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'Quaranzines' Bring Readers Together Despite Distancing

May 27, 2020
Originally published on May 28, 2020 8:29 am

Long after the last loaf of sourdough bread is baked and the last quarantini is downed, there will be an archive of memories of life under quarantine in the form of online zines documenting the experiences of everyday people.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Internet has become home to a growing number of these self-published chronicles, comics, and how-to guides for everything from cutting your hair to building emergency hand washing stations. Often published on Instagram with hashtags such as #quaranzine and #stayhomemakezines, they draw on a tradition first established in the 1930s, when self-published, hand-made "fanzines" provided a forum for sci-fi fans to reflect on the genre as well as the nature of fandom itself.

In the decades that followed, the Beats, the punks, and the Riot grrrl movement also turned to this medium — which eventually became known as the zine — because it cost virtually nothing to produce, and required few materials save for paper and pen. Self-published and small-scale, zines nevertheless gave voice to everyday people, linking personal experiences to the larger moment.

Today, one of those people is Shreveport, La., illustrator Kirk Reedstrom, who has been making zines since March, when Governor John Bel Edwards issued a statewide shelter-in-place order. "I would like people to see how surreal much of everyday life feels," says Reedstrom, who shares musings about everything from runs on celery at his local supermarket to the strange tan lines he's been getting on his daily walks.

Reedstrom has been posting his hand-drawn observations online.
Kirk Reedstrom

Salonee Bhaman of the Asian American Feminist Collective says Asian American Feminist Antibodies, the zine her New York-based organization co-authored with Bluestockings Bookstore, was a chance to showcase "how Asian American feminists are taking care of each other and responding to this crisis." She adds, "There's a bunch of stuff in there ... it's a real hodgepodge. We really tried to bring together a lot of writing responding to this crisis from a perspective of community care rather than fear or anger."

Jonathan Valelly is the editor of Broken Pencil, a Toronto-based magazine about zines, which is offering crowdfunded microgrants to support zinemakers in Canada and the U.S. He says he's not surprised to see print zines flourishing online, especially in these times of social distancing, "The zine culture is a lot about trading and collecting to reach others whom you know, but ideally who you don't know, and build those connections across distances, and across different lived experiences."

And quaranzines can also produce a more complete picture of our time, says Barnard College zine librarian Jenna Freedman. "In the future this story will be told by journalists, by historians, by people with influence. But that doesn't tell the full story," she says. "By inviting a range of people that don't have those kinds of platforms to contribute, we're making a better historical record."

Want to make your own quaranzine? Here's a video to get started, or try these instructions from NPR's Life Kit.

This story was edited for radio by Tom Cole and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Long after the last loaf of sourdough bread is baked and the last quarantini (ph) is downed, there will be an archive of memories of life under quarantine. Allyson McCabe reports on quaranzines (ph).

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: When Louisiana began its statewide quarantine in March, Kirk Reedstrom says his life started to feel surreal.

KIRK REEDSTROM: Our grocery store put limits on celery. And for some reason, the lizard part of my brain went off. So I would be going through the produce section, I thought, oh, my goodness. I can only get two.

MCCABE: Reedstrom is a professional illustrator, so he started posting his observations online as hand-drawn stories, each only a few pages long.

REEDSTROM: I've been going on these long walks and jogs during the day. And I realized after a couple weeks of doing that, that I started getting these bizarre tan lines.

MCCABE: So Reedstrom drew pages depicting the back of his neck, where his short sleeves ended, and how the thick rims of his glasses left telltale signs that his usual routines had been upended. But it also gave him something to do.

REEDSTROM: Often I work on long projects, so it became really nice when you're not going anywhere or doing anything to be able to finish something.

MCCABE: In the 1930s, handmade fanzines, as they were once called, began to circulate among sci-fi fans. In the decades that followed, the beats, the punks and the riot grrrl movement also turned to self-published zines as vehicles for self-expression, connection and community. Jonathan Valelly, editor of Broken Pencil, a Toronto-based magazine about zines, says he's not surprised to see quaranzines flourishing online.

JONATHAN VALELLY: The zine culture is a lot about trading and collecting to reach others whom you know, but ideally who you don't know, and build those connections across distance, across different lived experiences.

MCCABE: Valelly also says the impact will likely extend beyond the zine community.

VALELLY: The zines that are going to come out of this time are going to be fascinating to read but also useful for all of us. From harm reduction tips to recipes to conversations about surveillance through public health mechanisms, all of those things are being made.

MCCABE: And published on Instagram with hashtags such as #Quaranzine and #StayHomeMakeZines. The offerings are as diverse as their creators. New York's Asian American Feminist Collective teamed up with Bluestockings Bookstore to document the uptick in anti-Asian racism in the early days of the pandemic. One of the coauthors, Salonee Bhaman, says the collaboration grew to include dozens of contributors.

SALONEE BHAMAN: There's a bunch of stuff in there. Everything from, you know, recipes that we knew made pantry staples go really far from our grandmothers and our friends, and also people putting together mutual aid resources, a lot of writing and poetry from artists we admire. So it's a real hodgepodge. We really tried to bring together a lot of writing responding to this crisis from a perspective of community care, rather than fear or anger.

MCCABE: Quaranzines can also produce a more complete picture of our time, says Barnard College zine librarian Jenna Freedman.

JENNA FREEDMAN: In the future, this story will be told by journalists, by historians, by people with influence. But that doesn't tell the full story. So by inviting a range of people that don't have those kinds of platforms to contribute, I think we're making a better historical record.

MCCABE: Since she put out a call in early April, Freedman says she's already received nearly 100 submissions for her zine library.

For NPR News, from my home in New York, I'm Allyson McCabe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.