Zine and heard
A zine is a small-circulation publication—usually handmade, black and white, and put together with a couple of bucks and couple of hours at a Kinko’s photocopier. It’s a simple, pure form of self-publication. Zines tend to have close ties to punk rock culture, so the subject matter is often vegan manifestoes or anarchist recipes. But they’re just as likely to be full of comic drawings or autobiographical musings.
In recent years, the artists and writers who would’ve once put together their thoughts and stories with staples and carefully folded sheets of nine-by-11 are now doing it with HTML and Adobe Flash. Has the zine been replaced by its own bastard stepchild, the blog?
Megan Kay thinks so. “But I like to have something in my hand. I’m more likely to read the whole thing that way. … I like the idea of putting out something yourself.”
Kay recently published the first issue of her new zine, Over Flow. It documents her experiences and the colorful characters she’s met while working as a public service intern at Reno’s community assistance center—the homeless shelter just east of downtown. She’s 24 years old, a Reno native, and currently an art major at the University of Nevada, Reno. She’s worked at the shelter for five months. The title of the zine refers to the overflow sleeping area outside of the shelter.
“It was called ‘tent city,’ but now they’re not allowed to have tents,” says Kay.
Kay works as a night watch person at the overflow, from midnight until 8 a.m. She describes her duties in the zine: “I walked through the rows of people sleeping, as I do every half hour, to make sure that no one is drinking, peeing, fucking, or dying.”
Why write a zine like this?
“I like to document things,” she says. And though the first issue of the zine is written from Kay’s first-person perspective, it maintains a detached, quasi-objective tone, and focuses primarily on two characters—a real couple given the pseudonyms Mike and Nancy.
“I have respect for them, even if I can’t respect a lot of their choices,” says Kay.
Her respect for the people who stay at the shelter was a factor in an important decision she made: to give Over Flow away free.
“I feel like it would be conflict of interest [to charge for it],” she says. “But that’s not the reason. I don’t really feel like I have a right to charge for it. … It doesn’t seem right to me to make money off of it.”
Kay has obvious sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden, but her zine never preaches or advocates for any specific form of activism.
“I’m not an organizer,” she says. “I’m more of an observer.”
But there’s a tension between those two impulses—the desire to objectively document and the desire to actively help—that runs throughout Over Flow: “I watch them as they get up and slowly move everything they own, which can usually be crammed into one or two thrifted suitcases, from the ‘sleeping’ area to the ‘day area.’
Sometimes I help, if they’re struggling, and although my help is appreciated, it’s not expected. I sit in my little chair at my little table, reading my little book, while they labor at dragging their beds 5 feet, 20 feet, sometimes 50 feet to the day area. But, no one looks at me and thinks, ‘Why doesn’t she get off her ass and help me?’ It’s their task, and their life. No one helps me get up in the morning and get ready for my day. That’s my task. It’s understood.”