PHOENIX — In a small Phoenix zine shop, Charissa Lucille feels the pulse of the current political moment, informed in part by the zines that come across her desk every day. Lucille runs the Wasted Ink Zine Distro (WIZD), where people gather to read, make, and buy myriad micropublications that amplify marginalized voices. “One zine just came across my desk that’s about how to recognize fascism in Arizona,” Lucille told Hyperallergic in late August. “The topics we see really tell us a lot about what people are seeing and experiencing,” they said.

Arizona garnered national headlines in August after four Trump allies and election deniers, including gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake, won primary contests. Bills signed into law in Arizona in 2022 will narrow what teachers can talk about in class, and require schools to post titles of library books purchased after January 1, 2023. 

Charissa Lucille, August 2022 (photo by Charissa Lucille)

For decades, DIY publications have reflected the times, according to Milo Miller, co-founder for the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which launched in 2003 as a way to preserve and share queer zines. “Zines are a way that activism gets captured and codified in whatever the zeitgeist is at the moment,” Miller said. 

Today, that zeitgeist includes book bans and challenges rooted in conservative ideology, rhetoric, and policies, which are often aimed at gender queer communities and people of color. Books removed from Texas schools in recent months, for example, have included Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

A Sunday afternoon at Wasted Ink Zine Distro, August 2022 (photo by Lynn Trimble/Hyperallergic)

Wasted Ink focuses on titles exploring BIPOC, LGBTGIA+, disabled or chronically ill, and neurodiverse identities, according to Lucille, who describes themselves as a queer, disabled, neurodiverse zine-maker. The shop represents more than 350 makers. About half are based in Arizona, and roughly ten percent live in other countries such as Australia, Germany, Indonesia, and Japan. 

Lucille sells more than 600 titles in the store, and about 200 titles online. The selection changes as some zines sell out and new zines get added into the mix. Recent offerings have included Butches in Bloom: An Illustrated Field Guide by Liuxing Johnston, Trans Restroom Rants by Birch Rosen, Climate Change Anxiety: The Zine! by Sarah Beth Kaye, Artist Insecurities by Sabrina S., and Beautiful Brown, Like Me by Kuwa Jasiri Indomela.

Titles spotted at Wasted Ink Zine Distro, August 2022 (photo by Lynn Trimble/Hyperallergic)

The store also houses a zine library, where people can explore more than 1000 works created from the 1980s on. They’re organized according to categories that include art, feminism, political, queer, and more. On one rack, they’ve got free zines on topics such as abortion and unions. 

Wasted Ink is part of a cultural hub called Nurture House, which is also home to Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, Pachanga Press, Abalone Mountain Press, an art gallery, and a small mutual aid garden. 

For Lucille, who founded the zine store in 2015 and moved to their current location on the outskirts of the Roosevelt Row arts district in early 2021, news of books being removed from school and community libraries reinforces the role of zines in contemporary society. “Pen and ink have revolutionized movements and culture and information sharing, and that’s especially true for zines because they’re unedited,” Lucille said. “They’re extremely necessary right now.”

Zine displays in the retail space at Wasted Ink Zine Distro (photo by Lynn Trimble/Hyperallergic)

Even so, brick and mortar zine shops are relatively rare. More often, people access the publications online through library, academic, or other collections. Sometimes they stumble on zines placed around town in guerilla literary actions, or find them through local zine festivals such as the PHX Zine Fest and ABQ Zine Fest happening in the Southwest this fall. 

Rosemarie Dombrowski, a poet based in Phoenix who teaches a course at Arizona State University on the history of radical zines, agrees that they’re powerful tools for self-expression and activism. In 2015, she founded rinky dink press, which specializes in poetry micro-zines. “I’ve seen a tremendous amount of direct action themes in recent years, including guides to protesting and thwarting police control,” said Dombrowski, who served as Phoenix’s inaugural poet laureate. “We have a really unique zine culture here, mainly with Latinx and Indigenous makers,” she said of the city’s zine culture. “We also have a lot of body positive and LGBTQIA+ zines, and some great comics.” Even so, Dombrowski worries that the more underground, revolutionary aspects of zine culture are waning as the genre becomes more mainstream. “I wish it looked a little more roughed up,” she said. 

Section of a shelf in the Wasted Ink Zine Library (photo by Lynn Trimble/Hyperallergic)

Whatever form they take, zines foster conversation and community, according to Anushka Joshi, the editor-in-chief for GEN-ZiNE in New York, a multimedia collective she founded with a print-only zine in 2018. “There’s something about knowing that there are other people feeling the same way as you,” Joshi said. “Zines can help to bring those people together.” For Wasted Ink, making those connections takes several forms, including in-store workshops and outreach to schools and libraries. 

Moving forward, Lucille plans to add more zines for youth. They’re also collaborating on a creative space where makers will be able to have their work printed and shipped. “Zines,” explained Lucille, “are great tools for sharing personal narratives, especially for people living on the margins of society and those who’ve been historically silenced.”

Shelf with free titles at Wasted Ink Zine Distro, August 2022 (photo by Lynn Trimble/Hyperallergic)

Lynn Trimble is an award-winning writer based in Arizona who specializes in arts reporting and arts criticism for regional and national publications.