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September 16, 2013 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Lucy Meyle

Upon disclosure of their practice, the zine-maker will usually add a postscript explaining that a zine is a self-produced, self-distributed, small-run publication. A couple of years ago, this met with either enthusiasm (to quote my flatmate, “When I found out, I was so happy that they were a thing that existed”) or veiled derision (to quote my sister, “But what’s the point?”). A more recent development is the emphatic eye-roll, followed by a, “Yes, I know what it is.” The language of the zine is slowly entering our vernacular. Evidence suggests the zine has been earning notice of late—the seventh annual Wellington Zinefest will this year be held in a larger venue to accommodate demand. Wellington City Library’s zine collection has moved from a badly lit corner near the escalators, to a prime position in the centre of the library floor.

To some zine-makers, however, it seems there remains an onus to legitimise the medium, underlined by a continuing difficulty in titling oneself. ‘Zine-maker’, though I have used it here, is a clumsy term. ‘Author’ implies that the zine fits comfortably within a literary tradition. And ‘artist’, to some, feels aggrandising to apply to a medium that encompasses anything from photocopied, typo-riddled Marxist rhetoric, to pictures of cats, to carefully hand-bound works of art.

Artist Lucy Meyle, whose beautifully finished studies of the relationship between language and image, interior and exterior, through use of elliptical narratives and diagrammatic figures are earning her well-deserved attention (in July she won Auckland Zinefest’s Best of the Fest award), sees this precarious position as stimulation:

“I’m interested in making work which sits within and between the traditions of poetry/literature (‘high’ art) and comics/zines (‘low’ art). There is a lot of room to play with the things people expect (narrative arcs, character development, visual codes), and do not expect (unfulfilling arcs, fragmentary narratives, disrupted codes) from those mediums, within a form which most people have the ability to engage with easily.”

The zine has, over the last half-decade or so, validated itself within institutional settings. Bryce Galloway, whose long-running zine Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People has just reached its 50th issue, submitted his Master’s thesis on the project, and now lectures at Massey, and with a NZ Post Book Award nomination this year, Hue & Cry, which begun as a humble literary and art journal, is fast establishing itself as a legitimate publisher.

The rate of ascension appears to be accelerating. Meyle, who attended her first Zinefest in Auckland last year has noticed “a change in the participation—there are definitely more artists and more independent publishers getting involved”. The medium has retained its flexibility, however, meaning artists can showcase work without “having to rely only on the internet or the gallery system”. It allows the artist both to be frank and open, or to efface themselves.

“I’m quite secretive as well, so making publications allows me to make work, release it, then forget about it a bit. The accessibility and portability of small publications is also attractive—knowing that people have it in their homes, in the bookcases, in the kitchen, is really exciting to me.” Having historical precedent as unpolished and amateur, the medium allows for greater experimentation. Meyle confesses she “never really [knows] what [she’s] doing”.

Ideas can be underdeveloped, mistakes overlooked; for the zine is not produced for critical acclaim or marketability, and there is no prescription for what a zine should aspire to, what it should look like, or what it should say. This levelling of the playing field means that work as accomplished and effortlessly dense as Meyle’s can sit comfortably alongside the humblest of content. Which is not necessarily a bad thing—without a set of pre-existing conditions defining what is good and what is not, the zine-maker’s output is allowed to be judged according to each individual reader’s criteria.

Meyle is currently working on a couple of new comics: “One is sort of about tools, and one is about close-ups. Those both sound super-boring, but they won’t be.” Her zines are available from her website (http://lucymeyle.com), or from Matchbox Studios (166 Cuba St).

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