Local voices, local flair: Jacksonville’s zine scene looks to grow

The organizers of a local zine fest are building on its success with the creation of a new nonprofit

Words By Lauren Fox

Chatter filled the Jacksonville Public Library on a recent Saturday afternoon, the excitement defying the hushed atmosphere people might expect from a house of books.

Near the library’s entrance stood Ma Bones, sporting a costume that matched her name — skeleton bones printed on her sweater and a cat-skull mask covering her face. Although dressed as death, her demeanor was lively and animated as she welcomed spectators to her table covered in self-published zines and “books to die for.”

“What’s really wonderful about these zines is that anybody can make them,” she said, unfolding one. “It’s a little bit like magic, I think.”

The Duval Comics and Zines Fest (DCAZ) celebrated that magic, with more than 1,000 people flocking to the Main Library downtown to connect with other creators and share their underground stories, bringing them to the surface. Death, philosophy, gender identity, Florida wildlife, fantasy and “time-warp stuff” were a few of the many themes the zines contained.

But the impact of the fest goes beyond letting people show off their work for one day.

Following the success of the event, co-founders Dan Waily and Lindsay Anderson are establishing DCAZ as a nonprofit organization, with plans to run zine-making workshops throughout the year and a dream of starting their own independent publishing center.

“We want to make sure the community has the engagement at their fingertips at any given moment,” Waily said. “We really want to use our resources to help others and self-publishing continue.”

Jacksonville’s zine scene is growing, with more creators of all ages and backgrounds embracing the medium of mini homemade magazines that are cheap to produce and easy to make.

Zines’ allure? Accessibility.

At DCAZ, crowds from different walks of life flocked to read the self-published stories of their Jacksonville neighbors. Long-time punks reminisced on the hardcore DIY movement that drew them to zines decades ago. Children and teens rushed to tables scattered with markers and collage materials to make their own zines for the first time.

“I would hope my zines have some sort of impact,” said Connor Poovey, who makes zines about Florida wildlife and conservation. “My feeling is that just having the conversation does something.”

Starting conversations through self-publishing has been a part of the American experience dating back to Colonial days, with zines flourishing in the ’80s and ’90s. Things the mainstream press talk about today, like gender identity and racial inequality, were once underground concepts sketched out in handmade pamphlets and passed around.

“If you were on the outside or your story was deemed unworthy, zines were the place that anybody could go,” said comic artist and University of North Florida associate professor of art and design Andrew Kozlowski. “You can publish them yourself. You don’t need anybody to give approval.”

In recent years, zines have returned, as creators turn to new tools and modern ways of connecting with each other, favoring a physical medium for storytelling over a social media post.

At DCAZ, Kozlowski tended to a Riso printer the size of an oven, working with a steady line of eager zinesters waiting to make copies of their new works of art. 

“This was a moment where I thought about community expression and what we do and make as a group, as a collective, as a city,” Kozlowski said.

That’s where accessibility plays in. For self-publishing to truly be a collective effort, the economic barriers must be broken down. Luckily, zines are cheap to make. Sketched on folded sheets of paper and photocopied, these collages of voices wait to be noticed. Their creators are diverse, their narratives even more so.

“Zines are about anything creative or obsessive or focused. It can be about why we don’t have the best transportation in Jacksonville, it can be about how to survive sexual assault, it can be about a lot of different things,” explained library associate Selome Brathwaite, who helped plan the event.

Zines are also about community.

Historically, zine makers spread their words by leaving their inexpensive pamphlets in places for others to find, whether it be in a bathroom, a doctor’s office or a bus station.

“You’re not just scrolling past it online,” Waily said. “It’s a physical something.”

To Kozlowski, physically making something, collaborating and expressing yourself through zines offers something tangible that online posts lack.

“When you’re making a zine, you’re physically making a form of your fascination,” Anderson said. “It’s almost like you’re making a shrine to it.”

A shrine to ideas, an assortment of voices, the narrative of Jacksonville’s people — all emerging with the turn of a page. Each design may be different. Each intention may deviate from those of its neighbors.

It’s a big city, after all, and no one can speak for everybody.

But these voices have one thing in common: A desire to be listened to.