Look at any contemporary zine today, and it’s easy to forget the DIY publication’s humble origins in the 1930s among sci-fi fandoms and, later, the punk scenes of the ’70s and ’80s. Those zines often shared carnal, controversial takes on anarchy, social justice, and activist movements. Today’s zines still often touch on some of those topics, but technological advances have made them much more polished and expansive in scope.
Claudia Maria, 26, a librarian at New York City’s Barnard Zine Library and former special collections assistant for Miami-Dade County Public Libraries, says the traditionally intimate, raw essence of a zine makes it incomparable to other art mediums.
“It feels really private, like the classic thing you’d read in someone’s diary,” Maria tells New Times. “There’s a sort of trust that I felt in reading where I feel like: I know you, but I’ve never known you.”
But they feel that sort of intimacy and individuality has faded within Miami’s alternative print community.
“I feel like a lot of zines coming out of Miami in the last five years are a little more polished, or certainly higher-end,” Maria says. “It’s like you’re making a zine because eventually you want to publish a book, instead of doing it for the sake of making independent work.”
“It feels really private, like the classic thing you’d read in someone’s diary.”
What started as a hobby for Maria and other zinesters has transformed into a business for Miami-based zine and book shop Dale Zine.
Dale Zine founders Steve Saiz, 36, and Lillian Banderas, 37, opened their third storefront in Little River on January 21, selling books, zines, prints, and merchandise crafted by independent publishers and artists. (That’s Dale, pronounced DAH-leh, as in ¡ándale!)
“It’s a lot of people that don’t have a platform, especially in Miami — it’s such a vacuum,” Saiz says. “We extend the platform to anybody that often would go unheard or ignored.”
Before the shop, in 2009, Saiz started to publish issues of Dale, which were shared and traded among other artists in the scene.
“Zines are supposed to be spread out, whatever your budget is,” Banderas puts in. “I saw photographers and artists I was really into making a format that was really accessible through a zine.”
Local Miami artist Nain Cruz, 19, documents street fashion through printed photographs and collages. His passion project eventually developed into an independent multimedia and print magazine, Project Foreword.
“I personally love the organicness of a print. Sure, it might cost a lot to make, but I’m not going to charge loads of money for something I made for my own pleasure,” Cruz says. “Of course, there’s space for that kind of high-end art in Miami, but then are you doing it for you or for other people?”
Cruz feels these standards could restrict access to those with limited resources or transportation.
“It feels really private, like the classic thing you’d read in someone’s diary.”
“At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about profit,” he says. “It should be about creating great works of art that will influence other people, something that your average Joe could afford, and not just your fancy curator collector guy.”
With less time to practice his craft, Cruz balances his studies at Miami Dade College and a 9-to-5 at Bath & Body Works — all to survive in one of the most expensive U.S. cities to live in, he emphasizes.
“Yo, it’s hard. We live in Miami. That’s a solid five hours of somebody’s life just to afford a zine or print,” Cruz says. “Us artists, we’re eating off nothing. We’re getting paid minimum wage.”
This realization prompted him to step out of Project Foreword last year when he felt he’d lost touch with his individuality as an artist.
“It becomes corporate and cookie-cutter,” Cruz explains. “Your brain is a muscle, so the second it becomes constrained in this box of business, it sucks a lot. The stress of meeting expectations for the job subconsciously pours into all your work.”
It might even raise competition among zinesters — the community Maria once expected to welcome a humble camaraderie.
“I’ve been to zine fairs in Miami, tabling stuff that I’ve made, and there’s sort of a barter economy within zine and trade scenes,” Maria says. “But sometimes it feels a little bit like a class signifier — like something is very well printed and perfectly bound. I feel like I have to give one of everything I’ve made for just one of theirs. It becomes an uneven trade.”
Traditionally, zines were exchanged through art fairs, film sales, and vinyl records, which allowed for quick, inexpensive transactions of the art — sometimes even in the form of propaganda.
“This creates a sort of distribution system where people can get in touch with people who are publishing similar works,” Maria adds. “That’s just how you would get information. When you’d mail your CD or tape, for example, you might include zines with that too.”
Risograph, a duplicator developed in Japan in the 1950s, has made a comeback among artists and indie publishers looking to mass-produce zines. Printing on a risograph is often cheaper than photocopying. But the growing divergence between handmade zines and professional, mass printmaking has some asking: What really is a zine?
Luna Goldberg, 27, education manager of the Wolfsonian-FIU, leads the museum’s K-12 programs, including Zines for Progress and STEAM Zines, which teaches zine-making at so-called Title I schools — those whose enrollment contains a large number of low-income students — in Miami-Dade County.
“We’re going back to the roots in terms of having students work on zines that are much easier to produce and circulate,” Goldberg says. “We don’t ever want our students to create something that they wouldn’t be able to necessarily replicate outside of the institution.”
Goldberg further emphasizes the need for equal access to art within her programs and among fellow zine-makers. She describes the art of zinemaking as a means of exchanging personal voices that otherwise would be silenced.
“I’ve been to zine fairs in Miami, and there’s sort of a barter economy within zine and trade scenes. But sometimes, it feels a little bit like a class signifier.”
“I think the foundation of a zine is that history to make something that’s accessible, democratic, and can be circulated,” she says. “We would do zine fairs where you could gather students who don’t know each other, coming from different neighborhoods. There was a real urgency to these.”
Zine fairs are no stranger to the Dale duo — Saiz and Banderas’ clientele initially grew through local pop-ups and an online shop. They also grew eager to advance in their own art and build a platform for others.
“I think when we’re younger, obviously, we were way more into the DIY scene, but this is just us getting a little bit older and finding a way to harbor that,” Banderas explains.
Cruz finds that the shifting culture of printmaking is essential in order to grow as an artist.
“There’s always going to be some envy of what other people are making, especially when there’s artists who might have more support or experience than you,” he says. “There needs to be those levels to bounce off in order to transform and grow.”
But Maria remains concerned that the growth of Miami’s zine sales creates a false standard for what a zine ought to be.
“People who are first being exposed to zines are going to maybe see the higher-end stuff and think you need to be popular enough to distribute them,” Maria says. “That’s not a value judgment toward artists’ books, but as it’s gotten a little bit more mainstream, you lose a little bit of the intimacy quality.”
Others thrive in zines’ shifting nature.
“It started out as pamphlets, then later punk, and it just sprawled out from there,” Saiz asserts. As for a definition, he offers, “I think it’s just a book that you make yourself.”
Goldberg agrees: The medium’s unusually loose rules might make a zine precisely whatever it is.
“I don’t think there’s a wrong way to make a zine. Their formats shift all the time,” she says. “Maybe there’s something about the ephemeral quality of not being able to exactly put your finger on it.”
Correction: The original version of this article stated that Dale Zine sold zines for as high as $50. According to Dale, art books are sometimes sold at that price but not zines.