Art has long been used as a tool for activism — from Picasso’s anti-war “Guernica” painting, to the iconic Guerilla Girls, who were known for their anonymous feminist and anti-racism work in the art world.
The Tate, a British museum collective, says the aim of activist art is to “create art that is a form of political or social currency, actively addressing cultural power structures, rather than representing them or simply describing them.”
There is one form of social currency — or specific art medium — that comes to mind when we think of activist art: zines.
What is a zine?
Zines are self-published, non-commercial print works that are often created in small batches and developed in DIY ways. They are also easily reproduced, with a “master flat,” which is then photocopied for folding into simple pamphlets to be distributed or sold within a community.
Writer Dorothy Hastings described them perfectly in a PBS article about LGBTQ+ zine creators. “Somewhere at the intersection of the academic essay, a diary entry, a self-portrait, and a notebook doodle, exists the zine,” she writes.
The zine community is a global one, and people use them in all kinds of ways. Whether it’s to disseminate information about social movements, share resources at protests, or simply create something from two human hands, zines put the power in the printer of the creator.
Sarah Mirk, a graphic journalist, editor, and teacher in Portland, Oregon, said she’s been making zines since she was a kid, before she even knew they had a name. Now, she rides a Zine Bike and teaches zine workshops all around Portland.
“What’s cool about zines is that everyone has the power to publish their own work,” Mirk said. “You don’t need permission to get your voice out there, or convince gatekeepers that something is worth writing about. I always tell people: if you don’t like what’s in the media, make your own media.”
Here are a few of our favorite zine artists, printers, and libraries creating and curating their own media for good.
14 Zine Artists Making a Difference
Jenn Woodall is an illustrator, comics creator, and zine artist based in Toronto, Ontario. Her award-winning work often depicts queer and feminist themes, in conjunction with fantasy or adventure landscapes, often following women through time and space as they seek important truths. Her zines include titles like Magical Beatdown, Marie + Worrywart, and Seance.
Woodall’s first graphic novel “Space Trash” will be released in Summer 2022 and tells the story of three teenage girls who attend high school on the moon.
Woodall self-publishes her comics and zines and also distributes and publishes through Silver Sprocket, based in San Francisco.
Woodall is also on Patreon, sending supporters prints, zines, and comics.
Cyclista Zine is an intersectional, radical feminist zine responding to the cycling industry. Printing quarterly, the zine is focused on sharing knowledge, art, and stories of BIPOC and women, trans, femme, and non-binary folks in cycling.
Though run by zinester Christina Torres, Cyclista Zine is a collaborative zine made up of submissions, acting as a printed guide from writers and artists who submit tutorials, stories, and advice for “feminists wanting to shred the patriarchy.” Aside from zine production, Cyclista Zine also hosts events, discussions, and a massive list of resources for activists.
“The personal is political and cycling has a long history in creating great social change and oppression in our communities,” the Cyclista Zine manifesto reads. “Cyclista Zine is meant to function as a bridge between virtual safe spaces and in-person activism for the current and future generations to explore cycling their own way.”
Queer Zine Archive Project
Launched in 2003 by zinesters Milo Miller and Christopher Wide, the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) was developed to “establish a living history” of past and present queer zines and encourage current and emerging zine publishers to create.
QZAP has a free online searchable database that allows users to download electronic copies of zines, many highlighting topics such as queer love stories, sex education, queer media, and queer history. The project runs on donations from supporters and the love of about six contributors, who scan and archive thousands of zines.
Co-founder Miller spoke with PBS NewsHour in 2020 about their history with zines and how they impact the LGBTQ+ community.
“There’s a really certain type of story that gets told in [the] media, and it takes a lot to go around that if you don’t have access, prestige, if you’re not the ‘right’ skin color, if you don’t have the ‘right’ economic background,” Miller said. “And zines take all of that and say, ‘to hell with that.’”
Kate Bingaman-Burt (and Outlet)
Kate Bingaman-Burt is a zine creator and graphic designer in Portland, where she is the Associate Director of the School of Art & Design at Portland State University. She shares daily drawings and operates the KBB Mail Club, which sends subscribers zines and printed goods.
Bingaman-Burt also owns Outlet, a risograph press and art studio where folks can create zines.
Outlet is an accessible space for people to make prints at a high volume for a low cost. The space hosts a variety of workshops, from zine-making, to risograph and drawing basics, for makers of all kinds. Outlet is also home to a zine library with hundreds of contributions from community members.
Bingaman-Burt is deeply passionate about teaching folks about print media and using her space to welcome social movements and leaders to share their messaging.
“Print is a really powerful medium,” Bingaman-Burt said. “It can be accessed by so many people. It’s powerful for ourselves, but it’s also powerful to advocate for others, to make a publication I share, or a poster I put up in a window or take to a protest. It’s a medium that people can use in all the ways that make sense for them.”
Strongly Worded Letters
Strongly Worded Letters is an Omaha, Nebraska-based organization dedicated to civic and social education, providing scripts, knowledge, and action items to build grassroots power for local politics.
Their content revolves around providing organizers and activists with easy-to-understand tools, like scripts for communicating with elected officials, updates on local legislation, as well as mutual aid and protest information.
“I like how zines are easy to make and easy to digest. They make complex issues a lot easier to understand, they’re eye-catching, and you can distribute them at a low cost,” Redd said. “They’re also sort of like trading cards. People like having a physical object to read, and they’ve been a hit at events or high-energy rallies and help people stay involved once they get home.”
Hunter Ashlei Shackelford
Hunter Ashlei Shackelford — also known as Hunter The Lion — is a writer and artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. She has created a number of zines for herself and other organizations that confront racism, transphobia, fatphobia, and many other social justice topics.
Schackelford has founded two liberation organizations: Free Figure Revolution and Who’s Killing Us?. She most often writes and illustrates about the relationships between Blackness, fatness, desire, queerness, and pop culture.
“I’m so grateful to the Black trans folks who made it possible for me to find myself in a world that demands you lose yourself the moment you enter it,” Shackelford shared in an Instagram post. “I am grateful for the ability to name my experiences and give birth to language just by existing beyond the binary.”
Tiny Megaphone is a marketing consultancy run by Joanna Rutter. She is a thoughtful (and hilarious!) marketing pro who wants to “rig the system” and make marketing work for underdogs. In a world where capitalism and burnout make social media and marketing feel impossible, Rutter hopes to make things work “for the little guys.”
Her zine, How To Promote Your Business Without Feeling Shitty About It is a game-changing tool for creative people, small business owners, and people who are just generally grossed out by traditional marketing practices.
The zine provides an introduction to consent-based marketing and works as a pep talk, workbook, media critique, and marketing strategy skeleton, according to Rutter.
“If marketing is a megaphone, I’m handing it to the underdog to hear what they have to say,” Rutter said. “I made it [the zine] to encourage cool builders and dreamers in their quests to pay bills without compromising their values.”
Microcosm Publishing is a vertically integrated publishing house that “equips readers to make positive changes in their lives and in the world around them.”
Founded in 1996, Microcosm specializes in DIY books, zines, and decks about topics like self-care, feminism, social justice, bikes, and more. The publishing house also has a mission of access, using sliding scale pricing and sustainable operations prioritizing high staff wages.
Stand-out titles include “How to Resist Amazon and Why,” detailing the importance of shopping and distributing ethically; “Consensuality: Navigating Feminism, Gender, and Boundaries Towards Loving Relationships;”and “It’s OK To Be Sad.”
“Microcosm focuses on relating the experiences of what it is like to be a marginalized person and strives to be recognized for spirit, creativity, and value,” the Microcosm Publishing website reads. “Microcosm constantly poses the question: ‘how can we remove barriers to success for marginalized people in our industry?’”
This Is A Zine
This Is A Zine is a collective of artists and designers creating zines to discuss the world around us and create positive change. Led by Josh Eberhard, the collective created and distributed a weekly zine exploring a new topic about design and the world we live in between March 2020 and 2021. Now that the year-long project has concluded, zines are published when the artists see fit.
While some topics include more information, most of these topics are approached through a lens of creative design and artistic interpretation, acting as printed artifacts of a specific time in history.
The organization works in a series approach, as creative projects convene under themes or issues that affect marginalized groups most. A collection of refugee zines outlines the value of zine-making on refugee communities.
The collection highlights projects like “The Zines of Terezín,” made by Jewish children who shared “secret zines,” acting politically in the face of Nazi terror; and “Plaza Girls: A Diary,” which tells the stories of teenage Afghan and Arabic refugee girls.
ArtsEverywhere writer SiddJoag said: “Lacking other resources, refugees and others on the move often use writing and reading together to cite their politics.”
Zines & Things
Zines & Things is a Portland-based zine team by Rebekah Markillie and Jessica Wadleigh. Both are passionate storytellers who love the zine community, publishing works that encompass gender, mental health, and poetry.
The Zines & Things team works directly alongside writers and artists, partnering to provide an alternative to traditional publishing models.
Their program “Tell Me A Story” is a literary reading series that provides space for LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and women writers to connect and collaborate in a safe and creative environment. Zines & Things also publishes and sells works on their website, including a subscription program called The Zinester’s Digest.
“We make zines to pay homage to their rich history of anti-capitalism and anti-oppression,” The Zines & Things website reads. “We make zines as a liturgy to possibility, liberation, and resiliency.”
Mentioned earlier, Sarah Mirk is a graphic journalist, educator, and zine-maker based in Oregon. Her comics have been published by outlets like NPR, The Nib, and Patagonia, and her graphic novel “Guantanamo Voices” won the 2021 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize.
Mirk also offers a number of free zines on her website, covering a wide array of topics like abortion, white privilege, and voter suppression. In 2019, she made a zine every day for a year and published 100 of them in a book. An avid snail mail lover, she is also on Patreon, where supporters can subscribe to receive monthly zines and “whatever else I feel like mailing.”
“Making zines is a lot about embracing imperfection and just making something happen,” Mirk said. “It’s not mediated by a company or profit-driven entity, and you’re not feeding into this larger algorithm that’s giving us ads. It’s something you share with another person, about something you care about.”
One Of My Kind
Together, they produce OOMK Zine, a biannual zine focused on women, art, activism, and faith. OOMK has become a collaborative effort that offers marginalized people a space to congregate around similar issues and concerns, sharing their art in an affordable and accessible way.
The OOMK team also runs Rabbits Road Press, a community printing press in East London, where they hold publishing events and discussions, in addition to hosting a local zine library.
“OOMK takes inspiration from decolonial, feminist, religious, and punk movements in creating methods of self-organization,” the OOMK Manifesto reads. “OOMK supports alternative and traditional sites of knowledge acquisition and believes that critical thinking should be nurtured and developed.”
The Sherwood Forest Zine Library
While many public libraries offer digital and print catalogs of zines, the Sherwood Forest Zine Library based in Austin, Texas is home to one of the most robust curated collections of Black Lives Matter, policing and protest guides, and zines.
The collection includes hundreds of works from various times in history, offering both academic and lived experience educational tools to help anti-racists on their social justice journeys.
This collection is a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about activist spaces through zine literature and provides a wide array of perspectives and tools for organizers, by organizers.
We are constantly inspired by creators who use their skills to tell important stories and make the world a better place. Although not a zine, our print Goodnewspaper is our rendition of creative storytelling for good. In fact, some of these artists were featured in the April 2022 issue of the Goodnewspaper: The Art Edition. Learn more about the Goodnewspaper and subscribe today for more good news.