Printed by any means necessary, “zines” are exactly what their names intimates: an abbreviated form of magazine. Their modest means of manufacture allow zines to serve as the de facto word on the street in the most visceral, immediate, and ink-stained manner possible.
Whether they’re newsprint, pamphlets, flyers, or booklets, zines take the shape of whatever is most readily available to the public. It’s this direct current from creator to audience that belies the art form’s practicality. There are no publishing houses, board of directors, HR departments, or marketing specialists to dilute what the artist or writer envisions.
Zines are an essential conduit between the citizen and their city. Any truth whose travel is staggered across a bottlenecked and sterile evening news report can blister across the pavement when carried across an independent letterhead. It was Cleveland’s poet laureate of the 1960s, d.a. Levy, that exposed a chronic housing scandal throughout University Circle. Levy’s anti-establishment zines, the Marihuana Quarterly and the Tibetan Third Class Junkmail Oracle, helped bring multiple city officials to justice for corruption and racial disparity in housing.
Pulps with similar pulses for the public still make the rounds on nearby street corners and small shop counters today. Lakewood’s Sleeper Service, aptly billed as “a Cleveland DIY community journal,” offers earnest poetry, stark photography, and unapologetic appraisals toward the state of the city, including a scathing indictment in their second issue, “Detroit Shoreway and the Criminalization of Poverty,,” which questions the validity of a string of local forced evictions while accusing city officials of “the same arrogance that led to the Cleveland Museum of Art being founded to ‘civilize the poor’, the same arrogance that leads to the mass public works projects being grounded in concepts of social engineering.”
A proto version of Sleeper Service, originally titled The Free, was originally distributed through Guide to Kultur bookstore before the tight-knit group of friends and creators retooled their creation. Sleeper Service Co-creator A. Cameron speaks to the newsprint’s current inception.
“The genesis of it came from [co-creators] Mason and Gus and their idea of having something to do,” Cameron says. “We’re all friends and we all have different skills that we bring to the table from editing, graphic design, or understanding poetry.”
The versatility in content that Sleeper Service possesses, ably shifting local politics to poetry with a single turn of the page, showcases why the atypical format of most zines own a large portion of their appeal. Far from locked into a single genre, the limits of any zine are as far-reaching as its creator’s purview allows. Emma Shepard’s hilarious, Dr. Seuss-inspired “Oh, The Men You’ll Unfortunately Date Before You Turn 30!” is all but sold out of its first printing. Rightfully so, with choice rhymes like “Now that you’re sober you can’t just glaze over his wind-chime collection and patchouli-esque odor.” Kat Cade’s Fuzz has allowed the creator to become a paper champion to burgeoning local music. Her most recent offering, Terrestrial :: Nebulous, is a stunning short-run print that “explores photographic abstraction and looks into the otherworldly nature of our own planet.”
Jacque Beas’ inarguably striking art zine, Sensations, exists within this selfsame gamut. “It focuses on the carnal pleasures and kink related material,” Beas says about her latest offering, which is currently making the rounds at art shows and bookshops around town to swooning reviews. “I am very much about including queer visibility in my work. I like very powerful figures in my work that execute strength and sexuality at the same time but not in a way that is super seductive. I like to take on societal norms and gender norms.”
From social activism, music, literature, and visual arts, zines put the means of production squarely in the hands of its creators. It’s a do-or-do-not art form that possesses an inherent blue collar ethos that owes its presence not from benefactors, grants, or vapid social media content generators, but through the sheer will and dedication of its creators. From print shops to basements, the independent presses across Cleveland, Lakewood, and the Heights are alive with the words and images that form and inform your daily life; all you need do is keep turning the page.