A Beginner’s Guide to Zine-Making with Sarah Maria Griffin

One of the upshots of the times we are living in is that people have cultivated a new-found passion for creating art of all kinds. We at DBF noticed a particular interest in the creation of ‘zines’, short home-made publications that are known for their limited print-runs and focus on niche topics. We wanted to know how best to go about making zines – to do so, we had a virtual chat with none other than author Sarah Maria Griffin, who creates zines every month and sells them on her shop. We asked her about her relationship with zines and the advice she would give someone wanting to start creating them.

What drew you to zines? Is there something about their format that other methods of publication don’t offer?

I’ve been making zines on and off since around 2012, but collecting them since I was a teenager. I kind of see them as a separate entity to traditional publishing, more along the lines of a small, limited-run piece of paper art than a publication. The kind of writing and thought I distribute in the zines isn’t all that different in style from my non-fiction, but the ephemeral nature of the zine is more permissive. Have a thought, write the thought, distribute the thought. It goes against the nature of the internet in that while spontaneous thoughts are easily distributable, they’re also disappeared into the feed very quickly. Zines have a sense of the keepsake to them. I think paper holds weight – not heavy weight, but at least something.

Do you follow a similar process every time you make a new zine or do you take a different approach depending on their content and theme?

I have some interconnected zines, further explorations on a theme – recipes, for example, or the reports I’ve written about the pandemic. Largely I use photographs I take on my phone and respond to them. Sometimes, I just write about something that occurs to me in the moment and follow through with the impulse. They have a structure – the kind of zines I write generally are six pages, with two cover pages – so I just softly explore a topic for six tiny pages, then am done. There’s a rhythm to it, but the approach is largely just following an impulse to a conclusion.

Are there any particular zines or zine-makers that you admire or from whom you take inspiration?

I love visual art zines, because I’m not a very visually creative person – for example, the pieces that Damn Fine Print distribute by Irish artists like Fatti Burke from time to time are gorgeous. I love Mari Naomi’s work – and hold very closely some zines I picked up at art fairs and comic fairs I attended while living in California; these old volumes are ones I take inspiration from every day. Adam Gnade’s work still resonates really deeply with me. I also regularly receive zines in the mail from people who’ve read mine – and this kind of personal circle inspires me too. Every zine made by a person serves a different purpose – for some poets, it’s to distribute their poetry, for visual artists or comic book makers, it serves that purpose – for writers, for activists – they’re very personal, specific objects.

Are there certain supplies you think all zine-makers should have and are there any shortcuts or apps you recommend to aid the process?

The toolkit for a zine-maker is dead simple. Ultimately all you need is a piece of A4 paper, and a scissors, and a pen or some clippings to write and collage with – and the diagram to fold your shape from. And vitally, a photocopier to produce copies so you can distribute the work. Traditionally, you would make a master copy from scratch, then photocopy it – this method is great. I swear by my long-arm stapler, which allows me to bind my zines really easily. I also use The Electric Zine Maker, which is a piece of free-or-donation-based software downloadable from itch.io, developed by Nathalie Lawhead, which is such a robust and enjoyable piece of design software. It gives you different shapes of zines to make, different tools to use, ways to load in and edit your photos – then you can print and copy a saved PDF and distribute from that. You can make a zine with as much or as little embellishment as you like – your aesthetic can be informed by your limitations, as much as what you have access to.

A diagram to fold your zine shape from. Credit: Sarah Maria Griffin

What advice would you give to people new to creating zines?

Go into it in earnest. Zines originate from enthusiasm, and fandom – be specific in what you want to write about, and write from the heart. Don’t aim for perfection, here. Zines are more about passion than perfection. They don’t have to be masterpieces, just pieces – and allowing yourself that can bring you to some really interesting places. In working with zines, I’ve been able to permit myself to just be interested in things, without the scorching pressure to be an expert. So I’d say, just go in with interest and with a desire to communicate that interest. If your zines find their way into ten pairs of hands, or five pairs of hands, it doesn’t matter. Write another one. Then another one. See where it takes you. 

Thank you to Sarah Maria Griffin for participating in this interview! If you would like to support Sarah’s work, you can join her zine Patreon group here, and find links to her many other endeavours here. She can be found on Twitter here.