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Enter the “Quaranzine”: Zines That Boost Resistance, Mutual Aid, and Self-Care

There may never have been a better time for the zine, since as COVID-19 rages on, many artists are turning to self-publishing as an alternative way to connect while in isolation.

Vanessa Crofskey’s untitled collage for Bitter Melon’s Stay Home Diary (courtesy the artist and Bitter Melon)

HONG KONG — Some would argue that there has never been a better time for the zine. As COVID-19 rages on, artists are finding alternative ways to connect in isolation, and many have been turning to self-publishing. Beatrix Pang, co-founder of the Zine Coop collective, says that she has noticed an uptick in zine creations during quarantine — or quaranzines — in Hong Kong over the past few months, including Pop & Zebra’s The New Coronavirus Abecedary, a mini-zine of COVID-19 terminology, and artist Eunice Tsang’s forthcoming No Play Today, featuring photos of cordoned-off playgrounds. In this time of anxiety, Pang says, “A zine can narrate ephemeral and mundane daily life experiences, and also deliver important messages and advocate for individual or collective freedom.”

Pop & Zebra’sThe New Coronavirus Abecedary (courtesy the artists)

This increase in zine-making is not just restricted to Hong Kong. A popular type of quaranzine is one that takes the form of personal journals, such as Japanese translator and artist Yuko Weiner’s Quarantine Diary, which features a bingo card of things to do in lockdown; and Bitter Melon’s Stay Home Diary, which publishes on its website diary submissions by Asian-identifying writers and artists. (The entries will later be compiled into a physical zine.) The journal format is comforting, reminding readers that others are experiencing the same anxieties, routines, and longing for contact. For example, in Stay Home Diary, Honolulu-based Kyla Smith draws a comic strip to the opening lyrics of Mitski’s song “Nobody,” while Vanessa Crofskey, from Tāmaki Makaurau, New Zealand, contributes small abstract collages on quiet, day-to-day life.

The cover of No Play Today, a forthcoming zine by Hong Kong-based artist Eunice Tsang (courtesy the artist)

There are also mutual aid quaranzines, which aim to resist institutional failings such as lack of information and the recognition of basic rights for marginalized communities and essential workers. There are multiple e-zines (printable at home), for example, on how to maintain proper hygiene and social distancing practices, including Katherine Liu’s zine on the basics of COVID-19; another on how to sew your own fabric masks by artist-activists Yessi and N; and another by Indigenous Action on preparing pop-up hand-washing stations for unsheltered refugees and displaced Indigenous people. What Does A COVID-19 Doula Do? describes the work of doulas —those practicing emotional outreach and care — in response to the global pandemic. Funded by ONE Archives Foundation and created in collaboration with the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective, the zine looks into the effects of COVID-19 alongside archival material from an exhibition on the AIDS crisis, finding overlaps in themes of art-making, activism, and care.

The cover of DIY face mask zine All We Have is Each Other, created by Yessi and N (courtesy the artists)

Another important resource is Asian American Feminist Antibodies, produced by Asian American Feminist Collective (AAFC) and NYC bookstore Bluestockings. Feminist Antibodies interweaves personal narratives by marginalized persons with resources and information on social justice campaigns, all contextualized within the larger framework of resilience against xenophobia. Matilda Sabal, one of the collective members of Bluestockings says:

In starting the zine with the history of public health and xenophobia and the snapshot of our administration’s early failures, we wanted to remind people that the medical abuse, neglect, and lethal mismanagement of the coronavirus epidemic at the hands of the U.S. government is not a unique phenomenon, but rather, another deadly piece of a brutal and remorseless legacy of how the state has failed us.

The cover of Asian American Feminist Antibodies: Care in the Time of Coronavirus, with artwork by Amira Lin (courtesy Asian American Feminist Collective and Bluestockings, New York)

Feminist Antibodies also includes shelf-stable recipes for tea eggs and khitcheree, adding to the plethora of food-related quaranzines that narrate memory, heritage and community through cooking, an activity that in these times equals survival as well as self-care.

Self-care can also mean self-funding. Artist Melanie Gillman published their cookbook  Parsley Sage Rosemary & Quarantine to create an alternative revenue stream for the 21 featured artists. “A lot of cartoonists depend on in-person events like conventions and zine fests to make their livings—and those have all shut down,” they said. “There’s certainly a big need right now for more projects designed to help put grocery money in independent artists’ pockets.” With no discernible end in sight for the pandemic, resource-sharing, collaboration, and the signal-boosting of independent practices — all fundamental tenets of zine publishing — may be some ways forward for the arts community.

Melanie Gillman’s recipe for beer bread from Parsley Sage Rosemary & Quarantine (courtesy the artist)

Here are some resources for those interested in creating, submitting or learning more about quaranzines:

Zines with open calls:

Dundee-based queer art collective The Queer Dot is seeking submissions from Scotland-based contributors on the theme of “Lockdown / Social Distancing / COVID-19” until May 5, 2020.

Literary Natives and Home Girls Unite are inviting eldest daughters of immigrants to share their stories. Deadline is May 15, 2020.

Migrant Zine Collective is collecting recipe submissions from migrant women of color until the end of May.

Chicago-based Marc Fischer of Public Collectors is seeking collaborations with artists for his daily Quaranzine.

The Quarantine Zine is taking rolling submissions.

The blog #dearquarantinediary is also taking rolling submissions.

Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam, based in Siem Reap, Cambodia seeks contributions of “short writing pieces, poems, art, rants, and almost anything that is produced during quarantine”; you can email her at [email protected] with the subject line “QuaranZINE.”

Excerpted page from What Does a COVID-19 Doula Do?, with graphic design by Virgil Taylor (courtesy the One Archives Foundation and the What Would an HIV Doula Do? (WWHIVDD) collective)

How to make your own zine:

Graphic memoirist and writer Malaka Gharib and The Believer join up to present this zine workshop.

Zine Coop’s Beatrix Pang provides instructions for high school teachers and students via Asia Art Archive.

Indigenous Action’s DIY Emergency Handwashing Station, a step-by-step guide on how to create pop-up sanitation areas for unsheltered people (courtesy Indigenous Action)

Collections/Archives for zinemakers:

The Barnard Library and Academic Information Services is collecting COVID-19 zines by women and nonbinary creators.

You can submit your work to “Zines in Dark Times,” which plans to host an exhibition of such zines in the near future.

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