Punk Publishing: A Look into Zines

In 2016 we live in a digital age where social media serves as an outlet for members of different subcultures to come together and share their opinions. But gamer geeks and radically political activists alike had a lot that they wanted to discuss long before the rise of the Internet. And way back when they couldn’t blog about it, they decided to zine about it. Zines (or as Kanye articulately described on Twitter, “Zine pronounced Zeen short for magazine. A lot of people pronounce it wrong”) are collections of artwork, creative writing, and nonfiction articles all jam-packed into one handmade booklet. They have long been associated with the punk/DIY scene, and with good reason. The originator of these publications was none other than the OG punk himself, political theorist Thomas Paine. He blew the world away with his 1775 zine (or pamphlet, in those days) Common Sense—a critique on Britain’s control of the colonies that helped ignite the spark of the Revolutionary War (any punk’s wet dream).

It may seem silly to draw comparisons between Paine’s work and more modern zines, but the intent behind the piece was the same; it was a self-published work released not for profit, but for the purpose of spreading knowledge about an issue that needed to be addressed within the public sphere.

That message has remained at the core of zine publication and circulation, although the “issues” vary. Zines were a popular vehicle for science fiction writings and fan critiques throughout the 1950s and ‘60s. But in the ‘70s it became the primary way for members of the punk community to distribute their poetry, art, and social criticisms to a larger audience, all thanks to the wider availability of photocopying. Zines also infiltrated the alternative music scene at this time; Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue was often credited as the holy text for punk music fans who wanted to stay informed about their favorite artists. This same method of expression aided the Riot Grrrls as they promoted their brand of third-wave feminism in the ‘90s. Some of these girl power publications even blossomed into monthly magazines, such as the continuously successful Bitch based out of Portland, Oregon.

Freshman Sara Barber started a zine club in January with several other Emerson students to discuss topics like mental illness and feminism in a more intimate way. “I think that zines are definitely more personal because they’re hand-crafted,” Barber said. “And in terms of accessibility I think you can look through a zine more easily and be more affected by it than a magazine or an essay. It’s just a different form and it’s more concise, more compact.”

The zine platform is still used to spread social awareness today, but the subjects of these publications can also take a more nuanced direction. Just a few clicks online or a quick walk through an underground artisan market and you can find zines on topics ranging from the New Jersey music scene, to the history of synthesizers, and even pages of praise for the iconic Office character Dwight Schrute. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you cover, as long as you’re putting your most creative foot forward to endorse a message that you believe in.


  1. Gather your materialsYou’ll need a sheet of paper, a ruler, scissors, any and all art supplies that you want, and a topic that the public NEEDS to know about.
  2. Fold the sheet of paper in halfThe long way. You know, the hot dog way.
  3. Fold it in half a second timeThe short way now. You know, the hamburger way.
  4. Fold it one last timeShort end to short end.
  5. Unfold the paper on a flat surfaceThe beautiful boxes you see before you are the pages of your zine. Label each one lightly in pencil to help you out with the later steps. The first box on the bottom left will function as the back page, the one next to it will be the cover page. Moving to the right, we have the first and second page. Pages 3-6 of the zine begin on the top right of the sheet of paper and move to the left, with page six at the top left of the paper.
  6. Cut a slit along the inside fold of the paperThe cut should fall along the top edge of the front cover and the first, fourth, and fifth pages of the zine. Exercise caution as this step can be tricky.
  7. Refold the paper along the slit you just createdA hot dog once again.
  8. Grab the two ends of the paper and push them towards the centerThe slit in the middle should make an ‘o’ shape. Push the ends of the paper further inward so that the ‘o’ becomes more of an oval, then flatten all of the pages together into one book and crease the edge.
  9. Assess the damageIf the pages you labeled match up with the zine you’ve put together, then congrats! Your work is done! If not, unfold and try again.
  10. Create the contentNow you’re onto the fun part! Get out your markers, pencils, paints, newspaper clippings, or any other medium you’d like to use and complete your zine! Don’t forget, it’s all about working hard, enjoying yourself, and most of all, promoting a message that you believe in.

Zine by Sara Barber