I was interested in the question of how people found zines? For me, I was introduced to zines in high school when zine making was incorporated into a history unit on activism and alternative media. Then, coming to Barnard, I discovered the Zine Library and have since become involved as a zine assistant, helping archive, catalog, and curate zines for the greater Barnard/Columbia community. Throughout the process, I've been drawn to perzines on identity and culture. Reading other AAPI people's experiences, I've always wondered about their journey to zines. Thus this project was born. The project investigates the process of different NYC zinesters. Published in a series of blog and social media posts, I hope these mediums serve as a reference point for other people who are interested in zine making, offering them an insight into the significance of zines to different people.
Kim Chan and I sat down to talk about Kim’s process and journey with zine making. The conversation began with art school and how some of the classes used zines as a learning device to practice the different graphic design principles. The conversation then moved to the subjects and themes of Chan's zines which have an emphasis on research and their Filipinx identity. Exploring abortion, and the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, Kim shares their process of research and fact-checking and how that leads them into community organizing. One of the main areas that we talked about was the role of Chan’s first published and printed zine: "Queens - I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down…" We talked about the conceptualization and composition of the zines, some of the layout challenges of pairing text with images, as well as the feelings of imposter syndrome Kim had when they first published and shared their work with the world. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have learned about Chan's work and process, especially their insights into their journey with zines and their hopes of getting more attuned with the happenings within the community. Their vulnerability and openness to sharing their fears and hesitations during the process of their zine, "Queens," was incredibly heartwarming. Finally, to conclude the interview, they share a few things that have recently brought them joy.
The following interview transcript was edited for clarity.
G: Thank you so much for taking part in this project. To get started, could you please introduce yourself and tell me how you got into zines?
K: Hi, my name is Kim Chan. I'm a Queens-based graphic design major at Queens College. I'm the co-founder of Diverse Streets Initiative (DSI) which is a multidisciplinary art collective that aims to amplify the voices of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ immigrant and allied artists, through utilizing the streets into a free public and creative space. Through my school program, I was reintroduced to zines and I've been experimenting with them ever since.
G: You talked about being a graphic design major and being introduced to zines through some of your schoolwork. Could you expand on some projects that you used zines for?
K: Initially, through Design Foundations (shout out to ShinYeon Moon!), I was reintroduced to zines because of the movement that was going on in California, I believe, during the 80s. Through two different classes we made one because it is just a great way for students to explore any ideas that they might have in mind, but…they're not quite sure how to execute them through…media. It's all about layouts, you know, because it's graphic design, you need to know how to make these. They don't necessarily have to be polished, but just these editorial compositions. How can you incorporate text and imagery in a way that is interesting to the eyes, but it doesn't take away from either.
In general, my work compares current and historical events that are happening both in the US and the Philippines. I'm Chinese-Filipinx, but my parents primarily grew up in the Philippines. So that is what they know and what was passed down to me and my sibling. [I had a] Publications class project [to do while] Texas [simultaneously] started restricting the abortion laws. I couldn't help but think of the girls back in the Philippines. There was an influx of teen pregnancies during lockdown, and abortion has been illegal there for a very long time. You see, teenage girls who, when they're in their 20s, make less than their peers because they were teen parents, in a way…society is punishing them. Because they did not have access to this procedure. So that has been very cathartic for me to at least be able to experiment with that through the project.
I enjoy making zines. I just find them intimidating as well, because there's so many layers to it. It's not the same thing as making a drawing or making a painting. I want to make sure that I am speaking coherently. And then it makes sense to the readers that there's not too many ideas going on at once. Because that can happen very easily. Or at least in my case, I can.
G: Definitely, thank you for sharing that. I definitely resonate with what you said about zine making being intimidating, not really knowing how to get started in some of the themes in your work comparing the current and historic and historical aspects of what's happening in the US in the Philippines. Can you talk a little bit about how you get over that initial intimidation, how you get over that initial hump?
K: That's always a part of the process no matter what, but for me, I'm late in the stage of going back to school for my Bachelor's. At this point, my mantra has been to "just throw anything at the wall, see if it sticks" and go…from there. Especially with what's happened in the past couple of years concerning COVID, and lockdown and everything, I think it really emphasizes how much we are on borrowed time.
G: Could you describe a little bit your process of making zines or your approach to gathering this historical or current information that goes into some of the zines you have made?
K: For my process, I'm a visual person. So it…begins there. I try to execute on it exactly as I imagined it. But you know, it doesn't always work like that…compromises have to be made. I tried to follow through with the text. Currently, the layouts are pretty simple. I'm lowkey…calling them tea tin comics, because I've just been tracing the tin boxes for tea leaves as frames. But eventually, I'd like to build a skill in the layouts, and have more interesting compositions, inside and outside of the frames. Because after school, I'd like to find work in publishing. And I'd also really like to explore what my relationship to text is, just because I've never really done that before.
It's also just a lot of research, a lot of reading articles going back, fact checking and citing sources. I feel like that's also a main part of my work and that's also something that I do love about zines. Because if you need, if you want to reference something, and you want to learn more about it, and at least that's somewhere to start. So that's something that I really do appreciate about zines.
G: You mentioned visual composition and paying attention to graphics is something that's really, like significant in your work. Could you describe the themes you cover visually or if there are visual motifs that keep recurring in some of your zines?
K: I can only speak for one zine that I have out called "Queens - I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down..." I definitely wanted to give a nod to the borough just because I was born and raised here my whole life. I was incorporating certain neighborhoods, of course, the Unisphere…everyone knows the Unisphere. I wanted to incorporate parts of neighborhoods that people may or may not recognize and delve into something that I'm not very familiar with.
My grandfather is Chinese, he tried to teach Cantonese to my mom and her siblings, but it never really stuck. I think some of my relatives might use it for business, but otherwise, they don't use it in their everyday lives. So during the 2020 marches, I saw that people were trying to translate, Black Lives Matter into Cantonese or Mandarin. And that was like a whole different ballpark of fact checking for me because I unfortunately never learned Cantonese growing up, I don't know how to read it. I don't know what it looks like. So luckily, I had peers who were able to help me through that. So that was also like a really interesting part of the process of making this zine.
G: That's really interesting! You've mentioned that research and learning about new or unfamiliar topics is something you've explored in "Queens - I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down…" and some of the zines you've made for class. Are there books or websites or libraries that you frequent to start the research process? Does it start with a general idea and just doing a wide search in the topics you are interested in?
K: I think part of it kind of starts with the news. I completely understand that the fatigue has been real amongst everyone, that we all have to kind of just take a step back, we cannot be glued to what's going on 24/7. I still live at home with my parents who watch World News Tonight, everyday. In order to bond and spend time with my parents, I watched that with them. So that's where some of the ideas stemmed from. I've branched out from the broadcast to news articles. Sometimes you have to take the news with a grain of salt, there are certain things journalistic publications, where you have to take into account whatever bias they may or may not have. And that's the same with wherever you look for information. Even doing research concerning the Philippines is a little bit tricky, because you're not entirely sure which publications are trustworthy? Or what kind of biases do the newspapers have or not have? I keep those things in mind during the research. I always have to double check through different sources, as well.
I have found something fairly interesting and kind of goes into my community work as well. I've been lucky to be able to work with some Filipino organizations. One of the activists who is Afro-Filipinx had made a point to take into consideration when you do read news from publications, such as the New York Post, because it can be very detrimental to the Black community. So that is something that I've also been taking into mind and that's playing a big part of my research as well.
G: Definitely and thank you so much for leading us into like the next series of questions, which is about community. Could you talk about the different communities that you are involved in or your experience with the zine making community?
K: This is still fairly new to be in terms of interacting with the zine community, so I can't say that I am deep in that community. I am excited to meet more zinesters! But that's just something that I'm still slowly delving into. I think I still feel a little bit intimidated by this community, because I don't know that much about it. To me, it's an underground community that is very well respected. I'm just feeling my way through that. But in terms of, like seeing community interactions with zines, I think that's always the fun part: hearing their ideas, how they see the world and how they are coping with everything as a result of how they see the world.
Particularly through my zines, necessary conversations are happening whether we're ready for it or not, or whether we are comfortable to have them at that moment, or not. I feel grateful for that. With that in mind, it's also been an overwhelmingly positive feedback, in terms of "Queens - I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down..." It really means a lot whenever I hear from people, especially if they're from Queens. I've actually gotten to hear from [those folks] "this is the first time like, I really feel seen, from where I live, and these are things that I've known about for a long time." I'm relatively new to this, so to hear them say that, I feel like this is a direction that I need to continue going into.
G: Definitely and diving into that: what does it mean to be AAPI in this space?
K: I have like, a two part answer for this. Through "Queens" I am extremely grateful to Sharon Chin of the Creative Sanctum because it's through her Catalyst Commission that I was able to have the zine printed. It was chosen as one of five projects to inspire New Yorkers to participate more in local, as well as federal elections, because the turnout is increasingly low. To be recognized by somebody within your community is always a very huge impact. So I'm extremely grateful to her and all of the other peoples I've been able to meet through her: youngsters and to be able to talk to you today.
Even to be amongst AANHPI creators, there is something particularly special about that. There's a quote from Ijeoma Oluo who wrote, "So you Want to Talk about Race," she has a very great chapter about our community. I'm sorry if that sounds corny, she did not have to do that. But the fact that she put so much heart and research into it! It just makes me feel a certain way. She broke down the statistics of how it is for the AAPI community to go into the creative field–and it is very low, because of the cultural expectations that are placed on us. Either we are more encouraged to go into the medical field, into engineering, into science. Is this your choice? Or is this because this is what is expected of us? For me to participate, even in this small but growing statistic is extremely meaningful for me. Because this is something that I've always wanted to do. It's been a long time getting to this point and it's been very encouraging. I hope it inspires other AANHPI's to do the same.
G: Thank you so much for that thoughtful response, which leads me into my next question about publishing and sharing your work. I know that publishing and distributing any creative work can be really intimidating. So can you talk about what it has been like for you sharing your "Queens" zine?
K: Yes, it's my first publication ever, and it's my first commission ever. It's all just been really exciting. There are a lot of steps and layers to it. In terms of, contacting printers etc. I am grateful to Sharon Chin, and the teams that she worked with in order to get the zine published, including Queen's Council on the Arts, because through them they had let me talk to the students once the zine was published which was an entirely new experience for me. The process, as a whole, has just been very helpful for me to learn. Overall, the big experience before and after publishing, has also been fighting impostor syndrome. That's also been a big part of it. But overall, I don't really know how to describe it other than sounding corny and saying it's been like a wild and exciting ride.
I did my first tabling event. The People's Forum was very kind to grant me some space to share the zine at this Abolitionist Propaganda and Zine Fair. There were some notes in the "Queens" that spoke to incarceration. I had also been able to collaborate with other independent bookstores such as Bluestockings Cooperative and Side B Boutique. Just to be among these radical spaces has been life changing for me, really. I think one of my next challenges would be to be able to voice to the other side only because as much as this has been such an encouragement for me to find community and feel like we're not alone in these things and that's worth thinking about. In order to really reach people you need to be able to communicate further to people who may not share your ideas.
G: That's amazing! And beginning to wrap up: what are some other mediums that inspire you? So beyond graphic design and zine making is there anything that helps with your inspiration process?
K: My top three mediums right now are film, gouache and collage. I love that collaborative aspect that goes into making things. Gouache, just another medium that I am kind of intimidated by, but would like to explore. Part of the reason why I also got into making zines is because, again, it can be anything. It can be its own form. But I feel like if you wanted to explore that more, it could potentially be…the storyboard of a film, it could be the draft of a novel, if you want to expand on that.
G: That's so cool. Finally, this entire project was formed around the mission of creating a community, especially for people who are just starting out or are curious about zines to have a living document that people can reference to hear about other people's experiences with zines and the zine community. Can you talk a little bit about a challenging aspect of creating zines, whether that's the process, the publication or the distributing of zines and something you wish you would have known about making zines or a piece of advice you would have given to yourself when you were just starting making your "Queens" zine?
K: The major challenges have just been frames and the text. Presenting them was a whole other matter because texts and framing are their own composition: how you put them together, in a way that's pleasing, and fits. Playing with multiple texts was its own challenge for me. If there is any advice that I could give myself, it is that I could have started a long time ago. I would have loved to get into zines in my early twenties or late teens.
G: To finally close out the interview, something we do in the zine library is share something that has been giving us joy recently. So for me, something that has been giving me joy recently
K: What has been giving me joy recently: I guess today has been giving me a lot of joy so far.
I got to meet Jenna Freedman and Claudia Acosta of Barnard College at the People's Forum Abolition and Propaganda Zine Fair, so through them I was eventually able to speak to you today. I remember them being really nice. It was my first tabling event, so I was very shy and nervous, I'm really grateful to them for their kindness.
[What also brought me joy recently was when] I worked the primary yesterday and [during my] break, when I had to go back to the voting facility. I saw a dog pop its head out of the fence. This community building it inhabited was beautiful, there was a marble fence with bamboo bushes, so you couldn't see past that and this giant dog–imagine a giant white Pomeranian–just comes out and is staring at me for a good few seconds. And they just went back on their merry way.
G: That’s wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing! I really appreciate how thoughtful all your responses were, I can't wait to see the new directions you take your framing and compositions in your zines.