts it on her refrigerator "almost as a ritual." Though she's formally trained as an artist, the low-tech culture appeals to her.
"Making a zine is something you can do yourself, and you can be empowered in that," she says. "It's also a space where you can be very vulnerable and talk about things you wouldn't normally talk about."
Illustrator Christoph Mueller took seven years to teach himself hand-lettering, and he designed the poster for the Zine Machine Festival. "Putting the work and the labor into it is important to me," he says. "Maybe I foolishly assume it gives more worth or soul to the work, but the work is much more personal that way."
Mueller, who lives in Germany, has been contributing his intricate drawings to Mineshaft since 2007. He has never met Rand or the other contributors, and says he's looking forward to finally meeting them. "[The festival] is a great chance to explore this whole world," Mueller says. "It's a great way to learn what people are passionate about."
Brown, Fick and Rand hope that people in the Triangle will also be eager to explore this world. They created the festival, in part, to showcase work, but mainly to recapture the sense of more intimate connection that gave Brown solace in his small-town youth.
"I still can't bear to close down my P.O. box, because it was such a gateway to the larger world," he says. "It's so cool now that zines are having another blooming."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Page against the machine."