Remember zines? The handmade, photocopied artifacts turned anyone with a particular interest or story to tell into a do-it-yourself publisher. A couple of young Torontonians are hoping people do recall zines fondly -- and not just as curios. They've collected more than 500 of them from the past decade or so and are housing the collection at the Tranzac Club, a somewhat dingy but warm clubhouse in the Annex.
The Toronto Zine Library is the brainchild of Suzanne Sutherland, 19, a University of Toronto book and media-studies student who missed the lively zine culture of her high-school days. She wants to draw attention back to the immediacy of zine publishing, even as other zine fans have moved on to blogging or to other do-it-yourself art forms. The scene has "moved away from focusing strictly on zines to getting very craft-heavy, with things like buttons or handmade books and such," Ms. Sutherland says.
Last fall, Ms. Sutherland posted on a local online indie-rock message board, stillepost.ca, looking for volunteers to help with the project and donate zines. Patrick Mooney, a 26-year-old librarian at the CBC, jumped at the idea. "I'd gone to library school to be a librarian and had always wanted to do something like that," Mr. Mooney says, "so I was really excited when Suzanne posted about the possibility."
This past October, Ms. Sutherland, Mr. Mooney and about half a dozen other volunteers moved their Toronto Zine Library, which numbered about 300 titles, into the Tranzac. (Originally a club for expatriate Australians and New Zealanders, it's now a de facto cultural centre for the Annex.) Their collection, which includes everything from tiny, ragged hand-drawn comic books to slightly more professional-looking full-colour works, isn't much to look at on the surface (a ragtag bunch of stapled sheafs of paper housed in little linen racks), but is impressive in its depth and reach. There's a wide variety of zines from the past 10 years or so organized by genre: lit zines, fanzines, comic zines, political zines, zines about sex, cultural and social issues.
"Zines have been a vital part of publishing and subcultural history for a long time," says Tara Bursey, 24, an artist and freelance illustrator who has been involved in local zine culture for the past decade and recently came aboard to help out with the library. Ms. Bursey donated about 150 zines she had collected over the years to the library, bringing its total to around 500.
Ms. Sutherland estimates that 60 per cent of the zines in the collection are Canadian, with most of those being local titles, while Ms. Bursey's donation of punk and feminist zines has upped the American quotient.
Ms. Sutherland, Mr. Mooney and Ms. Bursey are all active zinesters themselves -- Ms. Sutherland makes little "novelettes" of her short stories; Mr. Mooney's are also literature-based, while Ms. Bursey worked on the feminist/punk fanzine Poseur Girl for eight years ("a lifetime in the zine world") and now puts out art-based zines. The three are the Toronto Zine Library's main staffers, keeping the collection in order and answering questions at the Tranzac on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. They're mildly critical of other zine-related initiatives in the city, like the Toronto Public Library's collection at the Toronto Reference Library: It's difficult to access and not well curated, Mr. Mooney says.
So far, their zine library has only had a few fans drop by (though the collection is accessible at the club throughout the week as well). Ms, Sutherland is hoping to spread the word and to hold workshops, particularly for youth, about zine culture and how to make zines.
But does anyone still care? At a time when the Internet has made self-publishing much easier than labouring over bits of paper and a photocopier, interest in making and reading zines has waned in recent years. Even the zine library crew admit that the scene isn't what it used to be. "There aren't even many places left where you can buy zines," Ms. Bursey points out.
During their local heyday in the early 1990s, they were carried by retailers such as the now-defunct Tower Records, but today only a few independent bookstores and music shops offer a handful of titles. While most of the Toronto Zine Library's zines come from donations solicited online, from friends or gathered at zine fairs, Mr. Mooney also continues to buy a few new titles to add to the collection.
Lindsay Gibb, editor of Toronto-based Broken Pencil, a magazine devoted to zine culture, says zines may have gone down since their heyday, but that doesn't mean people aren't still busy cutting and pasting. "There is still more that one can do aesthetically with a zine than they can with a blog," she says. "Blogs don't have the same feeling as zines, so people continue to make zines for some of the same reasons that print magazines aren't switching over to the Web. Some people like to have a physical product to show for their efforts."
And, Ms. Bursey says, "the best thing about zines is that [they're]completely democratic. Anyone can make one, and they're cheap to make and distribute. The scene has sort of petered out, but it's definitely something worth preserving."
"The reason why people make zines doesn't change -- people are always going to feel the need to express themselves by creating something on their own," Ms. Sutherland adds. "I don't think that's an impulse that disappears, whether it's the nineties or 2030. And just as you don't have to be into alternative culture to enjoy comics, it's the same with zines. There's something for everyone."