UNFILTERED TYPE | DENVER ZINE LIBRARY
Updated: Jan 23
When I plan a new trip, I always check The Atlas Obscura -- any destination's 'cool, hidden and unusual things to do list'. This is where I first discovered the Denver Zine Library.
Before traveling to the DZL, you should first (unlike me) know what a zine is in order to fully appreciate the nearly 20,000 items in the collection. It is not a magazine, in the traditional sense. They are works of self expression that mix art, graphic design, and creative writing -- all free from corporate editors and publishers. "At the core of the zine-making ethos are subversion, freedom of thought, and a DIY attitude."
After visiting the DZL, my mind was completely overwhelmed with the new subculture to which I had just been exposed. In order to learn more, I reached out to one of the co-founders, Kelly. He was awesome enough to let me pick his brain and give me more insight into the zine Universe. Snippets of that interview are published below.
The Zine Library | Entrance Location
2400 Curtis St.
Denver CO 80205
The address will take you to the front of the building, on Curtis Street. But the entrance is located down the sidewalk, along 24th St. The door is the image above, and there's a doorbell labeled that you need to press. One of the volunteers upstairs will let you into the building.
As someone from out of town, this area seemed to be in transition and I wasn't sure what to think about it. Kelly assured me that this location has never been unsafe, and there are a lot of other things within walking distance, like a baseball stadium, other art studios, several homeless shelters, restaurants and other businesses.
The Zine Library | A Brief History
You can read more about the DZL's history on their website, but I'll give you a TLDR here:
- Kelly and Jamez began the lending library in 2003, mostly from Jamez's personal collection. It attracted Zine creators, as well as many others who simply enjoyed reading them.
- They've grown over the years, and moved around to several different locations.
- It's completely volunteer driven, and has been from the beginning.
- They've expanded to host workshops and the Denver Zine Fest.
- Most of the original collection is from the 90's and 00's, but contributors regularly mail them new zines. So while it is an archive, it's a place to find new work as well.
An Interview with Kelly | Co-Founder of the Denver Zine Library
The idea of a zine was still foreign to me. Why not just write a blog? Why take the time to make a tangible object, when there are so many other means of communication available to share ideas and updates with friends?
What also struck me as interesting was that the three volunteers working the day I visited were so young, probably early twenties. I was surprised to find this kind of dedicated interest in a younger generation. I asked Kelly his thoughts on why zine culture is still relevant. His answer:
"For me, there's something that feels really satisfying about that analog form, about being able to hold something. I like being able to throw a couple zines in my bag and when I'm standing in line I can pull one out and read it .. It feels satisfying to not need to plug in ... or to make sure I have access to power. For me, it feels a little more intentional."
Kelly himself has never kept a blog -- something about the way it's so immediate doesn't resonate. He does, you guessed it, publish perzines.
"There's something about sitting down and thinking about layout, and how I want it to look or how I want to word things, that to me, feels more intentional than when I'm doing other things on the computer."
While he does layout pages on the computer, there are other artists who strictly utilize cut and paste, typewriters, and photocopiers. You'll see many of those in the album below, as well as makers who resemble, and probably are, trained graphic designers.
If one is only using copiers to produce their work, how does distribution work? There are actually a lot of different methods, and maybe not surprisingly, it's not really about the money.
1. Barter + Trade: Kelly has traded his zines for things like mix tapes, boxes of candy, dinners, and even random packages of stickers or crafty things. Zinesters will often trade zines for other zines, especially if they're in the same network.
2. Subscribers: Those who are more established have websites and sell their zines via PayPal to subscribers. Some are available online, while others send hard copies.
3. Locally Owned Businesses: There are locally owned shops that will sell zines, whether it be coffee shops, record stores, etc. The Denver Zine Library is working to expand the number of stores in Denver that sell zines.
So, it's not really about the money. If you do look up zine prices online, a lot of artists are only asking for a couple of dollars. I think this makes the artform a lot more genuine. It's intention is to be shared, and not only to an exclusive audience.
Kelly says about distribution and writing, "I think that's one of the nice things about zines. It's a piece of art in a lot of ways; they're a thing that somebody has put into the world. Being able to trade them or sell them, communicates that they have value. For me, writing personal stories feels like this really validating piece of , 'I have something to say. I have something to add -- to contribute.' There are many other venues that you can use to build similar communities, or to put your stuff out there. I think that zines are just one piece of the larger artistic landscape."
To me, writing a perzine is the equivalent of sharing your diary with the world. Kelly helped me see that sometimes, those who have the courage to share their most inner thoughts and experiences can help others immensely. Especially in the time before the Internet, zines may have been the only way people who didn't necessarily ~conform to society~ could feel that they weren't alone in their journeys.
Kelly is most drawn to making and reading perzines.
"I think there's something about the vulnerability that you don't necessarily get in everyday life, even with people I've known for a really long time. Being able to read, write, and publish personal zines ... there's something that feels so personal because they're a way to access people's lives. One of the things that I really love are times when I think, 'Oh my gosh! I thought I was the only one who thought that, felt that way, or experienced that'. They're a way to not feel as alone sometimes. Then there are times when I read things that have not been my experience, and I have access to learn about how someone thinks differently than me. They're able to provide a different kind of framework where I get to think bigger than my own experience. I think personal zines have been able to really bolster me and help me grow in a lot of ways."
Since zines are such an important form of self expression, the Library does host several events around the city and throughout the community. They host the Denver Zine Fest, as well as Zine Making Workshops.
"At Zine Making 101, we show people how to make zines. We've done it at public libraries, at a LGBTQ youth group, at community centers, and a Summer Camp program for elementary school students. One of the things I hope that we can continue to do, and continue to grow, is making people aware that this is a way that you can put your work out into the world, and by no means do I think it's the only way, but it's such a tangible, easy way that most people have access to."
So what's next, for the future of the Denver Zine Library? There's infinitely more room to grow. More people are participating in the Denver ZineFest, and artists continue to donate to the library. Kelly wants to invite more vendors to sell zines throughout the city, as well as expand the curriculum of the Zine Workshops. The biggest dream of all - a Maker's Space.
"Someday we could be a place where people could come and make a zine from start to finish. We would give access to the materials that people need, whether that be paper, pencils, pens, markers, computers with layout software. We could have printers and photocopiers ... It's always one of those things that's been in the back of my mind. How do we make it easy for people to make and contribute?"
Zine Exploration | PerZines, ComicZines, Art + LiteratureZines
Want to get Involved? | Here's some cool stuff you can do:
Do a quick Google Search, and see if your local library has a zine collection. I just did, and was surprised to find several libraries near me have zines!
If you're a Denver Local, consider volunteering! This Library would not exist without continued volunteer support.
Make your very own zine and send it to your friends, or donate it to the DZL by using their P.O. Box: Denver Zine Library PO Box 13826 Denver CO 80201
Attend a ZineFest to meet artists in your State or Province, the Broken Pencil has a good list.
Thanks again to Kelly for taking the time to talk to me! If you want to check of out his zine site, it's here.