The storied history and styles of zine-making

Photo courtesy of Miriam Sokolska.


In a crowded room packed with chit-chat and little homemade booklets, my journey with zines began with a 2019 visit to the DC Zine Fest. There I was exposed to the very do-it-yourself culture of self-publishing that holds a rich history in counterculture, activism and marginalized groups. 

Zines (pronounced “zeens”) are self-published magazines that grew roots in the sci-fi scene of the 1930s. They rose most famously to the public through the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s, but zines continue to be utilized by many artists and groups as a low-cost and easy way to spread information.

Zines come along with a very distinct style in public ideology. Think of the mismatched lettering of movie ransom notes or Olivia Rodrigo’s branding. This cut-and-paste aesthetic originates from the DIY nature of zine creation by placing message and speed over neatness and legibility. 

Zine historian Kate Eichhorn describes this phenomenon as the “Xerox effect” in her book “Adjusted Margins,” a fascinating written history of the copy machine. It is because of the circumstances that zines were originally made in — layers of Xerox grit from copying, cutting out from magazines and the use of cheap materials — that its aesthetic was created. 

These days, zines come in all different forms and really anchor on the element of anything self-published. Numerous “zine fests” — zine conferences where creators can sell and share their work  —and “zine distros” — small zine publishing presses — have popped up across the nation with endless aesthetics, themes and levels of experience in self-publication. 

In New Jersey, the Newark Public Library most prominently holds its Newark Zine Fest every summer. It’s evident that zines hold immense space for cultural communication and personal narratives.

When it comes to power, zines grab it from the top and bring it back down to the bottom. This is because zines place publishing and writing in the hands of anyone with access to a copy machine, allowing for a broader range of voices and experiences to gain exposure and influence. 

Zine creators are able to create without worrying about censorship or market curation that publishing houses may enforce through the conventional commercial publishing processes. This power allows for marginalized groups that are often barred from conventional publishing to create literature that is easily accessible to audiences and their pockets. For example, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Abolitionist Zine Fair at the People’s Forum in New York City over the summer where activists were able to share and support abolitionist and anti-racist work that is often overlooked and underfunded by policy makers. 

The great thing about zines is that they are able to be passed along to friends and loved ones due to their small sizes and short read times, thus amplifying their messages even further. It is through their convenience that they have gained popularity as a tool for and against power.

After learning about the eclectic and collaborative nature of zine-making at the DC Zine Fest, I wanted to bring a project like that to students on our campus so that we had a space to share our ideas and artwork, regardless of experience or major. That is how Cettle Kooked was born. 

Published once a semester, Cettle Kooked (CK) is a free and handmade zine that features the work of Ramapo students and people across the US, UK and Canada. Inspired by the DIY scenes of campuses like Rutgers New Brunswick, my best friend Morgan Wall and I decided in 2019 to take it upon ourselves to build a creative platform that didn’t exist in North Jersey. 

We named the zine after a bag of kettle cooked chips we saw at Panera Bread one night and thought it reflected the idea we wanted to bring to the table, being that art is everything, everyone is an artist and creating should be joyful. The great thing about CK is that it thematically changes around the submissions we receive and we have never had to reject anyone from being published. 

It’s through zining that you can accomplish this collaboration and empower peers around you, even as broke college students. 

That being said, we are now working on our fifth edition of the zine! We accept anything respectful in JPEG or PDF form, so if you’re interested in submitting please go to the link in bio of our Instagram page (@cettlekooked) for the application. Submissions close on Sunday, Oct. 31.