Portland zinesters find freedom in self-publishing

By Emily Hamilton (OPB)
Oct. 26, 2022 8:59 p.m.

The Portland Zine Symposium celebrates a community of independent artists, writers and makers who thrive outside of the traditional publishing industry.

A photo illustration of a zinester with his self-published game "Tipples and Taverns" at the 2022 Portland Zine Symposium. He introduced himself as the Tavern Wizard.

A photo illustration of a zinester with his self-published game "Tipples and Taverns" at the 2022 Portland Zine Symposium. He introduced himself as the Tavern Wizard.

Emily Hamilton / OPB

In September, zine artists, makers, writers and creators all gathered at Portland State University for the return of the Portland Zine Symposium, a two-day event celebrating zines and the zine community.


What is a zine?

“You’re gonna get a different answer, every person you ask,” said M. Sabine Rear, an organizer with the Portland Zine Symposium, or PZS. “To me, it is primarily a mode of self-publishing information with the goal of it being as financially and logistically accessible as possible,” Rear said.

A majority of zines are like little books, explained Liz Yerby, also a PZS organizer. They can be created with simple pen and paper and reproduced on a copy machine.

“There are always people who are willing to push the envelope,” said BB Andersson, another PZS organizer.

The PZS return in 2022 came after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

“We’re being gentle with ourselves,” Rear said. Though largely in-person, this year’s symposium still included a series of virtual meetups. And the organizing team implemented a “safe spaces” policy to help zinesters feel more comfortable. Even with a few added precautions, the excitement in PSU’s Smith Ballroom was undeniable.


The tabling portion of the event drew both local zine creators and people from across the country.

“In more traditional media, someone else decides what’s worthy of publication, which, I don’t think we think about enough,” said Rear.

Self-publishing allows historically underrepresented groups to share art and information that might be deemed “not profitable” or “too niche” by the mainstream publishing industry.

“Everyone is so supportive. ... The kind of people we attract are those who are creative and vulnerable,” said Cecil G, a zinester who tabled at PZS.

Sharing, gifting and trading zines outside of a capitalistic framework is often celebrated among zinesters, including at PZS.

“It’s so encouraged. An amazing part of zine spaces is trading,” Rear said.

Though there is an element of what Rear describes as “small capitalism” practiced in zine production and distribution, the line between a zine producer and consumer is often blurred. Many zinesters are both and more.

“To me, it’s more of an information vehicle than a product,” said Rear, who also expressed concern about any mode of production that might raise the barriers to entry into the art form. “One of the main aspects of a zine is to make people feel like anyone can do it,” she said.

“This is 100% from my brain to your hands,” said one zinester, who wore a handcrafted beard made of gray yarn and introduced himself as The Tavern Wizard. He summed it up: “The best thing about zines? I wanted this to exist, and now it does.”


Related Stories