Teaching and Learning

Learner-Created Zines in the Classroom

Zines at the BMCC Library

In the Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies courses I teach, I have replaced the final essay with a final zine. This assignment asks learners to analyze a media text using course concepts. Throughout the course, we engage with many kinds of media and learners give presentations that require them to think about what they communicate visually through images, the organizations of their thoughts, choices of font, color, images, etc., in addition to their words. The zine is a chance for them to apply this skill in analog form. It is also a great community builder and celebration at the end of a semester.

If you are unfamiliar with zines,

A zine (pronounced “zeen,” like “magazine”) is a self-published, small circulation, non-commercial booklet or magazine, usually produced by one person or a few individuals. Zines come in all shapes, sizes, topics, and formats. Most zines are photocopied, but they can also be printed offset, like a magazine or newspaper. Zines range from handwritten and sloppy to cut-and-paste (text pasted on top of background images) to artsy with handmade touches to produced on a computer with a professional-looking layout. (Zines 101)

Zine creation became widely popular in the 1990s with the surge of the punk Riot Grrrl movement. Constructing zines provided a space of reflection and active engagement with personal and political issues that were often suppressed in the dominant culture. “Zines can play an important role in alerting, educating, and mobilizing people to collectively take actions against the system in power. Grrrl zines, in particular, can be powerful tools to mobilize feminist cultural and political resistance (Zobl, 2004, p. 169).”

In my course, zines engage students in creative activism, teach about history, and allow learners to produce their own resources, in addition to being a fun way to end the semester. I teach a unit on art and activism and zines come in as part of it. When I present the assignment to students, I start with a brief lecture and embedded videos/links. Then we review the assignment and I show an example zine that I made. At the end of the presentation, I give some additional information that is useful, but not necessary.

Some helpful notes for other faculty thinking about a zine assignment:

  • There are lots of different kinds of zines. I found it useful to limit learners to the minizine because it allowed for clear guidelines and grading criteria but, more importantly, it made it easy for them to reproduce copies of their original to share with classmates.
  • I devote several days to in-class workshops. We spend one 75 minute class period laying out zines in class based on draft reviews learners have written. Students then complete the zines at home. For our second 75 minute workshop day, students bring in 30 copies of their zines and together we cut and fold zines. These have been really fruitful times where students get to engage one another. We create a class playlist and listen to music and help one another with zines. It also serves as a lesson in the actual time it takes to create something like this – often more than an essay, but the time passes differently.
  • On the last day of class, we exchange zines. I have folders where learners can submit a copy of their zine if they would like it included in the BMCC zine library and another if they would like it included in the archives. Most end up proud of their work and want it included.

Zobl, Elke. “Persephone is Pissed.” Hecate. 30.2 (2004): 156-175.


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