The Paper is as You Wish it to be (Notes on Zine-making)*

By Roma Estrada

Mamumuo (Gantala Press, 2019) 

My first zine was a one-fold bond paper containing the story of three girls who had superpowers, probably inspired by the ’90s anime Magic Knight Rayearth. I didn’t get to reproduce it but I remember it making rounds among my grade school classmates, creating suspense toward the end as I cliffhung to villain revelation. Then, the classic “Itutuloy” (to be continued). 

I don’t remember neither continuing the supposedly serialized story nor where the zine had gone, just the fact that I made it. The second zine was in 2016, a year after I learned about BLTX, an annual small press expo where independent creators exhibit their printed works for relatively affordable prices. The zine was a palm-sized booklet pretending to be a thesis—a half-conscious attempt at self-mockery, a mockery of the academia expressed through poetry. The zine kind of prophesied right; my actual thesis didn’t materialize other than in such form. This still surprises me in a good way as I actually used zines to experiment in form and exercise criticism I didn’t know how to articulate back then, which is what zines are for to begin with. 

The roots of contemporary zinemaking can be traced back to Literary Patricide by way of the Small Independent Press (David, 2009), a manifesto that sparked discussions as it dared unpack the market-driven publishing industry and the culture of literary patronage which David urged writers to abandon. In advocating self-publishing, David challenged not only dominant writing practices and standards of publishability but also modes of production and distribution. BLTX or Better Living Through Xeroxography, the praxis of said manifesto, was first held in Quezon City a year later and has been thriving since. Its sustained effort for ten years now has provided alternative platform for, if not reason for conception itself of reading materials so ingenious they couldn’t possibly land in mainstream bookstores—zines about misplaced items, nostalgic haikus, interactive comics in acetates, futuristic research abstracts, presidential speeches in erasure, extinctions foretold, found insult phrases, writing prompts, tales of motherhood, AI poetry, peace talks, testimonies of farmers, indigenous people, migrant workers, and the urban poor among others. These texts have created new attitudes in reading and writing, just as David envisioned, as their creators and readers free themselves from limitations of genre that mainstream publishing maintains. Such zines have become perfect samples of otherwise fleeting concepts realized in print. 

A Manual of Everyday Weaponry (Cardoso, 2018) 

In Poem of Diminishing Poeticity (2013), Suarez shows how erasing distinctions between poetry and prose could perform against expectations of both forms. There could be other ways to do this but making your audience flip one page after another is one accessible way to interact and illustrate a point. This is why zines make great platforms for experiments as they could also be our cheap tickets to say, a gallery. In Acceptable Forms of Identification (2017) Bacabac and Cesario take us to a display of birth certificates, school IDs, lab results and other gov’t and non-gov’t-issued forms to examine how institutions simplify concepts of identity into a set of verifiable documents. Exhibit takes a brilliant turn at Para sa Alaala ng Yumao Nating Ama (Magpies, 2017) which tours us to a set of family photos whose fathers’ faces have been replaced with that of Duterte’s. A critique of War against Drugs, Para sa Alaala is both a comic and a tragic take on extra-judicial killings (EJK) and the widows and orphans these have produced. Meanwhile, Dance Scores (Miranda, 2014), proves the possibility of choreography “with the most minimal financial, social, and bodily resources available.” As paper is to everything, zines are to all kinds of artists. 

Except for a few personal projects, much of my zine-making practice by far has been done in collaboration with other artists who are at varying levels also involved in community engagement. In December 2018, we at Gantala Press were able to visit at Liwasang Bonifacio the protest camp of Sumifru banana plantation workers who travelled all the way from Mindanao to advance their calls against contractualization and unjust working conditions. We compiled their brief sharing in the zine, Mamumuo (2019). Just before the lockdown, we also collaborated with RESBAK for Dalawampu’t Siyam na Libo (2020), a zine that carries the stories of EJK widows whom we were able to meet even for a brief time. 

Community-based zine-making had also become our practice at IA before we went on an uncertain hiatus. Tayo Ang Lungsod (2019) and Atin Ang Lupang Ninuno (2019) were done with and for the urban poor community of Save San Roque Alliance and the students of the Lumad Bakwit School respectively. Each zine contains situationers on the struggle for the right to housing and to education as well as the communities’ first-hand accounts of these struggles. In collaboration with Mako Micro-Press, we were able to design worksheets on which they could express themselves and register their calls.

Illegal arrests and extra-judicial killings among many other gruesome human rights violations have persisted, if not have been carried out all the more, at the height of the pandemic. In Aktibista, Frontliner (2020), we at Concerned Artists of the Philippines paid tribute to five community organizers slain in the fourth year of the Duterte regime. We also tried to juxtapose provisions from the Philippine constitution with Duterte’s militaristic pandemic response in Bill of Frights (2020).

The latest zines I helped put together include A 2020 Planner (2021), an attempt to document significant events involving the government’s pandemic response and people’s mobilizations and The Future under Terror Law (2021), a set of not-so-futuristic headlines we are likely to read if we don’t #JunkTerrorLaw. 

The things we can do with paper are as much as the ideas we could realize through zines. The zine’s simplicity is its strength, its counter-culture roots its power. Zine-making will continue to thrive for as long as there are creators who create beyond imposed standards, readers who appreciate unconventional creativity, and communities that nurture the potential of these alternative modes of artistic practice. # 

*a slightly edited version of an essay read by Roma Estrada at a zine-making talk organized by the Concerned Artists of the Philippines – PUP Chapter on August 7, 2021

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