THE GARAGE AT 3310 15TH AVENUE S. LOOKS LIKE ANY OTHER in South Minneapolis. It has a wide bluish-grey door with prominently placed house numbers and sits next to a tidy wooden fence that encloses the adjacent yard. If you were walking by on your way to Powderhorn Park you probably would not think anything of it. But, come July, a sign and a doorbell will designate this common domestic structure as the Zine Apothecary, a warm weather-dependent library of zines.
Zines -- remember those? The story of these small, handmade pamphlets devoted to personal narration and counter-cultural musings begins in the 1930s, with science fiction fanzines. While a proper history is too much to relate here, it's safe to say that many people think of zines as a product of the pre-blog era, when punk rockers, anarchists, and riot grrls laid their thoughts down in glue-and-paste manifestos. This is true, but it's not a bygone tale. Photocopied collages may have taken a backseat to the YouTube mash-up for some, but today's zine culture is still kicking.
One of the Twin Cities' most outspoken advocates for the form is Lacey Prpić Hedtke, a Minneapolis artist, zinester, and the librarian of the aforementioned Zine Apothecary. When I met her at a book/zine/print fair at the Walker Art Center a few years back, I was immediately drawn to her publication, Likes/Dislikes. Published in two editions, these slim booklets contain just what the title suggests: an inventory of the author's favorite things alongside those she deems less savory.
I was pleased to see that the author and I both frown upon "worry about employment," "George W Bush and associates," and "overhead lighting," but share an approval of "internet radio" and "when cats drink out of faucets." But her expressions of taste are appealing for their universality as much as for the coincidence of shared quirks -- everyone dislikes "rude people." These lists present a portrait not only of their maker's eccentricities, but of a particular cultural moment.
In addition to making zines, Prpić Hedtke is a photographer who works with antiquarian processes. In a recent conversation at her dining room table, surrounded by zines and tintype experiments, she explained her interest in the oldest forms of photographic image making. "With digital photography, and to a certain extent in a black and white darkroom, the artist has all the control," she says. Working with 19th-century photography, on the other hand, amounts to "collaboration with the materials -- they have a life of their own." And she prefers it that way. On one of her blogs she writes, "I can't wait for this digital photography trend to be over, and everyone can get back to the business of beautiful image making and crafting."
And like any craft, zines are all about the hand of the maker. The basic process to create one is simple -- cut, glue, photocopy, fold, staple -- but can be quite complex, too, depending on the maker's artistic interests. As a book artist myself, I appreciate the effort made to create zines, given the wide availability of faster methods of publication. But still - since their contents are often intimate in nature, and since the web offers so many tools for this kind of sharing, why go to the trouble to make a zine when you can write a blog?
In a long discussion on the value of the materiality of zines in her book, Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism (2009), Alison Piepmeier offers some reasons why many of the zinesters she interviewed choose to work in paper instead of posting their ideas online. Many of their answers had to do with material choice: paper, typography, cover stock -- all the aesthetic decisions that a book maker considers to flesh out the concept of a work. This makes perfect sense: Would you ask a writer who prints in letterpress why she doesn't just keep a blog? No, because the handmade quality of the object matters. Indeed, it's the point.
That's not to say these makers aren't adept at using new technologies when it suits them. Piepmeier talked to a lot of women who make zines as well as write blogs -- this analog/digital combination is the way craft goes these days. There is a zine-makers contingent on Etsy; over 3400 members are registered on wemakezines.com (a network not unlike mnartists.org); and you can track your favorite zine-maker from anywhere in the world via the website for famed distributor Microcosm Publishing. It's a natural pairing, really -- the world of zines has always been about networks, well before the internet came along to connect us. As Stephen Duncombe wrote, in the first academic study of underground zine culture in 1997, "Zines are profoundly personal expressions, yet as a medium of participatory communication they depend upon and help create community." To be a zinester is to join with a dedicated band of readers and makers who build kinship by gifting handmade objects to one another. The web enables this community to keep in touch and disseminate certain ideas faster, but the limitations of pre-designed blog formats and sleek screens aren't a substitute for creating with ink and paper.
BACK AT THE 3300 BLOCK OF 15TH AVE, Prpić Hedtke is motivated primarily by a desire to get all of this tangible material into people's hands. To that end, this past spring, she began the monumental task of completing the catalog for the collection. To date, the Zine Apothecary's holdings include roughly 1,500 zines, 700 of which are duplicates. The artistry in these volumes is all over the map -- you'll find barely legible photocopies alongside commercially printed newsprint. Sheets of 8.5 x 11 office paper folded in half are standard, and every once in a while the pages are enclosed by a silk-screened cover. Some zines are hand-sewn with yarn, some are perfect bound, but most are stapled.
You won't find the Dewey decimal system at work in the Zine Apothecary. Prpić Hedtke's invented taxonomy categorizes zines by subject rather than by author or title. The topics represented lean strongly toward radical politics and theory, Minneapolis punk rock history, cooking, gardening, feminism, and how-to manuals. They reflect the interests of the various subcultures out of which zines come, but also the origins of the collection. Much of the material is from the Bat Annex Library and Free School, a now defunct, volunteer-run, anarchist education space, where Prpić Hedtke was a de facto librarian. When the Bat Annex closed she stewarded the paper matter to "offsite storage" (someone's basement) where it was joined by a donation from the Stephens Square Center for the Arts. All the while, Prpić Hedtke was in library school. Upon graduation, with degree in hand, she dug out those boxes with renewed determination to make the archived zines available to readers.
Zines are everyday objects put together with readily available supplies -- quite possibly stolen from Kinko's. They are meant to be sent through the post, read on the bus, and strewn about on the coffee table, not held on climate controlled shelves.
Accessibility is a complicated issue for documents like zines. They are made of and for a particular community, so in some ways it seems they should stay with their people. At the same time, these publications chronicle culture that is underrepresented in mainstream publishing, so adding them to the stacks of traditional libraries helps to fill in critical gaps in "official" history, with the notion of making their ideas available to a broader audience. Part of the trouble is that libraries and historical societies with missions to preserve things have a way of making those very materials less available to ordinary readers. Barnard College librarian Jenna Freedman warns that some libraries with zine collections keep them in closed stacks, where archivists have to fetch selections for viewers rather than allowing readers to browse. This model is essential to preserving rare books, but zines don't come out of this sort of rarified environment. They're everyday objects put together with readily available supplies -- quite possibly stolen from Kinko's. Zines are meant to be sent through the post, read on the bus, and strewn about on the coffee table, not held on climate controlled shelves.
The Zine Apothecary provides a model for a way these cultural artifacts can be made publicly available, carefully preserved in a way that's at home with the form's DIY roots. This is important for Prpić Hedtke, who wants to see the zines stay in their community and be used as resources. Say you need instructions for fixing your bike, or you want to read about motherhood from a feminist perspective. There are plenty of ways to find such information online, but the Apothecary provides a space where indigenous knowledge and experience can be physically shared with others -- and that's a bedrock concept of the zine world. The curious can browse the stacks and strike up conversation; perhaps the other researchers at the library will have the expertise you're looking for -- maybe you'll come across the author of the very zine held in your hands.
Someday Prpić Hedtke hopes the collection will reside in a space with more resources -- something akin to the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, OR, where a zine library is accompanied by paid staff, a computer lab, a letterpress, a copy machine, and rentable workspace. But given that such a project is expensive and involved, for now, homeownership has provided the immediate, more practical solution: a garage. The Apothecary may not have institutional comforts like bathrooms and heat, but the essential amenities will still be present: plenty of things to read and a comfortable chair in which to do so.
Related events, links, and a brief zine reference guide:
Note: The collection of the Zine Apothecary is currently on tour with the Fly Away Zine Mobile and will return on July 11. Regular open hours for the Zine Apothecary are forthcoming. In the meantime, please email zineapothecary [at] gmail [dot] com to make an appointment. A catalog of the collection is searchable online at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/Zineapothecary
Zines may be checked out from the Apothecary for up to three weeks.
A portion of the collection will also be at Twin Cities Zinefest, scheduled for Saturday, September 24 at the Powderhorn Park building.
Some Online Zine Resources
Independent Publishing Resource Center, Portland, OR
Papercut Zine Library, Somerville, MA
We Make Zines
Queer Zine Archive Project
Grrrl Zines A Go-Go
Duke University Libraries Brief History of Zines timeline
Barnard College Zine Library
Other Twin Cities Zine Libraries:
Minneapolis Community and Technical College
Library Zine Collection (non-circulating)
1501 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Online Zine Catalog
Minnesota Center for Book Arts
Zine Collection (non-circulating)
1011 Washington Ave S, First Floor
Minneapolis, MN 55415
By appointment: 612.215.2520
 Duncombe, Stephen. Notes from underground: zines and the politics of alternative culture. Verso, 1997. pg. 65
This essay, co-published by mnartists.org and Rain Taxi Review of Books appears in the summer 2011 issue. Read more articles and essays online at the Rain Taxi website, or visit select newsstands around the state to pick up a print copy, or order it online, and read the new issue in its entirety.
About the author: Sarah Peters is a writer, bookmaker, educator and organizer. She is currently co-editing a book on the Walker Art Center's Open Field project and teaching classes at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. She is also the proprietor of Sea Clamp Scoops, a floating ice cream shop at Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake, open Sundays this July.