08:25 AM

Skeletor, poetry, hand-made art: Quaranzines tell COVID stories

Ohio State Libraries builds collection of COVID zines

In the spring of 2020, when much of the U.S. was locked down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jolie Braun, curator of modern literature and manuscripts for The Ohio State University Libraries, began noticing that people were telling the stories of their quarantine experiences in a distinctive way: through one-off or small-batch, self-produced zines.

The quaranzines were sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking. They touched on subjects like loneliness during quarantine, managing addiction while isolated, wandering the streets of a community where all the shops are closed. One offered tongue-in-cheek guidance from Skeletor, the villain from the He-Man cartoon, for getting through lockdown.

“They really spoke to this collective experience we all were having, but they showed how even a collective experience like quarantine was experienced so differently by different people,” Braun said. “And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that even though the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library doesn’t typically collect materials about current events, this seems so significant and important. We really wanted to document it with a collection of its own.”

Braun started gathering them. She bought some off Etsy, located others by finding zine makers on social media and Googling their web sites. The collection is still growing, but includes zines from across the United States and around the world, including England and Hong Kong. By the beginning of November, it included nearly 90 zines.

Braun wrote about the collection in the September issue of College and Research Libraries News, a publication from the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Zines are independently produced magazines, usually in batches of fewer than 1,000 copies – sometimes as few as 25 or 50 – and often created using home printers and hand-made pictures or collages. They are often photocopied, rather than printed using a magazine press. They started in the ’30s and ’40s as a way for science fiction fans to share their stories, but by the 1960s and ’70s, had grown to often represent counter-culture and punk rock subcultures.

That people chose to document their experiences through a zine was compelling but not totally surprising to Braun, who has been building the Ohio State University libraries’ zine collection over the last five years.

“They’re not major publications, but they’re more public and available than diaries,” Braun said. “And so, it feels like a very different experience reading someone’s narrative within a zine than you would reading it elsewhere.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the zine collection at Ohio State largely focused on art, LGBTQ issues, punk zines from the 1970s and 80s, and Riot Grrrl zines – zines from the underground punk-feminist movement of the early 1990s. The quaranzines, Braun said, speak to a universal experience.

“As soon as you open them, there’s going to be something that probably feels familiar or resonates with you, and that’s really powerful,” she said. “But I think it’s also equally interesting and significant that there are all these other zines that really show you other people’s experiences that are maybe very different from your own that you hadn’t really considered or thought about.”

The Ohio State libraries are still collecting COVID zines. Contact Jolie Braun, braun.338@osu.edu, for more information.

Share this