How Zines Saved My Life

By Michele Collins

I remember the first time I picked up a zine. I had just turned 16. With my brand-new driver’s license in hand, I packed my mom’s car full of friends, and got as far away from Chatham as we could afford to go. Our destination? The nearest beacon of culture: Windsor, Ontario. I stocked up on things I couldn’t get at home: retro clothes, weird Australian music, and whatever free publications I could get my hands on.

It happened on this trip.

I came across something that changed my life forever. I found it in a red milk crate at Dr. Disc. It was two handwritten pages accompanied by stick-figure drawings. On the cover was a drawing of three washroom doors. One of the doors was marked “Fag.” Underneath the drawing was a rant about public washrooms and gender. The writing was blunt and fearless. It was Siue Moffat’s Roy Spim. I took it home. I sent her a letter. And she sent one back.

Our letter writing was more than friendship. It was a cultural exchange. I sent her mixed tapes and she sent me piles of zines. I learned about the politics of SHARPS (skinheads against racism), animal rights activists, sex trade workers and the straight edge scene. I was being connected to worlds I knew nothing about.

Zines were personal. There was something about holding a zine in my hand. I loved the direct connect between me and the zine editor. I loved how one zine led to another. How they were all interconnected. I loved how zines gave me the freedom to make my own community. Like when Gonzo, in The Muppets From Space, learned that he wasn’t the only fuzzy blue weirdo in the universe. Zines helped me realize that there was a universe of weirdoes and misfits just waiting to find each other.

I quickly got caught up in the passion of the DIY (Do It Yourself) ethic. I loved the idea that anyone could create a zine. I threw away the notion that only talented writers and artists were allowed to publish and started my own zine: The Garbeen. The whole world became a zine to me: my dad’s doodle on our phone book, diary entries, and pictures from colouring books. I spent hours in my bedroom turning tiny scraps of paper into the media I wanted to see. I created something because I needed to.

The most exciting part was how it came together. I loved convincing everyone I knew that they had something to contribute. And everyone did. Writings and artwork were liberated from under lock and key. The Garbeen became a collaboration of friends and strangers.

We had fun. We had pennames (GBA, Vonny Bratchny, Sin Tax). We got the odd submission and fan letter. We wrote our own hate mail. We developed theme issues. Our religion issue spawned real hate mail. Our lost sock issue, however, was widely received. (Several people told me that the sock they received with their issue matched one of their lone socks.) I didn’t tell my parents about my zine, because it was mine, something separate from them. My mom wondered, though, why so many of my friends kept bringing me socks.

The Garbeen gave us our first taste of activism. We published boycotts against the taxation of menstrual products. We liberated our pro-choice posters from The Garbeen and plastered them all over our Catholic high school. We felt like outlaws.

Zines continue to be a revolutionary force in my life. In 2003, I put out a zine called Family Hairloom and wrote frankly about facial hair-my facial hair. Something I had felt uncomfortable with since I was a teenager. I was afraid that one day I would wake up with a full-on Grizzly Adams-style beard. But, putting my greatest fear out into the zine world helped me learn to love my ladybeard. To celebrate, I bought myself a manly razor and some manly shaving cream. The best part about creating Family Hairloom was that it connected me to all kinds of folks who have ladybeards too.

Zines have helped me develop my identity as a feminist, as a vegetarian, as a dyke. They have taught me what it means to be fat positive and to challenge my own racism. I have learned how to be loud, to take up space, and to be proud of my body and my beliefs.

Zines have saved my life.

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3 Responses to “How Zines Saved My Life”

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