Leeds’ Female zine scene

Words & Illustrations: Jazz Harbord

When I first encountered zines, I didn’t truly understand what they were. I knew that they were small, independent publications often brought to fruition through DIY means. But what I came to discover through the process of creating a zine, however, was something so much more important than aesthetics. Zines allow for uncensored exploration of personal opinions, issues, and ideas. They allow you a tangible voice in a world now so often reliant on the web, where words can sometimes feel like a shout into the void. A young girl called Jennifer said in Hillary Carlip’s Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out that “Sometimes paper is the only thing that will listen to you” and I believe this statement carries with it some truth.

In today’s political climate, it’s hardly surprising that females around the world are returning to 90s born fem-zine culture. With their origins in Washington state, female zines were created as a backlash against the sexism and misogyny present in the American punk scene of the time. As the movement grew, mixing feminist opinions, music and zines, the subculture of the Riot GRRRL was birthed. While the introduction of technology and the Internet to pre-existing zine culture has, at times, threatened the production of print based zines, it has also allowed the movement to evolve and reach a far broader audience than its 90s predecessors.

As zines allow for unedited and uncensored exploration of personal issues, they provide a perfect initiator for communication in women’s concerns. The intimate creative process of making a zine, in turn, makes them artefacts of uniqueness, each crafted with the purpose of having something to say and saying it. Their individuality defines them as standalone pieces of artwork, and yet their shared experiences links them together with a strong sense of community.

Within Leeds, I reached out to local zine printers and enthusiasts Footprint Workers Collective. I asked them about what they do down at their DIY headquarters. “We print a lot of zines and sometimes collaborate with zinesters who want to print their own material – skill-sharing a little, if you like. We also run a small distro which we use to help promote projects we like.” As well as hosting two zine fairs at Left Bank Leeds, Footprint also previously organised events at Wharf Chambers and made an appearance at Leeds City Museum for International Women’s Day, last year. Speaking about the community aspect of zines, Footprint noted their accessibility as unedited artform. “When people get together to read, swap and sell zines it’s a bonding experience. Zines are tactile, and they provide a way of exchanging ideas that isn’t disembodied and disconnected. They’re also an accessible art form, as they’re cheap enough for most people to buy.” While female zines may be gaining momentum in their coverage, as a medium they’ve been around for some time. “I think we’ve always printed for a lot of women – I don’t think we’ve seen a particular increase. But there have recently been a number of zine fairs and exhibitions organised by women.” Current affairs may be encouraging these female zinesters to rally together and support their collective cause.

One of these such groups are Scream Zines, created by founding members Ru Bru and Holly O’Brien. They provide a platform to “promote zine-makers and try to spread the zine gospel.” Half based in Manchester and half based in Leeds, the duo recently put together an event at Hyde Park Book Club, which included a panel discussion on ‘first zines’, a workshop, poetry reading, open mic, and live music. I asked the two how they felt about the sense of community within female zine culture; “We have experienced a really welcoming and friendly community. We think it’s special because women are often taught not to aspire to fulfil their creativity and blocked out of more conventional routes, whereas any woman can make a zine and express what she would like to see in the mainstream media.” When discussing their collective ‘zine making workshop’ run at a couple of their events, Scream Zines said “We are also continually surprised by how easy it is to relate to people’s zines and feel a shared experience.” It is this shared experience that regularly leads zine creators into collaboration. Communal ideals often bringing various women together, to create a publication that speaks out to a diverse audience.

Covering themes from body image to equality, relationships to societal expectations of women; these zines offer an intimate look into the trials and tribulations of today’s modern women. Often funny and warm, sometimes tear-jerkingly honest, what strings all these female zines together is a sense of authenticity and need for expression. Footprint spoke out and said “One of the great things about zines is that they enable people to experiment and rethink, to articulate ideas that are important to them. You can work on yourself, your feelings, your links with others, your politics and also branch out into networks of community.” Scream Zines echoed this statement; “By documenting your experiences and relationship, you come to know and understand yourself more deeply.” Ladies of Leeds, maybe it’s time to make something with feeling.

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