Ever Becoming: Making Zines As Critically Reflexive Practice

by Sameena Eidoo

In 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to teach a course titled, “Anti-Discriminatory Education”, to teacher candidates (TCs), future teachers, whom I had previously taught in an educational research methods course. These TCs were already familiar with my pedagogical approach and receptive to an emphasis on humanizing and decolonizing approaches to educational inquiry (e.g., Paris & Winn, 2013; Tuck, 2009). The culminating assignment for the educational research methods course is a research paper, so I wanted to create a learning experience in “Anti-Discriminatory Education” that activated TCs’ capabilities as makers and re-makers of knowledge in a different way.   

Because the course interrogates and challenges multiple forms of discriminatory practices within education and engages critical approaches to theory, research, and pedagogy, I reminded TCs this course would bring to the surface patterns of internalized dominance and internalized oppression. I invited them to notice their responses to course texts and discussions, and to use their responses to go inward to gain knowledge of self. I allocated class time to reflect on and respond quietly on the course content and related discussions, and to explore alternative modes of expression and production within an academic environment. In this article, I reflect on two offerings of the course in which TCs made their own zines as part of a critically reflexive practice. This practice recognizes teaching as an ethical and political activity. Teaching involves critically examining how one’s social context and positionality impacts how one relates with others, particularly when there are power imbalances—a reality future teachers must confront in elementary and secondary schools (Benade, 2016; Freire, 1998).  

Critically reflexive practice recognizes teaching as an ethical and political activity.

A Different Kind of Cultural Production 

The main requirement for the zine assignment was that TCs engage with course texts and themes, as well as their experiential knowledge to develop narratives of who they were becoming as future teachers, recognizing that teachers are in a state of “ever becoming” (Benade, 2016, p. 2; Freire, 1998). Zines are “non-commercial, non-professional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute themselves” (Duncombe, 1997, p. 6). Daniel C. Brouwer and Adela C. Licona (2016) provide a partial history of the many origin stories of zines and their affective dimensions: 

Common plot points include science fiction fan publications from the 1930s to the 1950s and the proliferation of zines in relation to the Riot Grrrl music and culture scene of the 1990s. As Licona (2012) observes, “still others trace the emergence of zines to alternative, of-color, and feminist presses as well as to liberation movements” (p. 2). As self-published, self-circulated, typically heterodox, and “born-print” texts, zines pulse as “underground” sites (Duncombe, 1997), as “minor literature” (Leventhal, 2006), as “third-space” (Licona, 2012), and as “counterpublics” (Brouwer, 2005). Affective dynamics ripple through these conceptualizations–zines as sites of rage, dispossession, or rejection, as sites of articulation of direction action politics and critical-cultural politics, for the cultivation of coalitional consciousness and transformational practices, for aesthetic innovations, hilarity and absurdity, and so much more. (p. 74)

Although zine origins include “alternative, of-color, and feminist presses” and liberation movements, some zines and zine cultures centre whiteness. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2009) reflects on the alienating whiteness of zine culture she had experienced: 

It’s not that I stopped loving cut ‘n’ paste and glue sticks; I had just finally given up on a zine that, half a decade of riot grrrl and anarchist race and class wars later, was still dominated by white, middle class kids who were either myopic, apathetic or hostile about worlds outside of their own. The content of most zines was so far from my mixed-race, anti-cop-brutality-organizing, queer-girl-of-colour life…

I left, but my love of publishing didn’t–it went into working on the last incarnation of Bulldozer/Prison News Service, a long-running Toronto-based prison justice paper, and on Raj Palta, a South Asian for-youth/by-youth newspaper. Neither of these would be classified as zines (which begs the important question of how zines came to be defined so whitely). (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2004, p. 25 as cited in Zobl, 2009, p. 3)

I curated the syllabus to centre the work of critical BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of Colour) scholars, educators and artists. Zines, scholarship on zines, and multimedia resources on zine cultures and zine making were situated alongside other course texts. A zine I included on the course syllabus was Marie Laing’s Two-Spirit: Conversations with Young, Two-Spirit, Trans and Queer Indigenous People in Toronto, a re-presentation of her master’s thesis research (Laing, 2018). Laing, a queer Kanyen’kehá:ka person of mixed Haudenosaunee and Irish/South African settler ancestry, made the zine as a response to participants’ request she make the research accessible and relevant to community members: 

One friend/participant suggested I make a zine. A zine with both online and print copies seemed like a good way to share these ideas with people in Toronto and elsewhere. Sharing my research back with my community is part of how I am trying to remain accountable as a researcher/ community member. (Laing, 2018, p. 5)

Laing’s zine offers a counter-narrative amplifying the knowledge and desires of young two-spirit, trans and queer Indigenous folkx, as well as a necessary example of relational ethics and community accountable research practices. 

To support the generation of content for the zines, the culminating project of the course, I assigned critical responses that extended from the first and final class. Toward the end of each class, I shared a writing prompt based on the course themes and texts. For example, in response to an assigned reading from Django Paris and H. Samy Alim’s edited book, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World (2017), in which they call for teaching that sustains the lifeways of communities of Colour, I asked TCs to reflect on and respond to the following statement in relation to their work as future K-12 school teachers: “We sustain what we love.” (Paris & Alim, 2017, p. 12). Paris and Alim (2017) had “remixed” a teaching of their mentor Gloria Ladson-Billings: “We teach what we love” (Paris & Alim, 2017, p. 12). I allocated some class time for TCs to respond to the writing prompts. To reduce anxiety and facilitate freer writing, I designated the assignment pass or fail. If all responses were completed by the end of the course, I would assign a “pass” to the assignment. The pass or fail designation seemed to encourage TCs  to write candidly about their unlearning and learning processes, including patterns of internalized oppression and internalized dominance. 

Some TCs still expressed nervousness and questioned whether they could express themselves adequately. I invited them to write words or draw images in response to the writing prompts until the thoughts and words flowed more freely. TCs were also encouraged to write out their responses on paper.  When they needed more time or were unable to attend class in person, they had the option of submitting their responses electronically. Some chose to hand write and submit photos of their responses, while others typed them out and posted them as private notes on our course website. While I read every response, I rarely commented. By refraining from commenting, I challenged my own impulse to correct or affirm particular responses and TCs’ expectations that I would do so. To some extent, this pedagogical approach seemed to separate the unlearning and learning processes from academic performance and alter how power usually operates in classrooms through assessment and evaluation. 

Learning About Zines and Zine-Making with a Community-Based Teaching Artist 

For the Spring 2019 and Fall 2019 offerings of “Anti-Discriminatory Education”, I knew I wanted to work with a Toronto-based teaching artist to engage TCs in zine-making. I reached out to Jasmine Gui, a multi-disciplinary artist. Jasmine and I had been collaborating to create and activate campus spaces with arts-based educational programming since 2015.

For the Spring 2019 iteration of the course, Jasmine’s workshop was scheduled for a class in which we discussed, “DisCrit Classroom Ecology: Using Praxis to Dismantle Dysfunctional Classroom Ecologies” (2018) by Subini Annamma and Deb Morrison. Annamma and Morrison (2018) theorize a DisCrit Classroom Ecology–rooted in Critical Race Theory, Gift Theory and DisCrit– to disrupt dysfunctional education ecologies. I sent Jasmine the assigned reading, as well as details about classroom furniture arrangement and available resources (e.g., scissors, glue sticks, magazines, photos). We asked TCs to collect magazines and newspapers, and bring any arts-and-crafts materials they could spare.  A few TCs had collected free magazines, newspapers and event materials from around campus for the activity. 

I facilitated discussion on the assigned reading (Annamma & Morrison, 2018) and then Jasmine began her workshop by providing an overview of zines, including zines from her personal collection. She then invited TCs to work in small groups to create a collage in response to DisCrit Classroom Ecology. Jasmine and I had both independently created the same visual to capture Annamma and Morrison’s framework for DisCrit Classroom Ecology, which integrates resistance through pedagogy, curriculum and solidarity (2018).

Jasmine offered the visual as a structure for the collages. Because the classroom furniture included long tables arranged into a horseshoe formation, Jasmine proposed using parchment paper scrolls for students to make collages in small groups. The activity created space for TCs to respond to DisCrit Classroom Ecology by assembling images from magazines and newspapers. Each group seemed to have their own approach to the activity. One group planned out their collage before they committed to glue images on the parchment paper scroll. In another group, each TC worked on their own collage as a contribution to the group’s larger collage. The classroom room was filled all at once with boisterous laughter, intense discussion and quiet focus.

For the Fall 2019 iteration of the course, I worked with another group of TCs who I had taught in educational research methods.  This time we scheduled Jasmine’s workshop during a class reading and discussion on, “Trans(affective)mediation: feeling our way from paper to digitized zines and back again” (2016) by Daniel C. Brouwer and Adela C. Licona. The article reflects on the affective dimensions of digitizing print zines by and for queer people, queer people of Colour and people of colour. One of the TCs was a zinester, so they brought some of their own zines to share with their peers. We set up a display table in the classroom, so that TCs could peruse the zines during class. I began the class with a brief documentary, “Zines: The Power of DIY Print” by multi-media journalist Belinda Cai (2015), followed by a discussion about the documentary and the required reading (Brouwer & Licona, 2016). Jasmine provided an overview of zines and zine-making, and shared anecdotes from her experiences facilitating zine workshops for racialized youth in Toronto.  

Jasmine guided the TCs through the construction of a standard 8-page booklet zine using a single 8.5 inch by 11 inch sheet of paper. She used the standard booklet zine to introduce students to different styles, including sequential images and comics; collages; prose, poetry and text fragments; illustrative text hybrids; and single images. She also offered strategies to approach content, including free writing or stream of consciousness, repetition, narration and documentation. TCs used the sample zine to ideate their zines. Several TCs asked for more time in subsequent classes to work on their zines, and shared how “relaxing” the activity was. This group of TCs would later have the opportunity to visit a zine library in Toronto.

Exploring a Zine Library Collection with a Zine Archivist

Because our institution’s library did not collect zines when I was developing this assignment for TCs, I reached out to a local zine library. For the Fall 2019 offering of the course, I coordinated guided explorations of the zine collection housed within the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University Learning Zone, with the support of the Learning Zone Librarian Marta Chudolinksa.

Open to the public, the Learning Zone is an active studio-based library space, with computer and studio work spaces, printers and scanners, and ever-changing OCAD student  art installations. In addition to the Zine Library, the Learning Zone houses a vertical garden, an aquarium, and other special collections, including Art & Design Annuals, Visionaire Periodical Collection and Seed Library.

The main entrance of the Learning Zone opens into the Zine Library. The Zine Library is a growing collection of self-published and handmade zines donated by zinesters at OCAD University and beyond. The Zine Library was launched on November 14, 2007 by artist Alicia Nauta, while she was a student in OCAD University’s print-making program. In 2009, the collection moved from the Dorothy H. Hoover Library to the then newly opened Learning Zone.

The Zine Library collects, preserves, and shares paper zines that are organized thematically. The covers of the paper zines are digitized and made accessible to the public through an open web-based searchable database. In 2010, Marta moved the zine collection online and has continued to expand the collection and organize programming.

Marta, an interdisciplinary artist, provided a brief historical overview of zines, an overview of the zine collection, as well as the digitization and archiving process. Based on our phone conversation and email correspondence about the course, Marta had pulled several zines focusing on course-related themes for TCs to read, touch and hold. Most of the zines were made by and for queer, trans, disabled and BIPOC zinesters. Although these zines were not part of the formal course syllabus, they significantly expanded the reading list. Marta highlighted different construction and printing techniques. She guided the TCs through the construction of a standard 8-page booklet zine using a single 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper. TCs  then had the opportunity to peruse the OCAD zine library collection, and ideate their own zines. We spent the morning at the OCAD Zine Library. Afterward, several TCs visited the nearby Art Gallery of Ontario before returning to campus. 

Do-It-Yourself Zines by Ever Becoming Teachers

The zines made by the TCs applied the critical theories, research and pedagogies they engaged in “Anti-Discriminatory Education”. I focus on three types of zines TCs made using a variety of crafting techniques, and conclude with two TCs’ responses to zine-making as critically reflexive praxis.

TCs made “cultural zines” (Creasap, 2015) that applied the critical theories introduced in the course to critique the media and popular culture they consumed. These zines explored histories of political protest in sport and examined racism, sexism and ableism in sports. TCs critiqued the Whiteness of television shows they watched in their childhood and youth. One TC created the teen magazine they had always wanted by queering the teen magazines they had consumed as a teenager. Another TC made a zine celebrating different sizes, shapes, and racialized bodies in response to the colonizing Euro-centric ideals of beauty pervasive in mainstream fashion and beauty magazines.  

TCs made teaching and learning resources.

TCs made teaching and learning resources, including a zine featuring BIWOC contributions to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); critiques of the educational system and schooling; and a foldable world map with voices of young BIPOC climate change activists from around the world. One TC made a zine containing real-world mathematical problems challenging the Ford Government’s proposed cuts to education. Other TCs made instructional zines: how to be anti-racist, how to disrupt and dismantle rape culture, and how to prevent teacher burnout. The latter included an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) experience with a strip of bubble wrap to pop for self-soothing. 

TCs made “experiential zines” (Creasap, 2015) that applied the critical theories introduced in the course to make meaning of their lived experiences. TCs reflected on their childhoods, and included personal photos. One TC shared they had not intended to make a personal zine, but the zine medium created space for them to do so. TCs used zines to “right wrongs”, to imagine alternative approaches to conflicts with family members and peers.   TCs experimented with creative non-fiction, and turned aspects of their life stories into children’s stories. TCs involved their families and friends in zine-making. One TC gathered narratives from women friends about their social realities, and layered the narratives. Another TC gathered multiple narratives of “home” from friends and family members, and compiled their responses and drawings of home into the zine. Several TCs described the experience of making zines as “calming” or “healing”.

The zines featured a variety of crafting techniques: layering different types of paper and fabric to create multi-textured pop-up effects, as well as interactive elements requiring the reader to lift and pull flaps, open pockets to explore their contents, and fold and unfold pieces of paper messages on them. One TC made a “viewer” using a black piece of paper with cut-outs.  The reader could glide the viewer over the zine, achieving a blackout poetry effect and receiving different messages from the zine depending on where they placed the viewer. One TC created a “word a day” flip calendar to address the silencing effects of academic language and the experiences of English language learners. Another TC made a cross-stitched cover for their zine. The zines included hand-made drawings, paintings, comic strips, and collage. Another TC painstakingly layered copy after copy to achieve faded print effects. 

Both course offerings culminated in zine fairs. TCs brought their zines to class to share with their peers, sharing their zines first in small groups. In some groups, TCs passed zines around, touching, reading and holding one zine  at a time. In other groups, TCs took turns reading their zines to their peers. TCs then displayed their zines around the classroom. The zine fairs took place during the last class of an emotionally intensive course, so there was a celebratory lightness in the classroom. There was also an appreciation for one another’s zines.

For Ameline, a formally trained artist, zine-making was a source of excitement from the beginning of the course. I still remember her approaching me after the first class to tell me so! Zine-making provided Ameline with a welcome alternative to the traditional academic essay or research paper, as well as a familiar and freeing medium through which to respond to critical issues raised in the course. Although Ameline’s contributions to our discussions were sensitive and generative, she felt she could more fully express herself through visuals. Zine-making created space for her to do so. Ameline challenged herself to create using free materials she had collected, because wanted to make cultural production accessible to future students. Zine-making was initially daunting for Jonah. However, he knew he wanted to use zine-making to critically examine his lived experience. Throughout the course, Jonah had examined anti-Asian racism and patterns of internalized oppression and internalized dominance. Once Jonah decided on his focus, he experienced some ease and access to thoughts and feelings he had tried to forget. Zine-making supported Jonah’s healing. Furthermore, Jonah came to the realization that just as he had brought himself to the creative process, future students may bring themselves to their creative process. Jonah’s appreciation for students’ cultural and artistic work expanded. For Ameline and Jonah, who are ever becoming teachers visioning how they will relate with future students, zine-making was a critically reflexive practice.

*All teacher candidates’ names in this essay have been changed.

Works Cited

Annamma, S., & Morrison, D. (2018). Discrit classroom ecology: Using praxis to dismantle
dysfunctional education ecologies. Teaching and Teacher Education, 73, 70-80.

Benade, L. (2016). Teaching and critically reflective practice in Freire. Encyclopedia of
Educational Philosophy and Theory. 1-6.

Brouwer, D. C., & Licona, A. C. (2016). Trans(affective)mediation: Feeling our way from paper to digitized zines and back again. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 33(1), 70-83.

Cai, B. (2015). Zines: The power of diy print (short documentary).

Creasap, K. (2015). Zine-making as feminist pedagogy. Feminist Teacher, 24(3), 155-168.

Duncombe, S. (1997). Notes from the underground: Zines and the politics of alternative
cultures. New York: Verso. 

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage. Lanham,
Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield 

Laing, M. (2018). Two-spirit: Conversations with two-spirit, trans and queer Indigenous people in Toronto. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c4f30631137a6abb3bd8cd1/t/5c7570e36e9a7f68047be790/1551200484465/Zine+Pages+FINAL.pdf

Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. New York: Teachers College Press.

Paris, D., & Winn, M.T. (2014). Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Los Angeles: Sage. 

Ontario College of Art and Design (2020). OCAD U Zine Library.  https://ocad.libguides.com/zinelibrary

Sensoy, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2017). Is everyone really equal? An introduction to key concepts in social justice education. New York: Teachers College Press. 

Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409-427.

Zobl, E. (2009). Cultural production, transnational networking, and critical reflection in feminist zines. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 35(1), 1-12.

Sameena Eidoo in an award-winning educator and teaches in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

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