Written by Dave Mann or the Sunday Times
Getting your work seen as a young writer and artist can be difficult. Publishing houses and galleries are difficult to break into and having a space to learn and grow can be hard to find. But South African zines and independent publications are creating those spaces, and they’re doing it on their own.
DIY at heart, and most commonly self-published, circulated and funded, zines are small collections of written and visual works – sometimes original, sometimes appropriated – usually with a handmade element.
In South Africa, where issues of funding and access are two of the biggest problems facing the publishing industry, it’s no surprise that zines and indie publications are alive and well.
To name a few publications and collectives who have gone the DIY route, there’s the Alphabet Zoo crew who publish a variety of handmade zines and host regular workshops; baker Alice Toich’s BAEK zine; the science-fiction-focussed Jungle Jim; and the dance and physical theatre-centric Anybodyzine. Even the now internationally renowned artist Lady Skollie began her career making her own sex-positive zine Kaapstad Kinsey.
Beyond money and access to formalised publishing, many opt to self-publish due to the creative freedom it affords them.
Anybodyzine editorial member Julia de Rosenworth explains that besides having no starting capital or connections in the publishing industry, the team chose the self-publishing route in order to stay true to their vision.
“We wanted a space that we had full ownership of – a space that we could create with a philosophy that we felt comfortable to build up, adhere to and take accountability for,” she says.
“The thing I really love about zine culture is that you learn through doing,” explains Anybodyzine’s Nicola van Straaten. “None of us studied journalism, publishing or design; we sort of just threw ourselves in and started to learn on the spot and became (or rather – are becoming) familiar with every step of the process of producing a publication.”
When it comes to emergent writers, publishing through informal publications means carving out a name and a career that can ultimately pave the way for a deal with formalised publication houses.
“Not only did I find that people who would publish a book of poetry were few and far between, also most publishing houses did not accept any unsolicited manuscripts,” she says.
For visual artist Nompilo Sibisi, the story was much the same. Only in Sibisi’s case, instead of publishing through other independent publications, she decided to start her own zine about self-care and mental health, Maybe.
As more independent writers and artists move towards zines as a form of publishing, perhaps we will see a positive change in formalised publication processes. And even if we don’t, there will always be zines keeping new written and visual work alive in South Africa.
• This article was originally published in The Times.