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By Emily Hendren

Designed in apartment living rooms, high school classrooms, suburbanbasements, and beyond, zines (ZEENS) bring to life the imagination and creativity of too-often overlooked artists and ask readers to broaden their definition of art.

Though almost completely unique in design and content, all of the zines share common threads of youth and imagination. Even when the art pieces tell stories thick with emotion or obvious intellect, the reader cannot escape the child- like joy found simply in reading these works of art. It’s impossible not to smile. A seed and a caterpillar named Jim and Martha fall in love. A whiny girlfriend falls prey to a hungry and timely volcano. Action figures attack and kill multiple serpentine heads. Men dressed in their 1970s Sunday best strike a pose for cover art. Much of the text and illustrations draw specific attention to years past and the carefreeness of youth that has been left behind for whatever war, frustrating relationship, or depression that fill the years of adulthood. The art is uplifting, and as the authors turn inward and backward to their own childhoods, the reader can’t help but do the same.

Yet through the cartoons and the font that changes style at will, the booklets are art and their creators, artists. “My Art: A (Very) Small Black and White Collection of My Artwork” by Charles Shaver is not flashy. It is small and in black and white ink (sneaky title) and measures a few inches tall by fewer inches wide. Yet the copies of art inside astonish. They boast the kind of talent and technique in-laws ooh and aah at while attending international art museum events, cabernet in hand. Another equally small zine singles out adults as “serious” and consumed by the darker corners of our world, lost in the never-ending media loop of tragedy and information. Through the use of a charming cartoon and a few simple words, the author makes his point: “I wish people would release…and enjoy monster movies.” We have forgotten how to be silly. We have forgotten that “childlike” is not “childish.”

The zines offer a limbo of genre and style to the defined world of art. Poetry, cartoons, sketches, and short fiction live side-by-side, and font, color, print method, and book size and format make brothers of each other. The doors to imagination and creativity are flung open in book design, an undeniable parallel to the open and free content riddling the pages themselves. With zines, anything goes—a policy that brings life and joy to the reading process and the content itself.

under-appreciation of art plagues our country; we rely on cues like museum exhibits and estimated values of art to decide when to pay attention and where to look for art worth appreciating. Zines like these challenge the notion of established art and beg their audience members—and those not paying attention— to pick up a folio, try something new, and accept art in the humblest of forms.

© Emily Hendren, 2011