Zine Scene

Stylized text on the left reading the R I T zine scene, with a closeup of a pair of hands cutting a page of a magazine on the right.

Grabbing a piece of paper fresh off the printer, Neil Williamson makes the first fold of many to finish his new zine. He digs through a mess of washi tape, markers, and other craft supplies to complete the finishing touches before he can share it with friends, family, and maybe even a stranger.

Williamson is a fifth-year student working toward both a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in science, technology, and public policy. He started making zines while working at a summer art camp as a teen.

“Each zine I make is a time capsule of either the drawings that I was doing at the time, what I was feeling, or what I was experiencing in my life,” said Williamson.

Zines—which are loosely defined as small-circulation, self-published mini-magazines—have long existed in alternative subcultures. In recent years, a growing number of RIT students, staff, and faculty across campus are using this unique medium to express themselves and communicate ideas.

Some faculty members, like Hinda Mandell, have introduced zines as alternative classroom assignments to get students to engage with their studies in a new, tactile way.

Hinda Mandell holding a notebook and smiling.

Hinda Mandell, professor in RIT’s School of Communication.

“Bringing zines into the classroom is like opening up a very positive Pandora’s Box,” said Mandell, a professor in RIT’s School of Communication. “It offers students a type of creative freedom with guardrails. There are still some basic requirements, but it gives them a lot of leeway to connect to their own individual interests.”

Beyond the loose definition, zines can be as diverse and varied as the humans creating them. Some follow a more cut-and-paste, scrapbooking aesthetic, while others include more polished graphics, illustrations, or text. Mandell shared that the endless possibilities can leave some students uncertain at the start of their zine journey, but the end result is overwhelmingly positive.

“What really pulls at my heartstrings is the careful and curious way that students interact with their classmates when sharing their work. They’re not just flipping pages, they’re really digesting and engaging with their classmates’ zines as they read,” said Mandell.

Outside of the classroom, RIT community members find joy in sharing their zines with their communities.

Frances Chang Andreu, digital initiatives librarian at RIT Libraries, has drawn comics for most of her life. Making zines to promote her work motivates Andreu to follow through with creative projects and allows her to communicate with her readers more authentically.

“When pitching through traditional means, you’re beholden to someone else’s decisions. Making and distributing your own work allows you to be more creative. It allows creators to reach their audience directly with no gatekeeping or hurdles to go through,” said Andreu.

Andreu has led zine workshops for the RIT community and, along with Mandell, is a key player in organizing the annual RIT Zine Fest—an event that invites the local community to distribute their zines and other artwork.

“Making zines can get people to think about alternative ways of presenting information. For students, it can also potentially extend the ‘life’ of their assignments. Students don’t tend to share their essays beyond their instructor, but they may be more inclined to distribute copies of a zine,” said Andreu.

Here is a glimpse at four student zinesters who enjoy communicating through zines.

Large stylized text that reads Neil Williamson.Neil Williamson holding a small magazine.Neil Williamson holding a small magazine.

A fifth-year biomedical engineering student from Kernersville, N.C. He is also getting a master’s degree in science, technology, and public policy.

Neil Williamson discovered zines as a teen. In addition to his personal work, he’s created zines for some of his biomedical engineering course assignments. He believes the infographics and visuals a zine provides can better communicate high-level ideas in a more accessible, convenient way. He sold his first piece of original art at the 2023 RIT Zine Fest, and he has plans to sell his work at other festivals and craft fairs whenever possible.

My zines can give other people a taste of my feelings and experiences. In a sense, they can start a conversation where others can reflect on their own experiences.
Large stylized text that reads Gabriella Licona.Gabriella Licona holding a small magazine.Gabriella Licona holding a small magazine.

A fourth-year communication student from Miami.

Gabriella Licona learned about zines during a Technology-Mediated Communication class offered through the College of Liberal Arts. When she was tasked with creating a zine to show how she built her personal brand, she fell in love with the medium.

Licona was always artistically inclined, but she says creating her first zine opened her eyes to the variety of ways she could express herself and share her work with the world. In the future, she’d like to start a business to sell her zines and bullet-journaling templates.

I believe that making zines is really an outlet for expressing yourself. It’s never just been art to me—this is who I am, and this is what I love to do.
Large stylized text that reads Etta Arnold.Etta Arnold holding a small magazine in front of her face.Etta Arnold holding a small magazine in front of her face.

A fourth-year museum studies student from Rochester, N.Y.

Etta Arnold made her first zine about disco culture, with a focus on Black and LGBT+ communities, for an Art and Activism course at RIT. She shared that learning the history of how zines have been used to support social activist movements had a profound impact on her and prompted her to further explore the medium. Arnold describes zine making as a collaborative process that can open a genuine line of communication and connection when sharing her work with others.

I’m a very visual person, so I love making zines because I can use collage, text, and pictures to present my ideas. It’s a really nice medium for the type of art I like to create.
Large stylized text that reads Brett Renaud.Brett Renaud holding a small magazine.Brett Renaud holding a small magazine.

A second-year physics student from Rochester, N.Y.

Brett Renaud’s first exposure to zines was in a School of Communication class called Ethnic Press in the U.S., where he created a zine about journalist Gwendolyn Ifill. Through the assignment, he was able to flex his creative muscles and discover the value of different communication methods. He shared that creating a zine was a “welcome break from writing lab reports” and he would urge any STEM major to take a shot at zine making so they can experience something new in their studies. Renaud plans to further his education in astrophysical sciences after completing his bachelor’s degree.

When we had to make a zine in class, it felt like something new to explore. I was hyped that I got to show my work in a different kind of way.

It’s time to DIY!

Do you want to add a new zine to your bookshelf? Download and print your own RIT-themed zine, complete with instructions on how to fold the booklet.