Using Zines for SciComm

By Briley Lewis

We’re excited to publish this guest post by Briley Lewis, a Ph.D. candidate in astrophysics and SciComm enthusiast, about a creative way to pursue SciComm that you might have never considered – small, self-published books with artwork and text called zines.

A lot of science communication nowadays comes through the internet, whether that’s written articles or social media posts. But what about trying another way, something a bit more tactile and crafty? In today’s blog post, we’ll be talking about how to use zines—small, handmade booklets — to spice up your SciComm.

Get crafty with #SciComm! In this post, learn about ways @briles_34 has used zines — small, self-published booklets, often containing comics and art — to communicate science.

Don’t know what zines are? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to get involved in this creative SciComm expression medium!

First things first—what’s a zine?

A zine is a self-published small magazine. There really is no formal definition of a zine, though—it’s more of a “you know it when you see it” situation. I’ve written a few SciComm zines that you can find on Etsy:

photo of several mini-zines created by briley lewis
A series of one-page hand-drawn mini-zines about observing stars in different seasons. Image courtesy of Briley Lewis.

The key to zines is that they’re usually handmade, printed in small numbers (often simply with a photocopier), and contain information and/or art you may not find in traditional media (stuff like personal stories, content for niche audiences, and marginalized voices).

Zines trace their origins all the way back to the early 1900s, when science fiction fans in the 1930s used them to share their fandom’s excitement and art. They continued to grow as a tool for art and activism in the 1960s and 70s, and as part of the punk music counterculture in the 1980s and 90s. Arguably one of the most famous associations with zines, though, is the 1990s Riot Grrrl punk feminist movement, which helped popularize zines as a medium of expression. For a more comprehensive history of zines, check out this blog at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Nowadays, zines are thriving, with public libraries increasingly starting zine collections. Zine fests — fairs for people to buy, sell, and trade zines — are also popping up across the world. In all likelihood, there’s probably one of these options near you, and I’ve included links at the end of this article for you to find zines where you live.

Zines can expand and elevate SciComm and reach new audiences

You might be wondering now, “why should I use this seemingly-niche DIY format for science communication?” Well, there are quite a few reasons!

Just like other hotspots for science communication that have recently popped up (such as TikTok), zines allow you to reach a different audience than more “traditional” SciComm forms. Although some people may not be interested in reading news articles about the recent Mars rover, they might love to see a cool little comic about it! Zines can be made easily accessible for all ages, and their quirky, handmade nature brings a personal touch to science that can otherwise feel a bit unrelatable. From my personal experience at zine fests, I’ve noticed that the simple fact that my SciComm is in a zine format makes people take a look at it, even if it’s a subject that they’d never search out online! That’s one of the beauties of zines — they’re both a way of conveying information, and an object of art.

Here’s a zine I’ve published about aliens:

photo of a cover of a scicomm zine created by briley lewis - this one is about aliens
One of Briley’s zines: this one is about aliens! This zine was drawn on an iPad, which is yet another way to create your artwork. Image courtesy of Briley Lewis.
photo of the inside of one of briley lewis's scicomm zines that is about aliens
Here’s a couple pages from the inside of Briley’s SciComm zine about aliens.

Zines also have a very low barrier to entry, especially compared to many other art forms that require sophisticated supplies or other SciComm forms that require more training. Making your first zine costs very little, and production costs are actually quite cheap as well. For example, a black and white photocopy at FedEx usually only costs around 10 to 15 cents! Plus, they’re easy to make, and there’s no wrong way to make a zine, really. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re not the best artist, or you don’t know how to use Photoshop—doodle, write, collage, type, whatever you want to make your zine! Given that a zine is so loosely defined (just fold some paper), there’s so much room for creativity within this flexible format. The community around zines is also generally very welcoming and inclusive, and often prioritizes voices from marginalized creators.

That’s actually another wonderful aspect of zines: they present an opportunity to show the diverse faces behind science, to share personal experiences within science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM), and to illuminate aspects of science not always presented in mainstream descriptions (like the textbook narrative of the “lone white male genius”). With unique content, plus images (SciArt!) to help build understanding and create more lasting memories, zines have a lot of potential for SciComm. Here are a couple of photos from a zine I created about the history of women in astronomy at Palomar Observatory, showing possibilities for combining typed words, printed images, and hand-drawn figures.

photo of the cover of briley lewis's scicomm zine about the women behind Palomar Observatory in California
A zine about the history of women in astronomy at Palomar Observatory, showing possibilities for combining typed words, printed images, and hand drawn figures. Image courtesy of Briley Lewis.
photo of the inside of briley lewis's scicomm zine about the history of women at Palomar Observatory
A couple of pages from Briley’s zine about the history of women at Palomar Observatory. Image courtesy of Briley Lewis.

How to Make a Zine

Making a zine is pretty simple. All it really takes to make a basic zine is a sheet of paper to fold, scissors, and something to write with. There are many creative ways to fold booklets, but one of the most popular for starters is the 8-page mini zine. With 4 folds and one cut, you’ll have your first zine. Here’s a video with instructions to make a mini-zine using a single sheet of paper. Check the end of this post for more links to resources you can use to create your own zine.

As far as content goes, the world is your oyster. I usually recommend new zine-making SciCommers start out by telling a brief story of their current research project if they have one, or by telling their own story of how they got interested in science. It’s also fun to see what other zine-makers and SciCommers are up to — many are on Twitter and Instagram! — and talking to others is always a great way to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve linked to my favorite SciComm comic artists and zine-makers at the end of this post.

Once you have your work, it’s time to share it! If you’re an academic and you have a conference coming up, a zine can be a perfect giveaway to go along with a poster presentation so that attendees can remember your work (and you!) after the overwhelming hubbub of the session is over. Other ways to get your zine out in the world include giving copies to friends, posting on social media, selling on Etsy and other online platforms, donating to zine libraries, and signing up to table at a local zine fest. Later this year, you can also participate in International Zine Month during July, with activities every day to get you into the zine-making spirit and involve you in the zine community.

Now, it’s time to go try zine making for yourself! We’d love to see what you make — tag us on Twitter @FancyComma, @SheevaAzma, and @briles_34.

Resources:

A few SciComm comic artists and zine-makers to know:

photo of briley lewis with her dog

Briley Lewis is a Ph.D. Candidate and NSF Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles studying Astronomy & Astrophysics. Her research applies techniques from high-contrast imaging to a variety of (exo-)planetary science topics, such as debris disks, solar system objects, and characterizing giant exoplanets. Briley is excited about science communication and is a member of Astrobites, a coordinator for the UCLA Planetarium, and an organizer for ComSciCon-Los Angeles. Briley also has a passion for teaching, with an emphasis on evidence-based pedagogy and ways to create an inclusive and equitable classroom. You can almost always find her hanging out with her sweet rescue dog, Rocky. Follow her on Twitter @briles_34, visit her website, or check out her zines on Etsy.

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