Smells Like Zine Spirit: A DIY Festival For Students, By Students

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Photo courtesy of Chezyrome David.

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What is a zine, anyways? A zine (pronounced ZEEN), short for magazine or fanzine, is a form of self-publication that consists of a handheld print, usually bound together with staples. The zine, which originally referred to the science fiction fanzine in the 40s, was later adopted by punk subculture in the 70s as a mode of spreading revolutionary social and political ideas. Despite the growth of digital publications, print media remains crucial to the proliferation of such online publications. One can see the intermingling of the two formats in online platforms such as Rookie Mag, and offline at local zine festivals.

On Monday November 26th, a group of UCSD undergraduates carried on the legacy of the 70s punk-rockers when they transformed PC East Ballroom into an inviting yet electrifying environment for UCSD’s first-ever zine festival, Smells Like Zine Spirit. There were around 30 students and organizations presenting work, which included art prints, pins, and of course, an assortment of zines, covering topics that ranged from beer brewing to the accessibility of zines themselves.

The students of Distributing Literature Workshop (LTWR 129), who hosted the event, were guided by Professor Melissa Bañales through the process of producing and distributing their own work to promote independence in an increasingly strained publishing world. In organizing this event, the dedicated creatives learned to incorporate various marketing, distributive, and interdisciplinary art and writing skills. The vibrant collages and handmade booklets tackled conventional ideologies and privileged the reader with personal, intimate recollections from the artists themselves.

Megan Friess, one of the hosts of the event, expressed her new-found love of zine making and the importance of “creat[ing] this little thing in your hands and it hold[ing] real significance, to you as well as others.”


The Sunsets and Onsets of Your Parents Dying” a zine by Chezyrome David

Chezyrome David, an English and Writing double-major and winner of the 2018 Saier Memorial Award in Fiction, showcased a zine on our emotional and psychological responses to the inevitability of our parents’ deaths. She lingers on “the point when you truly realize that your parents will die…and how it becomes a marker of adulthood.” Using photos and written recollections of generations of her family, David is a vulnerable, poignant voice in her exploration of her family relationships.


“a zine on making more accessible zines” by October Montoya

Queer and trans artist October Montoya displayed an array of zines. One zine, called “a zine on making more accessible zines,” was an instructional booklet tracing over trigger warnings, readability, photo descriptions, and more. The extensively researched zine called for protocols in zine-making to ensure its inclusivity for all. Montoya’s work confronted a common obstacle found in the DIY community: the ambiguous understanding of what “access” means for different people. By giving out this zine for free, Montoya effectively put their own theory into practice.


“Irritator,” a zine by Ray Stachowiak

Ray Stachowiak’s zine, “Irritator,” was a collection of collages, poetry, and prose aimed to shake off “the hegemonic norms of our rich American culture.” As he intended, Stachowiak successfully “irritates” the viewer with unsettling photo collages that seem haphazardly placed on the page next to his handwritten poetry. Stachowiak sold his work to gather donations for Border Angels, a San Diego based non-profit organization that focuses on migrant rights and humane immigration reform pertaining to the US-Mexico border.


“Reincarnation,” a drawing by Leslie Cho

The zine fest also helped showcase the overflowing creativity of students outside of UCSD’s arts and humanities majors. Leslie Cho, a biology major, combined her affinity for drawing with her knowledge of physiological functions and cell structures. Her prints of ornately drawn forms and disintegrated bodies included many details that reflect the diagrams she has grown so familiar with in her academic career.

As Cho demonstrates, the separation between UCSD’s STEM and humanities fields is not as definitive as it seems. Events such as this one reveal the multifaceted interests of the student body, regardless of their field of study, and challenge the trite narrative that alienates UCSD’s arts and humanities students from the STEM majority.

The diversity of student participants is a promising sign of future UCSD events such as this one, in which students of all backgrounds and fields are welcome to create and share their interests with confidence. Although the festival is over, students can continue to explore the art of zine-making and DIY publishing. Geisel Library will soon be adding a zine archive featuring works from the student population. The students of LTWR 129 hope for the continuation of zine-making on campus and encourage anyone to start an organization around the print format.

In a world where the notion of individualism has become commodified, the resurgence of DIY may seem nothing out of the ordinary, boring even. The gradual yet encompassing association of DIY communities with a certain aesthetic value has rendered DIY with a formulaic “hipster-ness”. These undergraduate zinesters unabashedly proved otherwise—through their raw responses to trauma, mental illness, and art itself, they reclaimed their stories and shared them on their own terms.

Heather Lim is a Staff Writer for the Arts and Culture section of The Triton. Assistance in research and writing for this article was provided by Arts and Culture Editor Sabira Parajuli.