Zines 101 : Study Abroad Edition, So-Called Utopia


If you’ve never heard of a zine before, you’re not alone. I was first introduced to them for a library event that I was responsible for hosting back in March 2023. According to the University of Texas Libraries (who explains better than I do), a zine is a “small circulation publication” which usually involves words and pictures. The word zine comes from “fanzine,…[which] emerged as early as the 1930s among fans of science fiction. Zines also have roots in the informal, underground publications that focused on social and political activism in the ’60s” (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/c.php?g=576544&p=3977232 ). Zines are also used by artists to share their works in an accessible fashion, as they are either cheap or given for free. They also are limited in number, so it not as widely accessed as the typical magazine in the supermarket. However, workshops and videos are available to people to make their own zines. In the workshop I helped host in the University of Michigan Library, we had old books and comics available for people to use to make zines. Unfortunately, that event wasn’t very popular as we only had one student stay and make their own zine, but looking retrospectively, we might have needed more marketing since the majority of people haven’t been introduced to zines. I was really proud of the way mine came out (You can view my first ever zine here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/HBQEy1vWkiZ8EULM6 ).

Prior knowledge of zines came in handy when it was time for our final class assignment for my third and final class abroad: African American Expats in Copenhagen and Paris. The content of the course is exactly what the title says, but we learned about the research that Dr. Ethelene Whitmire has taken on in exploring and analyzing the history of African American expats. She usually teaches this course, but her colleague Lesley-Ann Brown stepped in as our instructor. Professor Brown (or Lesley– she doesn’t mind either way) wanted us to develop and create a zine from our analysis, experiences, and reflections of our class content. She ended up giving us complete creative freedom which I and the rest of my classmates weren’t prepared for. Not that I mind having the ability to create on a whim, it was surprising because all the students expected to be walked through the entire thing, but I think it was a good idea that we had more freedom. No one likes having their creativity restricted. I actually went with Lesley to buy some creative materials to make a physical zine, but us students ended up using Canva to create our zine. Now, I’m not sponsored by Canva, but I love using it. I use to create advertisements and graphics for my library engagement job and I use it to edit videos…and I have a lot of videos to edit. I’ve gotten a lot of video content during my time abroad but I have yet to edit it all, but I promise it will happen. Anyway I digress– Canva is great and that’s the interface we used to create our zine. We decided to split it up by each of us doing one page and it being complied together (my page is page 8, there’s a bowl on Danish strawberries on it. That is how red they genuinely look; I didn’t use a filter). We gave each other access to papers we had submitted for assignments and pictures we took in Copenhagen and Paris, so there are some repeats in text and pictures. I will actually submit my papers in a separate blog so you can get a full context, but my page in the zine is in tandem with the title of the zine (which yours truly did come up with, using inspiration from the letter written on page 16 of the zine): so-called utopia. I based my page off of these questions: What is it like, being my full authentic Black self in countries that attempt “color-blindness”? How does one deal with the mental conflict of living temporarily in one of the happiest countries in the world when said country has dealt so much damage and harm to people of color and indigenousness communities? I actually don’t have a concrete answer to these questions, but I think that is to be expected with such complex questions.

I do think the medium of a zine was fantastic to display the reflections from my classmates and I. It’s available for you to read and ponder here: https://www.canva.com/design/DAFqTEgxhTI/WwrFelQBq-4vLqEYsCbNqg/view?utm_content=DAFqTEgxhTI&utm_campaign=designshare&utm_medium=link&utm_source=publishsharelink