Blogs: Zines

A few years ago I made a new friend named Melanie at work. I had no idea that we would connect on topics as varied as intersectional feminism and kitties. This past month, I talked to Melanie Fey and her best friend since middle school, Amber McCrary, about their Indigenous feminist zine. Together (and 1200 miles apart), they produced Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself, which I interviewed them about.

​​Empower Yoself zine coverAZALEA: Hi Melanie and Amber! I've been a big fan of your zine ever since I saw the prototype a year ago. Why did you create Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself?

MELANIE: Thanks for asking to interview us, Azalea! One day Amber texted me and said let’s make a zine. I said “Okay!” but on a deep-seated level, I think creating a zine like this was a long time in the making. We’ve always idolized anti-status quo female musicians such as Brody Dalle, Kathleen Hanna and Wendy O. Williams. But there’s an obvious lack of diversity in the counterculture scenes these women were affiliated with. So as Native women, we wanted to create a space for ourselves in these environments and continue on the legacy of disrupting the status quo on everything from music, politics, patriarchy, etc. Making these zines was really rather inevitable.

AMBER:  First of all, thank for you the kind words. As for how we created our first zine, I forgot that I randomly texted Melanie a couple of years ago and said we should make a zine. But yes, I think I said something like "Hey! Let's make a zine about Native girls telling their stories." And she said "Okay" or probably "Yes!"

AZALEA: Amber, I really liked your pieces, “Urban Indian Guilt” and “Indigenous Girl in a not so Indigenous World. Pt. 1,” which talk about the dual identity of being both “assimilated” and from the “rez.” For me, it seemed like you were touching on one kind of modern Native American experience. What does it mean to be (or what should people know about being) a contemporary Native American woman? (This is a broad question, apologies!)

AMBER: Thank you! It feels so long ago that I wrote and created those pieces. I can’t necessarily speak on behalf of all modern Native American women as we all have had different journeys.  But speaking from my journey/experiences, I have learned what it means to be a modern contemporary Native American women from the Native women in my life: my mother, grandmother (Grandma Cowboy) and mentors from various jobs. They all contain a quality that Navajos call "hózhó", which means living in a way that focuses on creating and maintaining balance, harmony, beauty and order. As for my mother and grandmother, I am thankful they have been part of every awkward phase of my life and never judged me (especially as a Native Girl growing up in a subculture world) which taught me a lot about self-expression and not to be scared of sharing how I really feel about something.

For me, being a modern contemporary Native American woman is similar to being the Native elder women I look up to, which is finding that balance, which seems universal despite the era. I try to find a balance between living in two worlds (Native and Non-Native, Navajo and mainstream America, past and present). Although I do enjoy things that modern women/people enjoy: I like dresses, French food, traveling, reading weird comic books by Daniel Clowes, laughing at Will Ferrell movies, watching boring artsy movies, learning about different cultures and listening to music from different countries. However, at the end of the day I always remember who I am, where I come from, the struggles my ancestors went through for me to be here and how I as a Native women fit into this world.

AZALEA: Melanie, once, when I talked to you in passing you said you tried to write about difficult concepts such as decolonization in an accessible way. Why is it important to write in easy to understand language?

MELANIE: This is a good question because it’s something I really struggle with every time I’m attempting to write a new piece! I believe it’s really important that our zines to be accessible to everyone from all educational levels and cultural backgrounds. We’re trying to open up discourse between Native women and the general population about serious issues in the Native community such as colonialism, boarding school trauma, substance abuse issues, Native American mascot issues, two-spirit gender identity, etc. Not everyone is going to want to read about this stuff if it sounds like it’s coming out of a college course textbook or if they have to look up every other word in the dictionary. In my opinion, that’s not entirely conducive to creating community. Decolonization (the undoing of colonialism) is already a mouth-full of a word, and I want it to sound more like I’m having an honest conversation than spewing off elitist jargon.

zine authors' photoFinally, I want to congratulate Melanie and Amber on their latest effort, The Nizhoni Beat: Native American Feminist Musings Vol. 1. This zine explores topics such as decolonization, LGBTQ issues, and more.

If you would like to meet Melanie and Amber, they'll be tabling at the Portland Zine Symposium on Saturday, July 18th, and Sunday, July 19th.  You can also check out Melanie’s work in Native American Writings.

We love zines at Multnomah County Library and that’s why we are so excited to be at the Portland Zine Symposium this weekend. It’s an annual zine extravaganza celebrating small press and DIY culture, featuring zinesters from around the US to share their work and their passion for their craft. And it’s free!

Did you know the library has over 1,300 zines that you can read and check out for free?! We highlighted some awesome titles  by zinesters that will be at the symposium, but we also have zines for kids, zines for teens and zines all about PDX. If zines are new to you we have a guide on getting started with zines. We also have resources for zinesters with places to get free artwork.

We hope to see you there. Come by our table and ask us about zines at the library. We will have a table featuring zines about Portland available to be checked out. Don’t have a library card? No problem. We can create one for you on the spot. We will also be giving away cool library prizes when you show your library or zine love.

Won’t be able to make it to the Symposium? You can ask us about zines any ol’ time! Just Ask a librarian! Want some help picking out the perfect zine for you? Get in touch with My Librarian Laural and she’ll get you set up!

Zine creators, the Portland Zine Symposium is coming up in less than a month! If your world is ruled by an academic calendar, perhaps this may be a moment when you have just a bit more time to work on creative projects, like putting together the zine (or zines!) that you’ve been thinking up in recent months.

Or perhaps you are new to zines and have never made one. Zines are usually handmade paper booklets that anyone can create. Want to give it a try? Here are some directions for turning one piece of paper into a basic zine: a version to view online or a version to print. See below for more resources about making zines and books.

Whether zines are a new idea or an old friend for you, the library abounds with inspiration and resources for your creative project! Consider these:

Crap Hound 8 - Superstitions

The Central Library Picture File is an astounding resource: thousands upon thousands of magazine and book clippings, organized by subject. These can be checked out and photocopied or scanned (you can’t cut them up and paste them in your zine, though!). Do you need the perfect picture of a bluebird, or an ancient computer, or children’s clothes from the 1960s? Look no further! Ask about the Picture Files at the Art & Music reference desk on Central Library’s third floor.

Of course clip art can be found online, but clip art books are a real pleasure to browse and use. Many of these come with a CD containing image files that you can download to your computer for resizing, editing, etc. A real gem of a clip art resource is found in the series of books called Crap Hound - each volume is created around a theme or cluster of themes (Superstition; Church & State; Hands, Hearts, & Eyes are a few), and the images are laid out in the most appealing, artful way.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Part One by Annie MurphyThe library’s Zine Collection is a wonderful resource, full of examples of zines and minicomics made by zinesters and artists from near and far. Zines can be browsed online (use the subject heading Zines or search by author or title, or try our book lists), placed  on hold, and checked out just like other library materials. I recently read local zinester and artist Annie Murphy’s new zine I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Part One: My Own Private Portland - about River Phoenix, Gus Van Sant and his film My Own Private Idaho, Portland in the eighties and nineties, and the experience of growing up during this time. It is beautiful and moving, illustrated in moody black & white ink wash, and handwritten in tidy cursive. I think you should give it a try.

How to Make Books by Esther K. SmithFor more technical information about making zines and books, you might enjoy browsing some of our books about bookbinding - I recently stumbled upon How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith, which has instructions and lovely illustrations for a range of homemade books, from instant zines and accordion books to more elaborate stitched books and Coptic binding.

Also: July has been designated International Zine Month, and July 21 in particular Zine Library Day. So come to the library and check out some zines! Make a zine!

Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-BurtWhat’s a zine? Generally, we think of zines as little, inexpensively produced, most often handmade print items. Is a zine a book? Well, it’s a kind of book - a self-published book that’s usually not distributed very widely, and tends toward  the ephemeral. Zines have often been made by people whose viewpoints or experiences may not have been well represented by traditional publishing. Many of them are personal. They can be mostly text, or mostly image, or anywhere in between. Anyone can make a zine! And the author of a zine is in charge of the whole process - the content, production, and distribution of the publication.

And sometimes, a person makes not just one zine, but many - zine after zine! And sometimes, the work that they’ve self-published in zine form takes new form as a book published by a publisher, whether small or large. Ok, now it’s still a zine, and also a book. 

Big Plans by Aron Nels Steinke

Here's an example: Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, once a zine and now a book-length memoir by Pete Jordan that has been described as “part adventure, part parody, and part miraculous journey of self-discovery.” Or Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? by Portland artist Kate Bingaman-Burt, whose zine What Did You Buy Today? Daily Drawings of Purchases documents, well, everything she purchased. Plenty of graphic novels have their origins in zines, such as Henry & Glen Forever & Ever (the fictitious cartoon adventures of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, available in a series of zines), and Big Plans by another local cartoonist, Aron Nels Steinke.

At the library, we have zines, and we also have books that began as zines:

Zines Become Books, Part 1

Zines Become Books, Part 2

We also have an event coming up at Central Library on February 7th at 2pm, featuring local authors who make zines, people who’ve made zines and also books, and folks who have worn all sorts of other hats in the process: small publishers, educators, community connectors. Please join us at Zinesters Talking: From Zines to Publishing!


Photo of a cameraYou need a photo or an image for a project you’re working on. You need it fast. You don’t want to pay anything to anybody, or get sued for copyright violation. Luckily, there are a lot of sources on the Web for finding royalty-free images! (Royalty-free = you don’t have to pay any money to use it.) Here is a list of some of the best websites for finding these types of photos and images. Is there a website that you like to use? Add a comment and let us all know!

The creators of many of the images on these websites are giving up some of their copyright protection and allowing you to use their photos and artwork. However, they may have usage rules that they require you to follow: for example, they might ask you to attribute the creator of the image if you use it. (Attribution = including information, on your website or wherever you use the image, saying who made the image and where you found it.) Before you copy or use any image, it’s a good idea to look at the webpage for the image and check for usage or licensing rules. I’ve included links to the general usage rules for many of the websites in this list. Quick disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and cannot provide advice regarding your legal rights. However, I can help find material that might assist you in your research, or help you learn how to contact a lawyer. Questions? Please ask!

Creative Commons logoCreative Commons Search - Creative Commons is an organization that creates standards for sharing content on the Web (photos, videos, writing, anything!) This webpage has buttons to search many different websites for images and other content that are free to use based on Creative Commons standards - choose a website and then type in your search. Searchable websites from this page include Flickr, Google Images, Wikimedia Commons, and more. Usage information is included on the bottom of the page, below the buttons for the different sites.19th century painting of an American schooner

U.S. Government Images search - The search engine lets you look for photos and images from the federal government. You can find photos of just about anything, from satellites to Socks the cat, with little or no usage restrictions. Most of the results take you to images located on the Flickr website: before you use the image for your own project, make sure to look for usage information on the image's Flickr page.

Children reading a wireless newspaperThe Commons - The Commons is a section of the photo-sharing website Flickr which provides access to images from public photography archives at museums and libraries around the world. It’s a great place to find historic photos, and everyone (including you!) is encouraged to add comments and tags to the images. The photos on this site have “no known copyright.”

Encyclopedia of Life - this website’s mission is to “increase awareness and understanding of living nature,” and it includes information and images on all kinds of living creatures, from moths to amoebas to mollusks to monkeys. It includes many images, most of which are free to use as long as you attribute the source. Here is a usage statement for the site.

Photo of a flowerMorgue File - a morgue file is “a place to keep post production materials for use of reference.” In other words, it is a place to store things. In this particular online morgue file, you can find many high resolution stock photos. Here is a usage statement for the site.

Openclipart - Unlike many websites which offer photos to use, this site has royalty-free clip art (clip art = little images and drawings ready to use in electronic documents). You can even register and submit your own clip-art for other people to use! Here is a usage policy for the site.Scissors illustration

Are websites not your thing? Do you prefer books? Well, the library still has plenty of those. We have many books of illustrations and prints on all sorts of topics, most of them royalty-free. To find them, just do a subject search in the library catalog for “clip art.” You’ll find books with images of Victorian women’s fashion, birds, children’s book illustrations, fairies, and much more, many of them including CD-ROMs with computer files of all the images in the book. At the end of this blog post is a book list showing examples of the types of clip art books that the library owns.

If you still have trouble finding the images that you want, or if you have more questions about any of this, you know what to do: Ask a Librarian! We’ll be happy to talk more about it.

Images included in this post:

Tell it like it Tiz!This last Saturday I went to the Portland Zine Symposium at the Ambridge Event Center.  I get so excited attending this event every year. Going to the Zine Symposium has me thinking about zines again. This is where I wish I could read everything. Now that would be a superpower. Reading and absorbing what you are reading at the speed of light!

I digress. What is a zine you might ask? A zine is an independent publication or, as a 6th grader told me, it’s a “homemade magazine.” Want to read something different? Something perhaps cutting edge? Off the grid? Zine authors are the voices that typically aren’t heard in the mainstream press. We have a large collection of zines you can find at Holgate, Belmont, North Portland and Central Library. There are zines about food, religion, politics, health, pets, comics and really just about everything. I made a list of some basic zines for you. Check them out. And let me know if you find out a way to get that reading superpower, okay?

Portland Zine Symposium 2014Ahh, summertime in Portland. Sunshine and strawberries and going to the river. Cookouts and bike rides and reading in the hammock. Summertime in Portland also means that it’s time for the Portland Zine Symposium! If you’ve never been, the Portland Zine Symposium is an annual zine fair and tabling extravaganza that brings folks in from all over the world. This conference highlights do it yourself culture, small presses, and self-published comics and publications of all kinds, with ongoing workshops and events over the course of two days.  It’s been happening every summer since 2001. And did I mention that it’s all free?!

Here’s where the library comes in. Not only will we have a table at the Zine Symposium, but did you know the library also has over 1,000 circulating zines in our collection, many of them from local authors and artists? And that we have tons of great resources to assist in whatever phase of the creative process you may be in, whether you are a veteran, do-it-with-your-eyes-closed zinester or you have never made a zine in your life (but have always wanted to)? One of my favorite books on all things zine-making is Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine? I personally loved it so much, I had it checked out for almost a year--the beauty of renewing!

If this sounds like it’s right up your alley, be sure to check out our table the weekend of July 12th and 13th. We’ll be there making library cards and highlighting self-publishing resources from our collection, as well as zines that you can check out. Don’t have a card? No problem! We can make you one of those too. We’ll also be roaming around and scoping out other tables, looking for zines to purchase to add to our ever-growing zine collection. This is the most exciting part! So if you find yourself at the Zine Symposium, don’t be shy--be sure to come by and say hello!


Portland has a new illustration and comics festival called Linework NW - it aims to highlight the dynamic energy of creators of comics, prints, graphic novels, and original art. The first-ever event took place on April 12, and we went in search of self-published minicomics and zines for the library’s zine collection. Portland’s Norse Hall was packed to the gills with art, comics, artists and appreciators. The atmosphere was super friendly and excited; I noticed a trend of folks getting their copies of zines signed with personalized illustrations. Of course, we found many wonderful things to add to the library’s zine collection! Here are a few of them:

I Made This to Impress a Boy by Jeannette Langmead consists of lovely color comics about the author's life spanning several years during which she moves to Japan and back to the U.S., ends a relationship, and does some self-reflection.




Mr Wolf #2 by Aron Nels Steinke is about an elementary school teacher in a charter school. In this volume, Mr. Wolf embarks on his second year of teaching.




Cover image for Falling Rock National Park #1

Falling Rock National Park by Josh Shalek is a series set in a National Park in the southwest. In volume 1, Ernesto the lizard introduces readers to Ranger Dee and various animal characters, then heads into the Uncanny Valley, where everything gets weird. We picked up #1, 2, and 3 at Linework!




Cover image for Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #4

The most recent volume in the humorous series Henry & Glenn Forever and Everabout boyfriends Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, includes an epic story about zombie mayhem, family relations, and the dark arts while guest starring Hall and Oates.



Cover image for Abyss

Abyss by Saman Bemel-Benrud is a moody comic about burritos, construction sites, and the Internet.




Cover image for Cat People

Cat People / Dog People by Hannah Blumenreich is a two-in-one zine - one side is Cat People, and you flip it over to read Dog People. It contains some true and not-so-true stories of famous people and their pets.




Cover image for Never Forgets

In Never Forgets by Yumi Sakugawa, a character recovers from facial reconstructive surgery, while her best friend and her parents have different reactions.




Cover image for Comics for Change

Each volume in the Comics for Changeseries celebrates a community organizer who is making Oregon a better place for everyone: Alex Brown, Polo Catalani, Walter Cole, Dan Handelman, Cheryl Johnson, Paul Knauls, Ibrahim Mubarak, Genny Nelson, Kathleen Saadat, and Wilbur Slockish. The series is written and illustrated by a collection of talented Portland comic writers and illustrators.


For imagery, it may prove elusive to locate just exactly the idea you are looking for on the internet, or by searching for books in the Library Catalog. Long before the invention of the internet, Central Library staff created the Picture Files to help solve this problem. For many years, books beyond repair, outdated calendars, and discarded magazines were reviewed by librarians and organized by volunteers into massive file cabinets of pictures, all by subject. 

Multnomah County Library picture file collection sampleThe composite picture shown here is from the file of womens' fashion from 1950, just the single year 1950. Womens' fashion design is one of the most extensive sections, with a file for each year from 1900-2005. There are picture files for hundreds of topics from the arts, history, social sciences and natural sciences.

Pictures can be checked out just like books. To use this collection, ask for picture files at the Central Library 3rd floor, Art and Music Reference Desk. You can check out up to 50 images selected from multiple folders.

The individual pictures are all protected by copyright laws of the US, since they are from printed books and magazines, published after 1922. As such, the goal of the collection is for helping people shape the ideas for their projects.

Questions about the Picture Files?
Contact Central Library Information Services:

Welcome to our new blogger, Patrick, who says this about himself: "I work at the Holgate Library where I answer questions all day. When I'm not doing that (and if you don't believe me, check with my coworkers who have given up hope of engaging me in lunchroom conversations) I'm probably reading or playing games. I read lots of comics and graphic novels, but also enjoy dystopian fiction, rousing adventure tales, classic sci-fi and fantasy, Dickens, good writing about science, and the occasional bit of warm and fuzzy pop philosophy."

I like 'thoughtful'. Thoughtful and reflective and true, all things that bring about a calm philosophical life. (I'm also a fan of whimsical, dystopian and heroic but those will be other entries.)

It turns out that I have been finding many of those thoughtful moments via MCL's zine collection, particularly the works of John Porcellino. I discovered them randomly in the form of an issue of King-Cat Comics & Stories that passed in front of my face, and there was something about the simplicity of the line art that made me want to open it. What I found was a little handmade collection of comics and... well, 'essays' sounds boring, but 'stories' doesn't sound true enough. 'Reflections' seems to fit. John talks about his beloved cat Maisie, his sweetie Misun, sunrises, moving, music, and all sorts of things that occur to him. He's someone who struggles to find meaning in life, and he frequently questions things he has previously held true. What I like best are the little vignettes like 'Football Weather' from King-Cat #66 where all the neighborhood kids decide to help him with his lawn and then a football game ensues. It's not about leaves or football, though... it's about things like community, and appreciating life, and What Is Important to You.

If you enjoy King-Cat, there are hardbound collections, or you might also like his other work, including  the short and sweet Three Poems about Fog, or a hardcover graphic novel called Thoreau at Walden. As is usual for me, a thing aimed at younger readers can actually be pretty universal.

And if you want another good autobiographical zine with less philosophy but equal self-discovery and more sass in it, try Jesse Reklaw's Ten Thousand Things to Do. where he describes his lifestyle of "inking, drinking, and anxious thinking".


Subscribe to