Cherry Styles is an artist and zine-maker, and the editor of The Chapess. On Saturday 24th September, she’ll be running ‘Hands On Zines‘, an all-day practical zine-making workshop here at The Poetry School. We sat down for a chat with her to find out about the world of zines.
Hi Cherry, you’re the editor of The Chapess Zine. Could you tell us a little bit about it, and about what you do?
The Chapess is a zine of new writing and art by women. Since 2011 it’s evolved from a crudely photocopied fanzine to a quarterly literary publication with an international readership. Over the last 5 years we’ve put on exhibitions, led educational sessions and workshops and published the work of over 300 women from around the world.
I’m an artist first and foremost. I have always made stuff, and been involved with lots of creative projects, both for fun and as paid work. I grew up in the South East and as a teenager definitely felt part of the DIY scene. I was lucky enough to have a supportive weirdo community around me, but I was well into my 20s before I really had more than a handful of female friends, or reason to question that. Working on the Chapess, particularly, gave me a way in, an excuse to get in touch with women I admired but was otherwise totally intimated by. Zines introduced me to feminism, politics, music, queer theory, most of my friends; it is absolutely not an overstatement to say they changed my life.
I met Steve and Liz who run Salford zine library after I moved to Manchester a few years ago and along with Ingrid of Mythologising Me zine we’ve become a super tight team. We’re all genuinely enthusiastic in a pretty old school way, we’re passionate about spreading the word of self publishing and encouraging others to get involved. It’s not an elitist group and there are no particular skills or experience required. Anyone with a pen and an idea can make a zine, but sometimes it can really help to have a starting point and that initial encouragement.
Since graduating from the Visual Studies course at Norwich School of Art in 2008 I’ve worked in education with various levels of both responsibility and enthusiasm, alongside setting up Synchronise Witches Press in 2012 and developing my practise.
What is a zine? How does it differ from, say, a magazine, a journal, or a blog?
A zine (pronounced zeen as in magazine) is most commonly a hand made, photocopied, or otherwise cheaply produced small circulation, self published leaflet/comic/printed paper/literally any other collection of printed pages you can imagine; there is no strict definition.
Zines have historically been a way for groups and individuals to express opinions and ideas that may fall outside of the remit of traditional publishing. In terms of content a zine could totally be made up of the kinds of things you might post on your blog, there is no right or wrong way of doing it. For me, the definition has to do with intent. Zines are not made for profit, it’s all about community, support and a desire to share the good stuff. I think the thing with zines which really sets them apart in a positive way to mainstream publications is that it’s all kind of trial and error. There are no stakes. If you make something and decide you hate it, or it doesn’t materialise in the way you imagined, that’s all kind of part of the process. Self publishing really allows you to set those parameters for yourself, to share and distribute your work how and whenever you choose. You’re not going to make any money from zines, but you have everything else to gain.
How important are the various traditions and roots – DIY, Riot Grrrl, feminism, punk – to the zine scene, and to you personally?
Folks were making zines long before we had a specific term for this kind of publishing. DIY culture comes out of necessity, and zines have long been an accessible way to distribute ideas on your own terms. However small or relatively non-existent your budget, your immediate community or contacts – none of these things are necessarily barriers when it comes to zine making. Whether the content is explicitly political or not I believe zines have real power in contributing to social change within our communities.
Zine making can be traced back to the early 20s (and perhaps even before that) and its history is every bit as subversive as the traditionally recognised timeline of this kind of stuff, which tends to focus on 1970s/90s, predominately White output. For example, Zora Neale Hurston and Gwendolyn Bennett released FIRE!! in the mid 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance. The publication highlighted issues within African-American society, including interracial relationships, promiscuity and homosexuality. Lots of now well known authors have self published at one time or another in a bid for greater editorial control, due to censorship issues or as a way to effectively crowdsource their print costs through pre-orders. Dig a little deeper into the history of self publishing and find what resonates with you.
The Chapess was started by my friend and colleague Zara Gardner in the summer of 2011. We had both been involved with zines, art and the local DIY scene and wanted to bring our enthusiasm for self publishing into the classroom. I think it’s important to arm young people with the tools they need to navigate the world for themselves. In the early days of the Chapess we were eager to make feminism relevant to young people; to really show them that it’s not some inaccessible academic idea but something that can directly change the way you view yourself and your circumstances, and give you a framework to change them. And yes I think we are starting to find that online of course but in physically giving someone the tools to make that into something tangible, it’s really powerful. Zines can be a way in, to find your people, your community, whatever that looks like for you. I came to zines through punk but also literature and a desire to find voices I could relate to. As a teen zines provided me with content I wasn’t finding elsewhere, and I still think they have the capacity to do that.
Where do you find your contributors? Or how do your contributors find you?
The contributors are a mixture of women I meet through my work, in Real Life and those that get in touch through my blog. The feminist artists, writers and performers I have found through the blog are a huge part of the project. The online communities that have been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager have definitely fed into my ideas about how community works, as a platform and a way of exchanging knowledge and experiences. My own experience of discovering zines and early internet forums ran pretty much parallel, being a fan is a huge part of my identity.
I think there is still a long way to go in terms of amplifying under-represented voices, and this is something we can all contribute to in our everyday lives. Whatever level of privilege we have I believe we should use that to help others and to consciously inform our actions. Publishing is communication, self publishing is political.
The Chapess showcases the work of women of all ages from around the world and underlines the need for opportunities for women artists to show their work. In a fair publishing and art world, would zines not have to exist?
I think this has to do with class above all things, and the opportunities available to us. Not everyone who makes zines has access to the Art World, and that’s kind of the point. Many artists and writers may use zines and self publishing within their work but this is a fairly recent evolution. Desktop publishing has created a new set of aesthetics and undoubtedly expanded the limits of what is possible within a basic zine format. But many people who make zines do not consider themselves artists or writers, it really comes down to what’s relevant to you, and who you’re interested in communicating with.
As well as running The Chapess, you’re also one of the people behind Salford Zine Library. How’s that going? I heard there was a festival recently…
Yeah! We recently hosted the second annual Northwest Zinefest. Last year we were really finding our feet and kind of testing the format meaning this year was bigger, better and we had a clearer vision for the fest as a whole. This year we welcomed over 40 zine makers and held workshops and readings throughout the day. As well as the zinefest we regularly run workshops with young people and adults and take selections from the library on tour whenever we can. We believe this material should be free and easy to access for everyone. The library itself runs entirely on donations and we’re currently in the process of digitising the collection — find out more here.
It seems like the zine-scene runs on cooperation, the DIY ethos, and a lot of people doing a lot of work out of love. That being the case, is there anybody whose work you’d recommend?
The POC zine project is a phenomenal online resource and one that we should all be taking note of. Poor Lass is a brilliant comp zine looking at the ways growing up working class informs different aspects of life, past themes include family, education and health. Ube zine is one of my current favourites, a zine of contemporary art and writing lovingly put together by Alicia Rodriguez and Thom Haley. But really,whatever it is you love pop that into Google along with the word zine and see if anyone’s out there making them!
Finally, what are you up to at the moment, and where can people see your work
I just published a book. It’s an anthology style collection of some of my favourite bits from the first 9 issues of the Chapess zine. I’m doing a lot of screen printing at the moment and working on a new project with artist Grace Denton. There’s links to my blog, online shop, the Chapess site and just about everything else here.
Cherry Styles is an artist, writer and zine maker based in Manchester. She works across the Northwest, leading workshops and lectures with a focus on zine-making, self publishing and DIY culture. She runs the Chapess zine, Synchronise Witches press and is1/4 of Salford Zine Library.
She’s passionate about supporting women writers, artists and punks + creating space to champion and share each others work. She’s currently preparing to release a book, working with several young people’s arts organisations and taking on freelance publishing and community projects.