When Zines & Artists’ Books Converge

by Cody Gieselman

When I think very long about zines, I get bogged down in what that term means or what I think it’s supposed to mean. For several years I made cheap little books every month that I considered zines, or more specifically, mini-comics. My comics were a simple journal based on my observations and intended to share the experiences of my life, as it oscillated between simple and complicated. Occasionally, I would make other zines that were more instructional, always involving something going on within my immediate community. The appeal in making and sharing zines was consistently about the ability to proliferate information on a local scale. Instead of taking to the Internet, the fact of holding a book had a satisfaction that has always felt more congruous with my content. As in Awkwardly Put #14 the tactile nature of making walnut ink was echoed in the physical book, a tangibility lost in digital form.


The book form has been directly or indirectly the foundation of most of my work for the better part of the last decade. Even in my time-based, interactive installations I see an intertwining relationship to the codex: the engagement required of the viewer, the realization of moving through a space, the pacing of time, and how the viewer completes the work by being involved in it. The bicycle-powered Planetarium Ad Infinitum demanded a high level of dynamic involvement from the audience and provided haptic feedback reminiscent of a reader’s relationship with a book.

pai1 copy


pai2 copy

This undeniable attraction to book objects led me to the University of Iowa Center for the Book MFA program, where I am in my second of three years. I have cranked out more artwork in the past two years than I ever thought myself capable. I am in the process of developing new skills and refining my craft. My experience at the UICB has been nothing short of amazing, but like most makers of things I continually struggle with why I’m doing what I’m doing. As my abilities have grown and my conceptualization of the book expanded, I have also experienced a blur in seeing what I do now as related to the zines I used to make. Since toeing my way into the world of book arts, I tend to think more in terms of artists’ books.

The objects themselves don’t seem all that different. What has changed for me as a maker is the context in which I’m showing the work, the audience viewing it, and the more formal critical analysis I’ve received. The intent behind the work has been part of the continuous transformation. Up the River is an eight-fold, single-sheet book, laser printed on ersatz vellum, diagrammatically representing the prison system in terms of the water cycle. Similarly, Indefinite is a pamphlet bluntly telling the story of Adnan Latif, the ninth person to die in Guantánamo Bay prison. It is inkjet printed on tympan and Mohawk Superfine. Even while simple, cheap, and easily reproducible, both of these books were made in an artists’ books class and have been a part of the UICB Open House as well as a local gallery walk event.

When I was making books that I strictly regarded as zines, I was primarily sharing anecdotes with only some concern for craft. As my focus on content shifted to social and political issues, craft became a more important component, not because I strive to be a gallery artist or a fine press printer, but because making an object worthy of the often dire story within became requisite. This refreshed attention to craft involved an improvement in materials and development of production skills, which is probably most evident in my version of Art Bears’ The World as It Is Today. This slotted tape, letterpress printed work is probably as far from zines as my books have gotten in the past few years. Nonetheless, it could be argued this book still falls within a definition of zine, even if more suitably described as an artists’ book.

WAIIT copy

In some ways my experience with zines has translated smoothly into the artists’ books I currently make. In other ways I never shifted away from zines at all, my approach to making has simply deepened in form and content. This definitive non-definition speaks to what most artists contend with regularly: the struggle to be true to the work, to know where it fits, and to do all this without cheapening its meaning through the hollow severity of a commodity system.  There is a healthy, growing overlap between zines and artists’ books. The boundaries are ever shifting, and when I can remember to relax within uncertainty, it’s perfect.

Cody Gieselman can’t stop messing around with books and bicycles and obsessing about doom. She lives in Iowa City, IA.

The Social Nature of Zines (No, Seriously)

by Mary Tasillo

Because I host a zine library in my living room, I find myself in discussions about zines with non-zinesters on a regular basis.
“I thought zines were dead.”
“I thought that was a thing of the nineties.”
“What is a zine?”
“Zines are irrelevant in the age of the blog.”

You can see why it seemed like a good sign when my date showed up with a stapler for The Soapbox last week.

I am constantly explaining to people that zines are alive and well, that there is a large community of people making, exchanging, and reading zines who would be interested to be informed of its death. That I surmise the spread of the blog has changed the look of the zine a little bit – that someone making a zine is likely concerned with its tactility, beyond the distribution of information, and thus we may be seeing more zines with handprinted covers and strange packaging. This is really the same argument we make about books with the growth of the eReader. A long accordion of Anne Carson’s poetry would not likely have been published 10 years ago in that format.

I’m interested in the social interaction that comes along with the production of zines and related ephemera, whether creators are handing out broadsides on the street, constructing social reading spaces to house a zine collection, or trading and talking shop at zinefest. An ethics of barter in this community tends to lead to other types of exchange and I witness friends and communities grown as an outgrowth on a regular basis.

I’m blessed by the enthusiastic community members who have contributed to The Soapbox: Independent Publishing Center, a zine library and print studio that Charlene Kwon and I run out of our West Philadelphia house. Charlene & I were motivated by our interest in community-accessible letterpress printing to open The Soapbox, but the library was the easiest piece of the puzzle to get off the ground as two shoeboxes of zines (zinefest trades) rapidly expanded, thanks to donations, into an estimated 800 titles. The archive exists partially to support the printing & binding studios, providing reference points for the creative process, particularly as zine structures and materials can diverge quite a bit from the traditional half-letter-sized fold-and-staple. The Soapbox has benefited from volunteers cataloging the collection and organizing events, the conversations that occur as people work together in the studio, and the community partnerships that have formed in planning readings, participating in neighborhood open studio tours, and in hosting other types of interactive art events. Charlene and I put a lot of our blood, sweat, and tears into the project, but it still would not be what it is without a community of support.

As both a zine maker and book artist, zines give me the opportunity to loosen up and to solicit feedback from others. I learned a lot about my book art community when Katie Baldwin and I solicited lists from our fellow MFA Book Arts Grads: Top Ten Things You’ll Do if this Book Arts Thing Doesn’t Work Out. Everyone’s “back ups” were equally impractical. As Katie and I hashed out layout and set type for the covers while trying to keep the project casual and fun, we kept repeating the mantra: “it’s only a zine.” When Johanna Marshall and I introduced the first issue of our manifesto on communication in dating, “How Not to Flirt,” we solicited questions and feedback from many friends. We learned so much about the average number of underwear owned by our community, as well as our shared anxieties about communication. And we continued the conversation with others through zine readings and by soliciting advice column questions and comics for future issues at our Zine Fest table.

I overheard a man at Philly Zine Fest one year, arms loaded down with publications, saying, “I like to know what people are thinking.” Zines function as not just a vehicle for making one’s own voice heard, a soapbox if you will, but also as a way to learn about each other.

Mary Tasillo is a Philadelphia-based art maker, cake baker, and trouble maker. She is also a teacher, writer, and independent scholar. Mary makes zines, artist books, and other types of (usually paper-based) art. As part of the Book Bombs collaboration, she brings zine, print, and interactive papermaking to the streets. She also exhibits her work nationally and internationally and her books and zines can be found in libraries around the country.

As co-founder of The Soapbox: Independent Publishing Center, Mary runs a zine library and DIY print studio out of her West Philly rowhouse, collaborating with individuals and organizations around Philadelphia. She also works with and writes for Hand Papermaking. She has written about zines for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Zine World. She really likes the pamphlet stitch.


What Did You Call Them?

by Turner Hilliker

Last year I had three subscribers to my zine, Holiday Pay. More people probably read the email you sent your coworkers this morning than have read any of my zines all year.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, I can describe what a zine is through a conversation with a girl I had recently dated:

“What kind of art do you make?” she asked. It was a basic date question. No sweat. I was used to answering stuff like this.
“I make these things, they’re called, like, zines.”  Of course you would think this was my first time answering said question.
“Hmm. Okay.” She seemed slightly intrigued.
“They’re books, but I make them myself. They mostly have jokes and drawings in them. Writings too.”
“What did you call them?”
“Oh, uh, zines. Sorry, I must of mumbled.” Maybe she was more interested than I first thought.
“That’s a stupid word,” she said.

That’s the moment when I flipped over the table we were at, flicked off everyone at the restaurant, and strutted my ass out the door.

I didn’t actually do that. But it’s these types of stories that make up my zines. That’s the point. Making a book that’s all you.  I mentioned earlier that I had three subscribers last year for Holiday Pay. Three subscribers is really just icing on the cake. The real audience is the zine itself. No matter what you have to say, it has to listen to you. AND it has to keep a record of what you said. When taking the route of mainstream publication, you have way too many hoops and hurdles to jump over. Yeah, you made a book (which is still pretty impressive), but there’s at least one other person’s say in its creation besides yours. The story I just told, it probably wasn’t even that great. But it doesn’t matter. If you produce a zine, it will get published.



Turner Hilliker is a Virginia based artist and designer. He received his MFA in Book Arts and Printmaking from the University of the Arts. In 2010 he created Holiday Pay, an ongoing zine series documenting his personal experiences and ruminations. He has a day job in retail.


Edible Book Festival – April 6, 2013

April 6, 2013
, 1-4pm
Alvar Library Garden, 913 Alvar Street, New Orleans

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Second Annual Edible Book Festival on April 6. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to enjoy all the wonderful edible books that people brought to the Alvar Library, and listening to Luke Brechtelsbauer on harp just made the day that much finer.

This year’s festival again exceeded our expectations. New Orleans really knows how to bring it when it comes to culinary creations. The kids activity area was also booming with paper puppets and cookie decorating. Thank you to Whole Foods for donating all the cookies.

All attendees had the hard task of voting for their favorites in each category. This year the winners were awarded a crown fit for literary royalty.

The Bound for Greatness award, for best in show (youth 12 & under), went to Hunger Games by Kai.
The Novel Eats award, for most inspired use of literature or literary reference went to Steinbeck Library by Neal and Linzo.
The Cooked Book award, for best use or exploration of a book-like structure, was awarded to The Tape Player Ate My Book on Tape! by Libby, who wins in this category for the second year in a row!
Our Upper Crust Award, for best in show (adults), went to The Giving Tree by Aryanna

Special thanks again to the Alvar Branch of the New Orleans Public Library for hosting the event, Jess Pinkham for documenting the day, and all of our amazing volunteers whose efforts helped make the event such a success.

For more photos of the Second Annual Edible Book Fest, visit our Flickr page.

Admission is free with an entry of an Edible Book or a canned food item to donate to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans.

illustration by Christopher Deris

The Edible Book Festival is an annual event held in April at locations around the world. Participants create edible books that are exhibited, documented for the international edible book archive, judged for fabulous prizes, and then eaten by attendees. Get started planning your edible book creation today and join us at the Alvar branch of the New Orleans Public Library for an afternoon of literary, gustatory, and artistic fun.


1:00-2:00       Register edible book entries
1:00               Music by harpist Luke Brechtelsbauer
2:30-3:00       Community judging
3:00-4:00       Prizes announced and eating of entries

What is an edible book?  An edible book is something “bookish” made of 100% food materials. Your entry must be made entirely of edible elements, as all entries will be consumed during the festival. Entries could be bookish through the integration of text, literary inspiration, or just being in a book-like form. It could look like a book, be a pun on a book title, a reference to a character or scene from a book, or an artist’s book made entirely of edible materials. You can see photos from last year’s event on our Flickr page or visit www.books2eat.com for inspiration and photos of edible books from past festivals.

Who can participate? Everyone is welcome, kids and adults. You can participate by making an entry or by joining us in celebrating, judging, and devouring the tasty tomes.

Is there a fee to participate? The event is free if you bring an edible book entry. Otherwise there is a suggested donation of a canned food item to be donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans.

What are the prize categories? This year’s prize categories are:
Novel Eats—for most inspired use of literature or literary reference
Cooked Book—for best use or exploration of book-like structure
Upper Crust—best in show, adult
Bound for Greatness—best in show, ages 12 and under

Who is judging? Everyone who participates will help choose the winners in different categories, including a special category for entries cooked up by kids 12 and under.

Are there prizes? Absolutely. Each year SIFT produces handmade awards to present to the winners of each category.

How do I register? Bring your edible book entry between 1:00 – 2:00pm. The first twenty people to register an entry will receive a commemorative, handmade book

Does the entire book need to be edible? Yes. After community judging, we partake of all the tasty tomes.

Can I volunteer? Yes! We need volunteers to help register entries, oversee the kids activity table, tally votes, and set-up and breakdown the event space. E-mail info@www.siftart.org.

Special Collections Field Trip: The Nadine Vorhoff Library and The Amistad Research Center

Saturday, February 23, 12:30-4pm

We will be visiting both the Nadine Vorhoff Library and The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University. The focus of our trip will be to view zines, comics, and graphic novels.


Nadine Vorhoff Library is part of the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, which works to preserve, document, produce and disseminate knowledge about women. The Vorhoff Library contains some 12,000 books on women, gender issues, and culinary history, including an extensive collection of zines. Bea Calvert, the Women’s Studies Library, will be our guide as we explore the collection.

The Amistad Research Center, a 501(c) 3 non-profit institution housed on the campus of Tulane University, is committed to collecting, preserving, and providing open access to original materials that reference the social and cultural importance of America’s ethnic and racial history, the African Diaspora, human relations, and civil rights. The Center holds over 800 archival collections totaling 15 million documents, 250,000 photographs, a 30,000 volume library, and a fine arts collection of 19th and 20th century African American art.

The newest collections at Amistad include a zine collection and a comics/graphic novel collection that both aim to document diversity within both topics and to chronicle works by writers and authors of color. Christopher Harter, the Director of Library Reference Services will show us examples from these collections.

Because of the nature of viewing small books, space will be limited to 15 people. To sign up and participate in the opportunity, please email us with your interest at info@www.siftart.org. We will send a confirmation email with additional information.

bea_headshotBea Calvert joined the Newcomb College Institute in February 2007. She has a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of New Orleans and a Master of Library and Information Science from the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Along with her traditional library duties, Bea gives guest lectures on a variety of topics, e.g., third wave feminism and its role in zines and literature. She also teaches a TIDES class entitled Women and Literature in New Orleans to first year students. Bea is a member of the Society of Southwest Archivists.



chrisharterChristopher Harter is the Director of Library and Reference Services at the Amistad Research Center. He holds a Masters of Library Science from Indiana University, and worked at the Indiana Historical Society and at the rare book/manuscript libraries at Indiana University and the University of Illinois prior to moving to New Orleans. He is the owner/publisher of Pathwise Press, a small literary publishing house, and the editor of the magazine Bathtub Gin.



Thanks to everyone who came on the field trip with us today. And thanks to Bea Calvert and Christopher Harter for talking to us about the history of their institutions and showing us their zine/comics collections. It was nice to spend a rainy afternoon looking at books.


Hello, won’t you come in.

Welcome to SIFT’s new blog! This will be a space for us to talk about the moments where sequence, image, form, and text collide in interdisciplinary arts. The content on these pages will often coincide with our programming efforts. In the next few months we have invited several guest bloggers to talk about different aspects of making, collecting, and reading zines and comics. We hope to stir dialogue within our community that pushes conversation forward and helps us to understand our place within a larger community of makers.

Please stay and check out our new and improved digital space and be sure to visit us often to see what’s happening here at SIFT.


Visit us at the New Orleans Bookfair—Saturday, November 17

New Orleans Bookfair & Media Expo
Saturday, November 17, 11am–6pm
721 Magazine Street at Girod (across from the Farmers Market)

We will have a table at the New Orleans Book Fair again this year, so please stop by to talk to us about our upcoming programming and future plans. We will have blank books, post cards, and buttons for sale. You can also purchase hand stamped word bunting that we will print to order at the book fair. All the money we make from these items goes directly towards programming.

You can also participate in our tagging project. We will have collage items and art supplies to make your very own text & image manila tag. You can leave any you make and take any that are left behind. The tags can become messages that you put up around the city to share with everyone.

So please stop by our table at the New Orleans Bookfair and say hello!