In today’s installment of “Meet this Zinester” we meet the zine wiz/artist, Emma Wasielke. Let her words inspire you; so stick around, get inspired, and then make zines~
Who is Emma?
That’s me! I am 30 years old and live in Brooklyn. I am originally from Long Island, and have been in New York my whole life except for two very formative years I spent going to art school in Chicago. Last year I graduated with an MFA in Illustration from FIT in Manhattan. My graduate thesis paper was on riot grrrl zines from the 90s, so in addition to making zines myself, I like to think I’m a bit of a scholar on the subject.
The point of these interviews is to give people an idea of what zines are and what they mean to people. So what are zines to you?
Zines are self-published booklets, usually done on a xerox machine. The content, design, execution, and distribution are typically all done by the creator. I first discovered zines on a trip to San Francisco with my parents when I was 17. We were in City Lights bookstore, and I was drawn like a magnet to this black and white bound book that had doodles all over the cover. It was called “Absolutely Zippo! A Fanzine’s Anthology”. Something inside me told me I had to buy it, and honestly looking back now, my whole life changed. Absolutely Zippo was a zine made by teenager Robert Eggplant in the Bay Area in the late 80’s. I was obsessed with that book and obsessed with understanding more about what a zine was. One of the contributors went by the name “Skrub” and had really distinctive handwriting. Eventually I stumbled on a book that was filled with that same handwriting, and that’s how I learned the handwriting belonged to a guy named Aaron Cometbus. Now I know that he is one of the most famous and prolific zine makers, but at the time it was like finding the missing piece to the puzzle of something I had been obsessing over. Zines are great like that because they lean towards the anonymous, there are a lot of moments of discovery as you get deeper into them. Aaron Cometbus came by my table at a zine fest last year, and as he was looking at my stuff I told him that I knew who he was, and to just take whatever zines he wanted, because there was no way any of it would exist without him.
I want people to know that zines can be about anything they like. What kind of zines do you make?
I make illustrated zines that are of my friends and my neighborhood. They are almost all in black and white, and the drawings are based on film photographs I take. They are all fairly small dimensionally, because I want them to be something you can stick in your pocket or your bag and find a couple of weeks later. I want them to feel intimate. I especially love making one sheet zines. It’s hard to get over that folded correctly, one sheet of paper can be a whole booklet. One sheet zines are the best because anyone can do it. It’s fun to show little kids how they work, it’s like something connects in their brain and they get so excited.
What made you want to share your art through the medium of zines?
I like any art form that is democratic and accessible. I like zines for the same reason I like graffiti and street art. They both exist in the margins while being ubiquitous at the same time. Both sets of creators mess with concepts of anonymity too. You can find zines in unexpected places, and sometimes they find you. On a personal note, I have found that zines can be a great form of self-promotion that feels more like you are giving a small gift to someone new that you meet, rather than handing out your business card. Giving out zines promotes yourself and your voice, and can establish connections with other humans in a real way. I haven’t done this in a while, but for a bit I was leaving copies of my zines in restrooms. I probably left at least 100 copies of one zine throughout the city. I have been contacted over time by a small handful of people who found them. Someone getting in touch because my art grabbed their attention at an unexpected moment is really gratifying, and it’s also fun to wonder about the fate of all the other zines from that batch that were given away. Recently at a zine fest a girl came up to me and told me one of my pieces was on the wall of her dorm room at Rutgers. It sounds so small compared to the giant successes of other artists, but it was a nice realization that my art was woven into someone else’s world. It’s like listening to a favorite song by one of my favorite bands, they have no idea who I am or that I’m listening, but their music is a backdrop to my experiences. The idea of someone looking at a zine or drawing I made and seeing themselves reflected back is everything to me.
I want people to appreciate zines for what they are. So what’s your favorite thing about zines?
My favorite thing about zines is that they can be for anyone and everyone. Anyone can make them, and they bring me closer to other people.
I like that zines can be about anything. I think that’s the beauty about zines; There is so much freedom to create anything you want. Do you recall your first zine ever, what was it about and what inspired you to create it?
I’m not sure which zine was my first one ever, but when I was 20 and living in Chicago I started making zines that were like written diary scraps, I don’t think there were too many drawings in them. They were definitely confessional, and if I recall correctly, they dealt with coming out of an emotionally abusive situation, disordered eating, and love. My boyfriend at the time and I had a challenge with ourselves that we would make a new zine every Tuesday to leave on the “free table” at Quimby’s in Wicker Park. I’m not sure if we signed our names to them or not, but I remember it was kind of cathartic and vulnerable in a good way that all my angst and all my secrets were out in the world waiting to be found by someone. We may have only made like ten copies of each zine we did. I still have copies of his from that time, maybe he has copies of mine. I like zines in that way too, they become a real archive of a moment in time. I think the internet has popularized zines now, which is wonderful, but I wonder if the anonymity aspect is at risk of being lost. If you make a zine run of five copies, it is only intended to reach a handful of people, but if one of those people has a million followers on Instagram it can suddenly reach that many people in an instant. Zines are naturally intimate, so I wonder if this risk of exposure without consent will cause any current or future zine creators to censor themselves and hold back from creating the personal narratives they’d really like to be sharing. From writing my thesis paper, I know this has been an issue for creators of riot grrrl zines from the 90s. Most of their zines either went missing, or remaining copies were in shoeboxes in the backs of closets, but now confessional words they wrote that were intended to be seen by such a specific and limited audience are reposted all over the internet. It’s a reality that in like 1991, no one could have ever anticipated. Maybe this is ultimately a good thing, but I hope it doesn’t scare anyone off.
Tell me a little about your zine-making process.
My zines are diary-esque and read like snapshots of my life, so I start out with a lot of film photos that I have taken throughout the past year or months. I rotate between shooting with an instax camera, a 35mm camera, or disposable cameras. These pictures become the source material that my drawings are based off. I comb through the pictures until a theme or loose narrative starts to appear to me and then I start composing my drawings. I use pen & ink, usually a mix between Lamy pens, microns, and Chinese brush pens. Once all the drawings are done, I scan them and format the zine on photoshop. Then I print them out and usually pay my roommate in take-out dinner to help me fold them on the couch!
What do you hope people get out of your zines?
I hope they see themselves in them, and I hope they project parts of their own life onto them. I want the people who have my zines to be a continuation of my own narrative.
Name two of your favorite zinesters.
Definitely Robert Eggplant of Absolutely Zippo and anyone who was a contributor to that zine. There are some really moving pieces of heavily xeroxed and patched together writing that aren’t even signed or credited to anyone. If anyone reading this and gets their hand on a copy of the anthology, there’s an illustrated poem towards the back with the repeated line “someday I hope I get what I deserve”. The drawings are really rudimentary and adolescent, but the words with those images are like burned into my soul. If anyone knows who made it, please let me know! Also there’s an essay in there by Larry Livermore about Robert Eggplant, and ugh, it’s just so good. Please read it.
I’m going to go with Tammy Rae Carland for my other favorite. She made zines in the early 90’s that are considered part of the riot grrrl movement. I’m not sure if she still makes zines now but she is one of my absolute favorite artists. Her “archive of feelings” and “lesbian beds” photo series are so smart and so good. Her whole aesthetic is on point and its art I wish I could make. I do really recommend checking out some of her old zines if you can. She’s so intelligent and her text and image collages are too good.
Do you have any advice for new zinesters?
Try not to overthink it. I spent a lot of time feeling intimidated by making zines, even though the medium is intended to be one of the least intimidating art forms you can be a part of. Grab some paper, put on an album you have been meaning to listen to from start to finish, and go to town.
Interview conducted by Solansh Moya
Pictures provided by Emma Wasielke
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of “Meet this Zinester” with Bronx native, Daisy Ruiz, cofounder of the zine Deadass Tho.NYC.