Thanks to Kate Haas and China Martens for their help and inspiration!
As he sauntered past my table I knew what he was gonna say; I could see it in his eyes.
‘It must be strange to be like the only zine on parenting. I mean how many parents still make zines, right?’
I get a version of this statement every time I tell someone I do a zine. I generally shake my head and say, ‘well, there’s actually a huge history of parenting zines….’
And almost immediately their eyes glaze over, as if I’m explaining the mechanics of pumping and preserving breast milk, and when they see I’m done, they say something like, ‘well, that’s cool, but I guess it’s not for me; what does a zine on fathering have to do with me?’
Ok, here’s my official response for the record on both these rhetorical questions.
Allow me to respond to the last question first: why you should read a zine on parenting even if you are not a parent. Let me ask you this: what does a zine on punk life in the East Bay have to do with you, what does a comic zine with foxes and bunnies as characters have to do with you, or a zine on being a fisherwoman in the Pacific Northwest have to do with you. Most likely nothing. But what they do have to offer you is this: good storytelling, filled with poignant moments displaying our humanness, our tenderness, our commitment, our love. That is why zines are so amazing.
At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I have to say the best parenting zines are as much about parenting as they are about trying to live an authentic life, about trying to love honestly and consciously, about working to create a better world. And that has everything to do with you.
So hell yes, pick one up.
And for the initial question, I figured I’d research the genealogy of parenting zines, which I tried to do, but soon realized that it seemed impossible to find a starting point: the reality of parents asking questions, sharing strategies, and soothing fears has been around in one shape or another for a long time. Plus parenting issues tend to morph into various other areas of people’s lives, so is a zine on alternative living a zine on parenting? Well, yes. Is a zine on dropping out of school a zine on parenting? Actually, yes. On navigating non-monogamous relationships, on living in another country, on pirates and the history of arrr matey? Yes, yes, and (surprisingly) yes. I have, in fact, seen many of these very zines.
So how’s this for a history: we’ve been around for a long time.
Looking back historically, however, we can clearly see that an important moment for all zines was the early to mid nineties, a period that that saw the birth of Hip Mama and The Future Generation. These two and other zines inspired and continue to inspire parents and non-parents to take up the pen and stapler to this day.
Then, in the early 2000s, there was another explosion of new zines. Even today, despite the continued growth of blog and website accessibility, I believe zines have yet to reach their peak. In fact, the audience for zines is now greater than ever. As a friend of mine said, ‘back in the nineties they were an oddity, today they’re a genre.’
Personally, I love all zines, love the hands on quality, the notes I write in them when I give mine away, the quirky and individual touches that each zinester does to her zine. And no amount of changing the font or margin colors on a blog can replicate that personal quality.
There is no denying though that the internet has provided a cheap, easy way for many parents (and writers in general) to connect and share stories. And so, many people wonder what the future holds for zines. I, too, have been thinking about this issue and the future of my own zine, rad dad. And in doing so, I discovered an interesting point that reminds me how vital zines still are.
Zines are consciously exclusionary. Hold on; let me explain because when I hear this I immediately become nervous and suspicious because (let me gernalize for a second) zines historically have been “white,” mirroring the communities in which they initially caught on: punk and soon after, radical leftist circles. Of course, there were people of color active in those communities, and there were zines by people of color during that time period. And zine culture has slowly become more and more diverse.
But my point in all this is that exclusivity can also be an asset, an attempt to stay connected to ideals and to others in similar circumstances. Zines speak to an intended community. Perhaps even strive to create that community. People have to work to find them, have to pay money or trade their own zine for them, perhaps even write an actual letter.
However, it is important to remember that this exclusivity places more responsibility on us as writers to be self-reflective about our goals, to ask tough questions about whom we are writing to and who has access.
And if what we discover is acceptable to us.
I can’t stress this fact enough. For example, I want my zine to be everywhere, to be in people’s hands, on the buses, in bathrooms, at places of work, and not relegated to when someone has the time (and privilege) to peruse the internet at their leisure. I also don’t really want my zine displayed in some upscale baby boutique.
Sometimes the exclusivity of zines can be a defense mechanism. There are so many parents out there that if even five percent were interested in rad dad, I am afraid to imagine what that kind of attention would do to the stated mission of rad dad: to be a space for diverse voices, men and women of color, trans parents, anarchist parents, all those trying to parent in conscientious ways. How might that attention change my choices as editor to please more readers or affect my decisions about whom I publish?
I guess for me, I’ll stick to folding and stapling, to answering letters and writing them; I’ll relish the pleasure of asking a fellow writer to trade my zine for his. It’s like a secret.
So I’m ready for the next shocked reaction when a person sees my forty year old butt sitting behind a table trying to sell zines. ‘Here,’ I’ll say, ‘read this and let me know what you think. I wrote it just for you.’
Here is a brief list of zines both past and present to check out.
Current mama and papa zines:
• Welfare Warriors/Welfare Mothers Voice Newspaper (1986) by, for, and about mothers in poverty.
• The Future Generation (1989) the longest-running subculture parenting zine written by single mama China Martens.
• Hip Mama (1993) the mother of mothering zines.
• Miranda (1998) Portland mama zine.
• La Dama (1998), still going on after eleven years
• East Village Inky (1999) immensely popular hand written and drawn zine. Everyone loves monkey.
• Hermana Resist (2002) by Noemi Martinez, but now it’s online only, with the promise of one last issue!
• Joybringer (2003) zine on staying politically engaged, creating communities that are multigenerational, and having fun all while parenting.
• Mamaphiles,(2003, 05, 07) a huge compilation zine (three issues so far) by over two dozen mama (and a few papa) zinesters with a fourth issue coming out soon.
Random and totally subjective list of cool mama and papa zines that have flown the coop:
• Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single, 1998 early graphic novel (thought it was a zine but not sure now). Please read this.
• Zuzu and the Baby Catcher, local Portland zine ended in 00s.
• Placenta (early 2000s) the punk rock and vegan parenting zine, only saw the first issue but loved it.
• Baby Bloc, the Activist Family Handbook 2003 -2006. I loved the politics and the illustrations.
• Mama Sez No War 2003 about mamas’ actions to protest the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq. Part of Vikki law’s prodigious body of work; check out her new book Resistance behind Bars, which grew out of a zine.
• Pirate Papa (2004) one kick ass issue.
One time zines or special issues:
• Earth First printed a “Birth First” insert in their newspaper; it was interesting yet a little freaky that it was trying to justify the choice to have kids.
• Maximum Rock-n-Roll (2000) puts out “Punks with Kids” special issue. Jessica Mills contributed to that issue and starts her own column in MRR that September: My Mother Wears Combat Boots. After 3 years of writing monthly columns, Jessica (editor of Yard Wide Yarns zine) puts out kick ass book called My Mother Wears Combat Boots.
• My Baby Rides the Short Bus, a collection of essays by parents of kids with special needs.
• As Soon As You’re Born They Make You Feel Small (1985) (from a review) A very important (and fun!) pamphlet that seeks to cover the largely ignored territory of kids’ liberation. This would be a good read for parents, kids, or anyone who works with kids and recognizes their potential for integrity, intelligence, and individuality.
• Phases of the Moon, it’s the account by two young, poor, on-the-road punk rock kids, of the year they accidentally conceived a child and made the decision to place her for adoption. A really interesting, thoughtful read (thanks Kate of Miranda zine).