April 21, 2021

Owning our Stories Through Zines

By Ricky Virgil |

“Tell me a fun fact about yourself!”

This is probably the worst possible command you could give to an introvert. What would you consider a “fun” fact? Is there anything interesting about me? Can we please just skip to the next person? Some of us are very reluctant to talk about ourselves. Maybe we’re just shy people, or we want to maintain a sense of privacy. Others are quick to jump into the spotlight and are comfortable sharing their life experiences. The fact of the matter is that we are all born storytellers—even though some of us are reluctant. Giving young people the opportunity to share their stories through creativity can help them to connect with others, see different points of view, and to understand and process their own experiences.

One of my favorite activities to do with afterschool students is to create zines. Zines are small, self-published books that can be about anything, from music to politics to poetry to personal stories—the sky is really the limit! I learned about zines through punk rock, and thought it was so cool when someone handed teenage me a small, hand-stapled and photocopied little magazine full of photos and interviews with a bunch of different bands. I thought if they can do that, then I can do that! Even so, it took me years to come up with the courage to make my first zine. Again, I wondered—do my stories really matter?

Story03.jpgOf course, now I know we all have important stories to tell. We can form connections with people from something as mundane as our favorite flavor of ice cream. If someone is wearing a jersey of your favorite sports team, you immediately have something to talk about with them. If you see someone reading a book by an author you admire, maybe you just found the next member of your book club. These may seem like surface level interests, but they might provide the spark to form a lasting connection with someone.

With that in mind, I created a template for a one-page autobiographical mini-zine. Even though zines can take many shapes, that can be really overwhelming. This template allows students to fill in the blanks while simultaneously telling their own stories. In our program we use a curriculum called Positive Action, and we spend a lot of time focusing on forming a positive self-concept. This zine was created with that in mind, asking students to reflect on their past, embrace their current selves, and look towards the future. It also asks them to involve the people around them, by having their friends write a few nice words about them as well. When students are done filling this zine out, they can make copies and trade with their friends! Here’s a short video from author Austin Kleon about how to fold a one-page mini-zine.

Story07.jpgFrom here, the possibilities with zines are endless. Students could make zines full of funny sounding words. One student could write a story while another draws it. Students can make a collage zine of pictures of their favorite foods. The thing about zines that was most appealing to me as a young person (and still to me today) is that anyone can make them and they can be about anything. We don’t have to be the world’s best writer or be able to draw super realistically to tell our stories—all we need is a platform to do it and people to listen to them.

Ricky Vigil is the Cyprus High School Afterschool Coordinator. Make sure to check out his cartoons, Super Cool and Stuff, on Instagram!