Thursday, 12 September 2019

Freedom Hi!

Just last month I launched the zine collection at Tate. After 5 years of collecting and cataloguing zines, we were finally able to bring zines out of the artists' books collection and treat them as zines. The launch was a way of celebrating the work this has taken over the last 5 years with a display of some of the zines collected and a talk by the amazing Soofiya. But it was also a way to think about the future ethics and responsibilities of the library's engagement with zines and diy culture, making sure we don't treat zines as just art objects which Look Nice, but as living breathing documents representing radical ideas, art, and people.

Photos by Sam Day

Around the time of the launch I was contacted by Beatrix Pang, member of Zine Coop, one of the zine groups we met while in Hong Kong where I was beyond lucky to be part of a zine residency with Nicola Cook and Loesja Vigour and Asia Art Archive. During this visit we met with activists, artists, zine makers, and librarians, discussing zines as more than art objects, but as vital tools of activism. 

 Zine Coop were reaching out to international zinesters, librarians, galleries, and organisations to create a space and to lift the voices of Hong Kongers involved in the anti-extradition bill protest movement. Zine Coop had created and collected zines and printed works from the protest movement, sharing encouragement, and messages of hope, as well as information and resources for organising protests, and remedies for  tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Nicola and I were keen to make a space for these zines in the library and Zine Coop have generously shared so many of these zines and resources with us. Today we are launching a temporary display in the library reading rooms highlighing these zines, and encouraging visitors to read and engage and use the zines. This display showcases some of the zines originally exhibited in the exhibition Freedom Hi! Zines from Hong Kong's Civil Movements in Vancouver, Canada in July 2019 co-organise by Hotam Press and Zine Coop.

Zines are Power window installation by artist Soofiya

The zines are incredibly powerful and it's amazing to see that these vital publications have been compiled, made, and shared so quickly. They range from powerful photozines, sharing images of protests, injuries sustained by police, and vital resources for protesters, as well as personal experiences from Hong Kong, illustrated diagrams for counteracting tear gas, and principles to unite under. The front cover of Stand with Hong Kong published by 6am Press states: No breaking off, no blaming, no snitching, don't get hurt, don't get arrested, stay together, no one gets left behind.

One of my main worries when we started the zine collection was the barriers in place within the library where zines were held in special collections, requiring identification and a booked appointment to see them. So it was brilliant that we were able to work with Zine Coop to make sure that the zines they sent us weren't limited or restricted in anyway. Copies of the zines are on display in a vitrine outside the library, but multiple copes of all the zines are also available for anyone to read, touch, and handle inside the reading rooms with no restrictions at all.

These zines are on display at Tate Britain Reading Rooms until Monday 7th October. The zines will then enter the library's zine collections permanently for anyone to access in future.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

This is fake diy

My new zine This is Fake DIY is out now

This is fake diy is a longer and updated version of essays I've previously posted on this blog.  Its full of my thoughts and feelings on zines and DIY culture, what happens when brands and organisations use zines as a quick diversity fix or some punk points, my own conflicting views on zine librarianship, and what happens when DIY methods of creating and building communities are coopted as just an aesthetic. 

This is fake day is available via my zine shop here

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Blinded by the light

For my birthday yesterday I ate so many pancakes and went for dim sum and generally had a Nice Time, and the icing on my very big birthday cake was that the powers that be decided to release Blinded by the Light on my birthday week, so thanks for that.  

I read Sarfraz Manzoor's Springsteen-themed memoir Greetings from Bury Park: race, religion, and rock n roll a few years ago and was excited for a film adaptation that I was clearly going to love from the outset.

Lets be clear, I enjoy most Springsteen related content. It doesn't even have to be good. But there is a very special place in my heart for any Springsteen related writing, art, and media which subverts the idea that Springsteen is for straight white men. Love it. Can't get enough of it. Keep it coming because (like one of my all time favourite Bruce Springsteen zines said) the boss belongs to us. Meaning Bruce Springsteen can mean anything you want him to mean. Fuck critically acclaimed album lists and Serious Music Journalism, ignore preconceived ideas, and what people *think* Springsteen is about, you can make him mean anything you like. 

I've been doing this myself for nearly 10 years now. Back in 2010 I started the Me and Bruce zine series, exploring the roots of my own Springsteen fandom. During that time I've created zines which document Springsteen as a queer hero, Springsteen as the butch lesbian of my dreams, Springsteen as a father figure, Springsteen as a mythical hero, Springsteen songs as anthems of queer lonliness, Springsteen as my go-to record to help me cope with a breakup of my relationship, even Springsteen as a version of Batman. I've made zines and comics and art and given talks about the millions of ways that I have appropriated Springsteen for just me. 

Page from Queers on the Edge of Town zine

And so I love it that I'm not the only one. That there are so many of us out there using Springsteen for our own self-serving philosophy, using him as a reason to get out of bed, as a coping mechanism, as a symbol of strength, and making lyrics and ideas fit whatever we need that particular day.

Postcards from Queers on the Edge of Town zine

Blinded by the Light was schmaltzy as hell. It was cheesey, and cringey, and so earnest that it hurt. It physically pained me to see Javed recite lyrics from Badlands to counteract the racist bullies who forced him and his pal Roops to move tables in a cafe. I died inside when Javed recited lines from Prove it All Night before kissing Eliza. And I wanted the ground to swallow me up as Javed recited lyrics from Born to Run to his synth-loving pal Matt. It hurt because I think I've done similar things before and I want to take this moment to apologise to everyone in my life: I'm so sorry if I've ever quoted that amount of Springsteen in conversation to you before. I know I have and I know I will do it again and I'm sorry about it.

Compare and contrast - still from the film with emo lyrics swirling around Javed's head and an extract from Me and Bruce #1 where emo lyrics swirl around my head on a daily basis. 

And those scenes are supposed to hurt and feel awkward because Javed is earnest as fuck. Aren't all poetry writing teenagers who feel trapped in small towns and have romanticised a popstar as a metaphor for their pain? I'm supposed to cringe and feel that in my gut, but it also makes me want to punch the air and nod my head and join in.

Here's a little fact about me: I have never not cried during any rendition whatsoever of Thunder Road. Which is an impressive feat as it's a well known song and I play it a lot, you think I'd be desensitised to it by now but I'm really not. There is a very specific part of Thunder Road which makes me cry which will take another essay to explain so I won't but bottom line is it gets me every time. And so the market stall musical scene was no exception. It didn't even need to try and tug on my very loose heartstrings but it went for it anyway. 

The film seemed intent on trying its best to make me sob, and it worked because it kept throwing super emotional lyrics that up until now were lyrics that I had used privately to represent something relating specifically to me, but now I was seeing them literally plastered on the screen to represent someone elses pain. Yes it was schmaltzy to hell and back, but it also left me feeling exposed.

And while I'm comparing the fictional depiction of fandom on the screen with my own then I just want to add that the montage sequence of Javed and Roops roaming round New Jeresey on a Springsteen pilgrimage mirrored my own New Jersey Pilgrimage from a few years ago where I stood and posed for photos in those exact same spots and I love knowing other Springsteen fans have done the same.

I have some questions though. How come after only listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born in the USA albums was Javed able to quote songs from the Born to Run album the very next day?

Why did Jungleland cut off at the end of the final verse rather than letting Springsteens gutteral animalistic howls play out over the remainder of that National Front scene? Did they not want an Oscar for best use of a Springsteen howl?

And lastly, and most importantly, why wasn't this queer you cowards? I know it's based on the very real memoirs of Manzoor's Greetings from Bury Park, but there is a LOT of artistic licensing already in that film, it wouldn't have hurt anyone to make it queer. Javed's relationships with both Matt and Roops were touching and beautiful and heartfelt. And yes it's lovely to see boyhood platonic friendships play out on the screen I'm also itching for some teen queer romance because Springsteen's songs are just begging to be used for that to be honest.

Backstreets comic from Queers on the Edge of Town zine

Those feel-good films set against a backdrop of bleak Britain are a subgenre I weirdly love. This film is as much a realistic portrayal of 80s racism in Thatchers Britain in the same way that Billy Elliot is a hard hitting documentary about life during the miners strike, but it's not really aiming for that so it's ok. This film is designed to make you feel things and buy the Springsteen greatest hits at the end of the day and I'm ok with that.

It did make me feel things, and I fully admit that all the schmaltz got to me and made me tear up. However I wasn't prepare for how absolutely floored I would feel when Prove it all Night came on during the film. It was my friend Anita's favourite Bruce Springsteen song and I can't hear it without thinking of her. She passed away before the film came out and all I wanted to do when I got back home from the cinema last night was message her to chat about the film but I couldn't. Maybe I'll save that for my next Me and Bruce zine.

You can get my Me and Bruce zine series, prints, and postcards here: 

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Queer Zine Library

When I came back from my zine residency with Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong, my heart was full to bursting and I was inspired about zines and activism and diy zine spaces. I work with zines as part of my day job - in fact I'm just getting ready to launch the official zine collection at Tate library and you should come! - but I also want a connection to something that is truly diy in a way that institutional libraries can never be.

Meeting with Beatrix from Small Tune Press and Zine Coop, and visiting the current home of Queer Reads Library

While in Hong Kong I had the privilege to engage with Queer Reads Library, a mobile queer library taking up space in museums, studios, book fairs, and other public spaces, to share queer publications. The collection and it's founders transport the roving queer library across locations to promote queer publishing and zines and organise workshops to encourage people to publish their own works and think about the importance of queer publishing.

I am a million percent inspired by the work of Queer Reads Library and made a pact to start something similar when I got back. The way the library moves and travels and takes on new identities is something I was really excited by. I'm lsoa massively inspired by all the incredible zine librarians I am fortunate to know as part of the UK and Ireland Zine Librarians group. I've learned so much about diy zine librarianship from the UIZL network and it can be frustrating at times knowing that some of this librarianship just can't be implemented at the institutional library where I work.

And so I'm taking all this energy and inspiration and beginning the Queer Zine Library project. At the moment this is a small collection of 250+ queer zines operating as a roaming library at pop-up events, exhibitions, and workshops. I'd like to connect with other queer zine librarians to enable to the collection to travel and tour, and I'd like to work collectively with others to build and catalogue the collection.

The Queer Zine Library had it's first outing yesterday to kick off Pride weekend at Gunnersbury pride event, and we have some more pop-up events and workshops coming this Summer. There will be more news to come, lots of ways to get involved, and so much cataloguing to do!

Find out more here:

Friday, 14 June 2019

Glasgow Zine Library

The wonderful collective behind one of my fave zine fairs Glasgow Zine Fest, are also the one and the same team who run Glasgow Zine Library, and they need your help in securing a permanent home for their collections.

I love zine libraries. I'm a zine librarian myself and I also co-founded the UK and Ireland Zine Librarians group. Zines libraries, particularly diy run zine libraries are such a vital way of preserving and sharing invisible histories and communities and knowledge. Zine libraries also encourage readers to become makers. I think just visiting a zine library is powerful and often has a deeper impact in inspiring people to make their own zines more successfully than a zine workshop ever can.

Zine libraries which aren't affiliated with universities and galleries are faced with more challenges. They don't have secured spaces or funding but they do have a more genuine connection with DIY zine communities.

So when a zine library loses it's temporary space it's positive to see the diy zine community rallying round to help crowdfund for a new permanent home. The precarious nature of diy venues is something I'm sure we can all relate to. Glasgow Zine Library are not only crowdfunding for a space for their zine collection but a space to hold workshops and other public events as well as provide community print facilities.

I contributed to the Glasgow Zine Library crowdfund video and chatted about the importance of zine libraries here:

You can donate to the zine library crowdfunder here:

Art by the incredible Saffa Khan

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Oh my zine

Oh My Zine exhibition opens today at The Bowery in Leeds and if all you want from an exhibition of zines is overly earnest queer Springsteen obsessions then buckle up.

The exhibition celebrates zines and diy publications and features zines by 105 Women Press, Ben Cooney, Bobbi Rae Gastall, Chella Quint, Lauren Pascal, Okocha Obasi, Patrick Wray.

You can find extracts from my zine Me and Bruce: Queers on the Edge of Town displayed as part of the exhibition. Here's a little trailer of me making the zine from last year

In the zine I talk about small town teenage loneliness as the ultimate queer experience in Springsteen songs, I imagine Bruce as the hot queer butch girl of my dreams, and I massively appropriate lyrics from songs to be about my doomed queer teen romance. Who doesn't love turning lyrics about unrequited love and intense co-dependent friendships into a sad queer love story?

In the exhibition you can find panels from my comic interpretation of Backstreets, a Springsteen song about overly complicated friendships and hiding feelings and keeping things on the downlow and then everything feeling like total shit.

And you can also find prints of Springsteen illustrations which didn't make it into the zine but did become postcards instead:

Prints and zines are available to buy in the shop. The exhibition is on from 18th - 21st June.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Asia Art Archive residency

This year marks my 20th year of making zines. I started making zines in 1999 as a way to connect with people. Quite simply I had no friends. I was a lonely teenage queer in a small town and in lieu of what the internet would later become, zines were a physical and tangible presence which arrived through my letter box. They were a dispatch from out there which said 'you're going to be ok, there are more people like you, you aren't alone.' I'm not being dramatic when I say zines very much saved and changed my life.
'Theres something happening somewhere...' taken from Me and Bruce #4: Queers on the Edge of Town zine.
Cut to now and I've just returned from a week long residency in Hong Kong with Asia Art Archive. I was there along with the wonderful Nicola Cook and Loesja Vigour repping the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group as well as the libraries we both work at as part of our day jobs which include zine collections.

Asia Art Archive

When I started making zines 20 years ago I could have never predicted the ways zines would continue to change my life and the communities they would connect me with.

Loesja, Nicola and I with just some of the artists, activists, and librarians we met.
Nicola, Loesja, and I were invited on this residency to share ideas, resources, and knowledge around zine libraries and to connect with the Hong Kong diy zine scene. Nicola and Loesja established the zine collection at Wellcome Library, and I co-founded the zine collection at Iniva's Stuart Hall Library with Sonia Hope. I also established the zine collection at Tate Library as well as co-founding the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group with fellow zine librarian Leila Kassir. Despite all that plus 20 years of making zines, imposter syndrome was high.

Discussing the accessibility of zines as part of the public talk at Asia Art Archive
A full report of the residency will be coming on the UK and Ireland Zine libraries blog, and of course there will be a zine to follow (there's always a zine). But for now I want to just make a note of my immediate take aways from this whole experience.

Meeting with Beatrix from Small Tune Press and Zine Coop, and visiting the current home of Queer Reads Library.

My main take away is what a total privilege it is to be able to sit and think and chat about zine libraries and diy culture for a whole week. In the institutions where we work, the zine collections are low on the list of priorities. Zines make up just 0.1% of the overall library where I work so they aren't prioritised, and as staff and resources are limited, it's easy for other aspects of the collection to steal focus. But to have a week where zines are the main focus, where we take the time to consider ethical practices around collections and cataloguing is honestly such a dream.

Zine fair programme published by Hong Kong Open Printshop
It made me think about the responsibilities of institutional libraries and organisations. As both a zinester and a zine librarian, my thoughts can be quite contradictory. I'm often cynical of large galleries, museums, and universities engaging with zine culture. Is it a quick and cheap way to tick a diversity box? Is it a quick attempt to reach a youth demographic? Is it a style and aesthetic which can be used then thrown away? And I mean quite literally thrown away - I mentioned in a previous blog post that after one particularly inspiring and creative zine making workshop I hosted for a large UK art organisation last year I saw the results of that workshop collected and thrown in the bin  by a curator, despite attendees being told that their zines would be collected and added to the collections. What is the legacy of these events? Zines may be low cost and ephemeral but their content and reason for existing matters. Art organisations, museums, and universities have a responsibility when collecting zines. Zinesters shouldn't feel privileged that their zines are collected by museums and galleries, in fact those institutions should recognise what a total privilege it is for those zines to be used or collected in their organisations in the first place.

Page from a zine published during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. This zine maps the spaces occupied by activists.

During my residency I met so many artists, activists, zine makers, and librarians, all genuinely connecting with each other. 'Authenticity' became the watchword. Do organisations working with zines interact and engage with diy culture in an authentic way? Are institutions making efforts to develop and nurture zinesters and zine culture? Similarly do art organisations know when to back off and let diy culture evolve on its own? What do zine artists get out of this deal other than the privilege of an organisation putting a spotlight on their work? Do organisations put their money where their mouth is? Do they not only pay zine artists but do they promote zine distros, zine fairs, and spaces for the public to purchase zines?

Do organisations treat zines as art objects? Are they used in displays and exhibitions to showcase a particular style or aesthetic, or is the value of their content truly appreciated? Other than when art organisations have asked me to for the sake of their press release, I really don't call myself a zine artist, I call myself a zinester or a zine maker. I do this because my zines aren't art objects. Sometimes there is a visual element to them, sometimes they are illustrated, sometimes they feature collage, but sometimes they just contain nothing but plain text and that's just as valid as the zines which Look Nice.

Panel discussion on zines at Asia Art Archive

What struck me from my residency was that these conversations are already in full swing and that activists and artists in Hong Kong connect with each other and forge ways for their materials to be shared and collected. That's not to say these conversations aren't happening in the UK and Ireland as well because they are, and as zine librarians we need to do better at joining in these conversations with zine makers. Although admittedly it's difficult, and a common theme from the week's residency is sharing with each other how stretched our time, staff, resources are, and how burnout in the library sector is real.

Zine collection at Asia Art Archive
It was thought provoking and inspiring to see the ways that Asia Art Archive work with zine communities and nurture diy culture, and provide a place for authentic activism to be documented and preserved while also taking an active role in connecting diy artists and activists with each other.

There is honestly just SO MUCH to say after this week and an in-depth report is coming soon. We'll be posting a full report over on the UIZL blog, we have a zine in the works, and we'll be sharing our findings at the next UIZL meetup this summer. But for now my head and heart is full of zines, and I'm just very thankful to everyone at Asia Art Archive and all the artists, activists, and librarians who were incredibly kind and gracious with their time. Especially AAA Collection Manager Elaine Lin who made this whole dream possible.

It also made me realise that I talk about zine libraries a LOT but honestly I haven't made a zine in a hot minute and I kind of want to do that now.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Glasgow zine cataloguing workshop

I'm also hosting a zine cataloguing workshop on the Sunday as part of the zine fest. I'll be repping the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group (UIZL) as part of a bigger project.

At our last UIZL meeting we discussed the idea of creating an accessible and collaborative toolkit for anyone working with zine collections either in institutional libraries or diy community run spaces to share advice on how to collect and catalogue material. Over the last few months I've been involved in hosting zine cataloguing workshops aimed at librarians, but this is a workshop aimed at zine makers and zine readers.

The idea of the workshop is to talk about some of the ethical implications of libraries and archives collecting zines, and prioritising the concerns of the diy zine community. All zinesters and zine readers are welcome. I'm hoping to share some ideas about cataloguing and ask the zine community to reflect on how they might feel about having their work collected in libraries, and think about ways zinesters can impact on the ways libraries and archives catalogue their work. Zine librarianship has to be diy led rather than library led, and this workshop will be a good opportunity to gaugue feedback from zinesters and to hopefully provide ways for zinesters to become involved.

Attendees will have the opportunity to collaborate on a zine during the workshop which will then be presented to the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group to inform their cataloguing work later this summer.

Tickets are on a sliding scale and can be booked here: