Psycholoprophets–Chicago Zine Fest Reflections

Because the arm of the Lake Forest Press with which I’m most involved is so focused on the innovative, I’m always interested to see what the lit world looks like at this very bleeding-edge moment.  (You’re welcome for that extremely gross cliche.)  I know zines have been around for quite awhile (probably longer than you might think), but the zine culture right now is blossoming in a way I find really exciting.  I love the political elements, the safe-space focus, the embrace of the quirk-tastic raunch, the free idea flow, and the encouragement of eccentricities.  And while what I affectionately call “zine-land” certainly qualifies as fringe, it both hearkens to the past and hails the arrival of the future, as far as even mainstream literature goes.  Zine-land is full psychologists and prophets.

Zines set you on Freud’s couch and trigger a kind of nostalgic collective memory.  These little booklets tap into our longings for the days when priests lovingly hand-gilded swirly lines in margins and inked in dragons around the first letter of a chapter.  Zines make us think of , say, the Book of Kells, but it also brings to mind Amish furniture,  models of cars which had their own emblems and sense of individuality, that sort of thing.  It isn’t just that these things that have the mark of a craftsman.  It’s that they were done by an individual who invested time, effort, and the work of her own hand.  Now, the semantics of this gets a little weird.  This blog post is the work of my own hand–here I am, merrily clicking away at a keyboard.  But the crafting of the zine is different.  Even the items that are simply xeroxed originals seem to have a kind of charisma imbued into the pages.  One of the zines I saw this weekend was called, “I Made This For You,” and THAT’S a guy who’s tapping into this charm of the handcrafted.

But zines look to the future, too.  I think the literary future will be defined by the inclusion of multiple types of media for a more-than-just- reading experience, and the inclusion of such delightful visual interest at every table at zine-land this weekend shows how people making zines are on this pulse of what creates interest in our modern world.  When you open a zine, you never know what you’re going to find, but it’s usually visually striking.  (Actually, this is a little hypocritical, but I felt pretty sorry for the people who simply had zines full of words.  Those words might have comprised the most beautiful, original work of fiction/poetry ever, but no one would ever know it because anyone who opens a zine and finds it full of words and nothing else usually just puts it back down.)  Zines lean forward, looking to continue the tradition of postmodern disunity and reproduction play (for instance, the girl who cut up a Victoria’s Secret catalog and used it as her zine backdrop about body image), but they add an element of the former world of handcrafting, making it something totally new.

It’s amazing how zines can both look to the past and the future this way.  They’re like the squinting modifier of the lit world, looking in two directions and ridiculed by big grammar for their non-compliance.


Dear all my Writing Center clients,

This will not work as an argument against me when I ask you to fix your squinting modifiers.



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