My Love Affair With Zines (and Portland)

To be honest, zines were part of the reason I moved to Portland, probably more than I’d like to admit. I had always longed to be part of a real, live zine community, which didn’t exist in the Virginian suburbs I grew up in. In the years prior to my move to Portland, I was lonelier than I can ever remember being, and I clung to zines as a lifeline, sending letters out to my favorite zinesters, many of whom I developed deep friendships with through the written word. We would send each other letters weekly, and on some weeks, daily. I had a lot to say but no one there to say it to, and so it came out in pages and pages of letters, dropped off wrapped in homemade envelopes at the post office next to my office in the suburbs of DC.

I’m not sure I really pictured what an in-person, real live zine scene might look like, but the thought that I could connect with other humans through a medium that I had come to love and rely on since I was 15 years old was my idea of salvation. There was a lot that went in to my decision to move 3,000 miles west to a city I’d only visited a handful of times, but this was one of them. Looking back four years into my life here in Portland, what I am most shocked by is how different my relationship to zines has become since those years when my idea of a zine scene was coming home from work and checking the mailbox in my apartment lobby to find tiny envelopes made of magazine pages stuffed with funny letters.

I have been organizing the Portland Zine Symposium with an ever-changing group of about 7 or 8 hard-working, zine-y folks for the past four years. This, along with the 18 months or so I worked on Stumptown Underground, an anthology zine that (used to) publish monthly zines on different themes, is pretty much how I know most of the people that I do know in Portland. (Stumptown Underground still publishes, but not monthly. They have open submissions for any kind of writing or art.) Zines have indeed connected me to many amazing, incredible writers and artists—many of whom I now consider my best friends in this city I love so much.

The only downside to this is that the transition from zines being an activity I participate in alone to something I do with other people means I have not written an issue of my own zine since I moved here. Writing my own zines, reading other people’s zines, and writing letters to zinesters has taken a back seat to organizing and attending zine events, going to zine meetings, and spending time at the IPRC. It is a balance that I am trying to restore—to get more into the actual creation of zines rather than just facilitating zine community building, and I am still working on defining my relationship to zines and their place in my life.

Which is why I am excited to continue writing about the zine scene here in Portland on this blog. I hope to do some zine reviews, write about zine events, maybe even post some zinester interviews here for your zine-y pleasure. And just in case you have read this whole post saying to yourself what-the-heck-is-this-zine-thing-she-speaks-of, I have two recommendations to get started.

The Independent Publishing Resource Center, lovingly referred to by most by its initials, the IPRC, is the shining jewel of the zine community in Portland, at least I think so. To understand what it truly is, you must go there yourself, which is lucky for you because they recently moved into an amazing space on SE 10th and Division (1001 SE Division) with includes a classroom, letter press and screenprinting studios, an enormous zine library, a computer lab, lots of work spaces and places to lounge, as well as a rooftop view of the city skyline. The IPRC is a place to go to make zines, comics, and art. Also to meet other zinesters, learn more about zines, or learn a variety of skills that will help you publish anything you want. It is totally unique, and I literally dreamed about this mythical place while I was living in Virginia, and now I get to use it all the time, and it is just as great as I imagined.

The IPRC

The other recommendation I have is Portland Button Works, in North Portland near Killingsworth and Interstate (1322 N. Killingsworth). I am probably biased because it is owned by two fellow Portland Zine Symposium organizers Alex Wrekk and Derek Neuland, but this is the best zine shop in town. Alex and Derek do custom button orders, and they run a zine distro. You can also make your own buttons there in the shop! Their zine selection is excellent and includes zines from all over the world. Alex is a veteran zinester and happens to be the author of the first zine I ever read (Brainscan). Derek also knows a lot about zines. They are super friendly and rad and can give you recommendations to get you started or to add to your zine collection. I am really proud of these guys and what they’ve done to get this up and running. Stop by and check out their adorable space. (Right now it is decorated for Halloween!)

Portland Button Works, the Halloween version

This concludes my first post on the zine scene in Portland, with much more to come. I will post Part Two of my Cooper Spur adventure next week. Read Part One here.

2 thoughts on “My Love Affair With Zines (and Portland)

  1. Looking forward to more zine-y pleasures! To me, the work that goes into making zines is a much more all-encompassing labor of love than traditional publishing. Zines are good for the jaded writer’s soul! (Unless you are a jaded zine writer. . .)

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