Zines have always been used to disseminate information. They are a form of ephemera: sometimes distributed in the form of cheaply xeroxed pamphlets or brightly colored copies printed on a risograph. Zines exist to educate outside of the mainstream. They are tools to learn about everything from sex work, to underground art and music movements, to letting readers know what their rights are if they get arrested at a protest.
Printed Matter, an artist’s book distribution based in New York, is a place to find and buy zines among other resources. In response to protests for Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd, Printed Matter is now offering free anti-racist zines, poster, pamphlets, flyers, and more that educate readers about anti-racist activism and the fight for racial equality. Anna Collins, a sales associate, and Leslie Lasiter, the bibliographer and inventory manager at Printed Matter, initiated this project after seeing publishers and artists in their community offer anti-racist protest material for free. “That kind of inspired us to look at our platform and see what we can offer. We have a very broad catalog of artists' books on our website, over 10,000 artists' books, and so we have the capabilities to offer digital downloads and PDFs online and figured that this would be a good way to freely circulate that information," Collins told GARAGE on the project’s inception.
Looking at the Printed Matter website, you can see an expansive variety of zines covering interconnected topics, many made in the past year by BIPOC writers and artists. There’s a handwritten zine by Tracy Robinson, a librarian in Elizabeth, New Jersey on Marsha P. Johnson. There’s also a zine on the ABCs of Black Lives Matter, made by Justin and James Chow. Every letter of the alphabet in the zine represents one of the 318 unarmed Black people who were murdered by the police since 2014. There’s also zines about why body cameras do not hold police accountable for their actions, information on what to do if you or a friend is arrested while at a protest, and flyers with information on how to financially support Black trans people. According to Lasiter, the reason Printed Matter decided to make all of this material so easily accessible is a simple and moral one: “It just seemed really important to make sure that we disseminate as much of this information as we possibly could with what our resources are as a nonprofit organization, that already disseminates artists' books and ephemera. So we had this new capability to provide digital downloads. And there was just so much great material being shared, so we thought it would be important to continue to share and use our platform for this purpose.”
Zines, which have historically existed in a mostly physical form, find new resonance when circulated online. “Digital material and the print material are reciprocal and feed off each other,” says Lasiter “Digital material that is shared does find its way back into print.” The zines at Printed Matter are meant to be shared with as many people as possible, and this includes in printed, physical form. Many people do not have access to printers, Collins tells me, so Printed Matter has found a work-around. The organization has a list of places all around the country on where you can print out these vital protest materials for free. “To be able to have it all digitally, but with the opportunity to print it out for free, gets [these materials] into a wider pool of people. Especially at times when you're in your own bubble, sharing this information to people who agree with it, it's important to get it out of there and start sharing it with other people who might not have the same perspective or ability to reach that information, “ says Collins. Indeed, what is the point of zines if they cannot be accessible?