Got a subject you want to vent, enthuse or wax lyrical about? Good news – you can fold a sheet of paper into eight equal parts and express yourself via a ‘zine’, a cheaply made, cheaply reproduced self-published work that can be about absolutely anything. Anne Taylor met Featherston’s own zine maven Sam Dew aka Murtle Chickpea, to find out more. Illustration by Anne Taylor.

Sam, who works with animals in her day job, picked up her first zine at an event in Aro Valley in the early 2000s: “I walked in and saw all these incredibly creative and a little bit different bunch of people and realised I’d found my tribe,” she says.

Following the Wellington mid-winter Zine Fest a few years ago, she launched into her first creation, called ‘Dingbats Saved My Life’: “One page was about the breakup I was going through at the time, and the rest was just random creativity helping me get through it.”

Cathartic, random creativity is a fitting description for most zines. A small sample of zines she has collected include ‘Becky’s Boobs’, ‘How to be a Tourtured [sic] Artist’, and ‘What is left – a zine about grief’. At last year’s annual Wellington Zine Fest, I picked up a wee gem called ‘Salami’ – a schoolboy’s tract on this undervalued snack – plus ‘An ode to the suburbs’, full of surreal ironic collages.

But for all their weird and wonderfulness, zines are now being collected by universities and libraries worldwide, including our own National Library. The genre got underway in earnest with the proliferation of copy shops and photocopiers in the 1970s. Sci- and band ‘fanzines’ were the first iteration but since then, zine subject matter has expanded exponentially. There are famous series by feminists, political radicals and punk artists. Bryce Galloway lectures about zines at Massey University, and a ‘zine lab’ was held there recently. Even Kanye West has got in on the fun to promote his clothing line Yeezy.

There are many sophisticated zines by artists and designers. Beautiful origami-like techniques are used to fold the paper into pages. But there are also zine makers who also speak their truth with stick figures, collage, and simple stapled pages. This adds up to a raw, sometimes confronting, but truly democratic art form.

Sam planted the seed in Featherston with a monthly club and she has been running children’s workshops in the North Island for the last two years. A standout memory is from Taradale where a streetwise boy, who was initially reluctant to get started, created his debut zine called ‘Princesses of the World’. Later that day Sam found him working on the sequel: ‘Princesses of the World, Part 2’.

Zine makers secretly slip their work onto shelves and also donate to supportive librarians, so there are now zine sections in many regional libraries. At the end of her children’s workshops, Sam asks the local library if they would like a copy of each child’s zine. She has also seen how zines can be therapeutic for issues like bullying and depression, and would like to branch into workshops at high schools and possibly prisons in future.

A few years ago, she put out a call to zine makers from all over the world to donate to her Zine Museum. Items are still rolling in and she now has over 700 titles. She travels the collection to events around the country as the ‘Travelling Zine Museum’, and it also has an online presence on Tumblr.

As for her own work, she says the subject matter will never dry up. She regularly sends letters in the form of zines to a friend, and recorded last year’s Bad Art Competition at Loco café in zine form. She’s also planning a zine that will voice all the things she wished she had said to her fellow passenger during a vexed conversation on the train.