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Experimental, quirky and independent, zines provide creative space for CT artists

Mariana Pelaez reads a poem at Union Station in New Haven, on June 13, 2024. The editor was one of the co-hosts at the guerilla reading event that celebrated art in "unusual" spaces. Pelaez later reminisced about her time at a poem club at the University of Connecticut, missing the freedom of the outlet.
Shanice Rhule
/
Connecticut Public
Mariana Pelaez reads a poem at Union Station in New Haven, on June 13, 2024. The editor of Connectic*nt was one of the co-hosts at the guerilla reading event that celebrated art in "unusual" spaces. Pelaez later reminisced about her time in a poetry club at the University of Connecticut, missing the freedom of the outlet.

It’s 7:30 p.m. in New Haven’s Union Station. Commuters look on with curiosity as a young group gathers – spreading blankets on the station’s floor and pulling out ink-stained notebooks.

The crowd sits down eagerly, waiting for the performance to begin. Zoe Jensen, 26, strides to the front, welcoming attendees and thanking them for coming.

What follows is a performance packed with a menu of musings: poems, diary entries, opinions on public transportation and even off-the-cuff ramblings.

It’s art. In-person and the moment. And it’s that artistic spirit – and love of physical media – that infuses “Connectic*nt,” a zine published by Jensen, Mariana Palaez and Iyanna Crockett. The group plans on publishing their third-anniversary issue on July 20.

The three friends met at the University of Connecticut and started their zine as a personal project encouraged by the school’s art scene. Their first issue had around 75 preorders.

Today, they get about 400 orders for each issue.

The zine is published bimonthly, giving contributors from across Connecticut a space to experiment artistically with words and in visual arts.

“We don't censor our submissions,” Crockett said. “It’s a voice for anyone who has any thoughts about things that are happening.”

What is a zine?

Zines (short for “fanzines”) are small publications that, for centuries, have allowed countercultures to collaborate and create – sharing ideas of politics and self-identity through art.

Members of civil rights, feminist and gay liberation movements all used zines for activism. But, the trend got its name during the 1930s, when science fiction fans started using the medium to talk about the genre.

The zine, “The Comet,” is regarded as one of the first fanzines created from this era. The 10-page sci-fi booklet featured stories, articles and letters from fans.

Today, Connecticut artists still embrace zine culture, producing vibrant and diverse publications that provide a unique platform for voices that might otherwise be overlooked.

Local zine fairs and workshops have also become popular, fostering collaboration and inspiring new generations of artists to explore this accessible and expressive medium.

“It's the beauty of community,” Jensen said. “Community is just what keeps us going in moments of toughness.”

The financial challenges of publishing 

Today, despite having access to digital publication tools and the internet, some young authors (and readers) still prefer the physicality of zines. They say zines freeze time and allow readers to reflect on a specific moment.

“There's something about print that I love where it's like, you can't fix things. It's there and it's there forever,” said Jasmine Jones, 31, creator of Aislin Magazine, a Hartford-based zine that connects underground musicians.

But printing is expensive.

Jones, the sole editor of Aislin, said she spends about $500 to print 50 copies of her magazine.

So some zine creators are moving beyond the printed word. This past April, Jones hosted “Aislin Live,” a music event that helped artists network with other creatives. Jones said she used money from a fellowship to fund the event, but said she had to scale back its initial vision when the fellowship did not follow through on helping her raise all the funding she needed.

Grant money can be scarce, with organizations having specific eligibility standards, which can sometimes exclude themes an artist may want to explore.

For many zine creators, that can mean walking a fine line between artistic vision and financial reality.

The zine library at New Haven Pride Center, curated by Magik Press, a New London based micro-press and studio. Installed for Pride Month, the library includes over 100 local artists. Aly Maderson Quinlog, founder of Magik Press, loved sitting in the space, surrounded by the art of friends.
Provided
/
Magik Press
The zine library at New Haven Pride Center, curated by Magik Press, a New London based micro-press and studio. Installed for Pride Month, the library includes over 100 local artists. Aly Maderson Quinlog, founder of Magik Press, loved sitting in the space, surrounded by the art of friends.

“There's a respectability that comes with how you present your work. You have to explain it in a very specific way so that it will get picked up by funding,” said Aly Maderson Quinlog, 44, founder of Magik Press, a micro-press and community arts studio located in New London, Connecticut.

The studio works with artists to create their own zines, emphasizing the accessibility of the art form. Basic office supplies and recycled materials are used. The press tries to figure out ways to help creatives make the first zine by using whatever mediums they already work in, Maderson Quinlog said.

Their most recent event was a collaboration with local artist, silencio, at the New Haven Pride Center. The event, "El Rincón De Papel," provided low-cost small batch printing services for BIPOC and queer zine creators.

“It's really important that we can be a place where people can come and learn what we do and then take it to their own communities,” Maderson Quinlong said. “The mission of the collective is to inspire other collectives.”

Who is the face of zines?

Historically, the art world has been male-dominated, with female and non-binary artists often in the minority of art collections, music and literature. In 2019, Artnet, an online marketplace for art pieces, found that in the past decade, only 11% of acquisitions and 14% of exhibitions in 26 major American museums were created by female artists.

But to Magik Press’ consultant, Ty Pace, representation isn’t the problem, gatekeeping is.

“When we talk about who gets lifted and the face of zines, they tend to be middle-class, white women,” Pace, 34, said.

Pace uses this problem as motivation to further highlight artistry in groups that aren’t always given a spotlight. This past month, the press collaborated with the New Haven Pride Center, to host a zine library in the center to celebrate Pride Month.

This observation underscores a deeper issue within the zine and the art community: the persistent lack of diverse voices in the creative circles.

“Black folks are making zines, queer folks are making zines. There are disabled artists' work that exists, and it's existing whether or not mainstream is paying attention to it,” Pace said. “I think that's really what we're always coming down to: when is mainstream gonna stop gatekeeping what gets to be seen?”

Zines encourage artistic expression, but creators say they can also nurture a tapestry of perspectives, making them invaluable to culture.

And for young artists, they can also just be a fun creative outlet.

“I was in a poetry club [at the University of Connecticut], and we would host open mics,” Pelaez, the co-founder of Connectic*nt, said. “And then you graduate and it's like, where exactly are you going to do that?”

This story has been updated.

A poet at the guerilla reading event standing in front of the crowd at Union Station in New Haven on June 13, 2024. "I'm always surprised just how open-minded some people are," Jensen said. "Tonight during the open mic, so many people said that this was their first time ever doing spoken word."
Shanice Rhule
/
Connecticut Public
A poet at the guerilla reading event standing in front of the crowd at Union Station in New Haven on June 13, 2024. "I'm always surprised just how open-minded some people are," Jensen said. "Tonight during the open mic, so many people said that this was their first time ever doing spoken word."

Shanice Rhule is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut where she has written for her school’s newspaper and radio station. She has previously worked with Connecticut Public as a Social Media Intern and is currently their Dow Jones Digital Media Intern for the summer of 2024.
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