What are zines? Meet 4 practitioners of this small, beautiful and niche art of publishing

Short for magazine or 'fanzine' and known as a form of self-expression, zines are publications that address a variety of themes.

ByPrutha Chakraborty

Published Apr 05, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedApr 06, 2023 | 11:46 AM

Zine art

Indians are going micro to express their thoughts. The enabler: A publication form known as zine.

Short for magazine or “fanzine” and known as a form of self-expression, zines are publications that address a variety of themes — identity, culture, art, and social and political commentary.

However, zines are not little magazines. They are mostly created by one person and self-published with limited print runs; in other words, unlike little magazines, these are seldom sold commercially in India.

The zine culture — which can be traced back to the 1920s US — is now catching on among India’s young adults and younger millennials, with a small but growing tribe of zine creators making their mark.

Zine-focussed events have become a regular feature in the country. For instance, the Bombay Zine Fest — a platform for independent publishers, artists and zine-makers to showcase their work, connect with each other and engage with the wider community — is now a popular annual event.

Here is taking a look at our favourite artists shaping the art form in the country.

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Ipsa Jain

Ipsa Jain is a scientist-turned-illustrator from Bengaluru. Currently a faculty member at Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Jain got bitten by the art bug some six-seven years ago when she met zine artists doing their thing at Cubbon Park Metro Station.

Ipsa Jain. (Supplied)

Soon after, she attended a workshop and started creating her zines.

“I remember sitting with a few biologist friends discussing common misconceptions students have about the biological cell — how cells are perceived as 2D (sunny side up) like structures as opposed to a 3D shape (an egg),” Jain recalled.

So she made her first zine explaining this idea.

Interestingly, Jain is perhaps among the very few individuals using zines to communicate scientific ideas.

“Initially, I shared them in institutional spaces and sold them online. But in a few months, I was able to showcase them at the Indie Comix Fest,” she said, referring to the multi-city artists-run festival of self-published comics in India.

Jain sold more than 50 zines at the fest, which are priced between ₹50 and ₹300.

While some zines take 10 minutes to be made, others can take as much as about 10 months.

“There are NO rules,” she said, “Just make them. Zines are a place for your voice.”

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Hari Chakyar

A writer from Kerala now working at an advertising agency in Mumbai, Hari Chakyar made his first zine during the Covid-19 lockdown when he was stranded in his home state for three months.

Hari Chakyar. (Sukrit Nagaraj)

“A friend shared (author) Austin Kleon’s video with me, where he shows how one can fold an A4 sheet of paper into a mini zine. I loved the idea and just had to try it. I made this zine and put it up on Instagram and I kept making more,” he said.

Sometimes, Chakyar uses his thumbs to create characters. “My series called ‘Mahabharata with Healthy Boundaries’ has characters made with such thumbprints.

But he is also open to experimenting with other techniques, such as using the cyanotype technique — a photographic printing process —to create a zine titled ‘Man like Damu’.

“It’s about my dad who is this unique kind of person that has a big influence on my life,” Chakyar explained.

His mini zines are usually whimsical musings, he confessed. ‘Man like Damu’ is a commentary on the gentle kind of masculinity my dad exudes.”

Tight’, which Chakyar says is his biggest zine so far with all of 50 pages, is a conversation between two friends — one of whom has a medical condition called phimosis (tight foreskin) — wondering whether it’s a good idea to get circumcised in the “current political climate”.

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Pointless Publishers

Sisters Sreya and Sravya, one living in Hyderabad and the other in New York, publish their zines on an Instagram page, Pointless Publishers.

Zine art

Sreya and Sravya of Pointless Publishers. (Supplied)

“Zines have existed since there have been chapbooks, and I am late to this party,” Sreya quipped.

Her first zine was a TV guide to make people watch smarter television during the pandemic. Called ‘Tele Tubbies‘, Sreya and Sravya felt it was a necessity for people to be smart viewers.

While their first zine took one week, another took six months.

“Most of my writing comes as a satire of the monotonous questions people ask like, ‘What do you do?’ which means ‘What is your job?’ so I would respond, ‘I walk’, which is true but that’s not what anyone is curious about,” Sreya laughed.

“For me, the whole idea behind making zines is to initiate conversations,” she added.

“So, the perpetual theme is ‘how to talk to someone’. You make a zine, show it to someone and you can talk about it for hours,” she further said.

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Vasvi Oza

Vasvi Oza is a visual artist and researcher based in Bengaluru who feels the “zine party has just started” in India.

“We are bringing a whole new flavour to it,” she said.

Zine art

Vasvi Oza. (Supplied)

Oza’s first zine ‘LADIESeat’ emerged from an old collection of memory drawings she had made of the women she encountered in BMTC buses in Bengaluru.

“I used to live in Sarjapur and it was a long bus ride from there to the city,” she said.

“I would observe women, old and young, school-going girls, college students, women in uniform and more. I would come back home and make memory drawings of these passengers. I published these drawings as the LADIESeat zine,” she added.

Oza says she doesn’t have a specific style that defines her zine-making work. “I think that’s the best part about zines, one can express oneself in as many styles as one wants.”

Being in the teaching profession, she has offered courses on zine-making for students enrolled in different disciplines such as science, economics, humanities, mathematics, and so on.

Her most recent analog zine has words from Audre Lorde, the black feminist writer, about “the erotic and women”.

“I have also explored translation in my notebook zines, which come in notebook formats, where I have worked with an excerpt of Amrita Pritam’s writings and made two different zines in Hindi and English. I also enjoy making analog zines, just working with paper, colours without worrying about getting it printed,” Oza said.