Who are you? Where are you based?
Hey, I’m Bianca, an extroverted hermit crab, and I’m living in the south of Germany. I’m the busy bee behind the German DIY Zine project Okapi Riot, and oh dear, I already spoke about three animals in two sentences. I love animals, nature, and our planet in general. I’m pretty much into this sustainability thing because I think people who respect other life forms are able to respect other lifestyles.
What are zines to you?
Zines are a special medium. To me, it is a platform or possibility to make voices heard. No matter if you have to say something political or just want to share your thoughts about your hobby or interest. It’s the possibility to talk or read about topics you can’t find in commercial magazines, making it so special.
What was your first encounter with zines?
To be honest, I have absolutely no idea! I’m very into DIY Punk, so I guess zines’ existence was kind of normal to me since my teen years.
Tell me about your zines. What kind of zines do you make?
Okapi Riot is a subcultural queer-feminist platform for sharing experiences, learning more about others’ living worlds, getting to know about DIY punk, subculture, and the woman and queer people doing awesome stuff.
I don’t have main topics per issue, because I simply want to enable people to try things, to publish their work and art, and in the best case, to inspire and motivate others to do something similar. Especially female socialized people learn to hold themselves back from a very young age. Okapi Riot is supposed to be a balancing act between “hey, look at what we women, girls and queers have to struggle with,” but also “hey, look at what we create, how creative and great we are!”.
Therefore, Okapi Riot is a 40-60 pages mix of low-fi or more academic texts, objective or subjective texts, collages, paintings, interviews, photography, experience reports, stickers, poetry (…), and whatever people want to share or publish. Unfortunately, for your readers, it’s mostly in German.
What inspires you to create zines?
I guess you could get a first idea about my intention to make my zine and the whole project around it. More a motivation than an inspiration is to have a medium where I can do whatever feels right. There is no right or wrong when you’d like to express yourself.
All participants of Okapi Riot are a big inspiration. I had lots of time thinking, “this was my last issue” because it is so time intensive with the coordination, communication, layout, and later the shipping. But then I see the participation and get feedback from readers and fall in Okapi Love again. Even if I take a break in between due to lack of capacity, it is always worth the time and energy.
What’s your favorite thing about zines?
I guess this ties in with what I said before. The magic around the medium itself, but also that there is no right or wrong. It is DIY and does not have to be perfect. I struggle with the fact that things don’t have to be perfect – the Zine project taught me what I always knew in theory but was too impatient: With time and practice, it gets better. And until then, you do your best, and then it’s good enough!
Do you recall your first zine ever, what was it about and what inspired you to create it?
What an excellent link to the previous question and answer: I remember my first zine very well, hahaha! Not surprisingly, it was Okapi Riot no.1. I had set my mind to create such a platform. I had met some great people through social media who wanted to participate and so I could realize the idea. It all sounds so easy and cool, but I tell you, I was SO nervous, and at first, I was embarrassed to talk about my project. The concept of the first issue was as I already described my zine. It hasn’t changed much, just visually. You grow with the process and your ‘DIY requirements’ grows as well. 😀
The inspiration probably came from a mix of my background in punk and metal, where zines are established for a long time and my lack of voices on queer-feminist topics.
I’m a very sensitive and empathic person, and often I had the experience that people are deterred towards “new” topics. Feminist issues were often associated with radicalism and a lack of understanding. Like “Why do we have to talk about it in DIY HC/Punk? We are already political left, and everybody is equal”. In my experience, you reach many more people and gain understanding when someone tells their stories. Through a DIY Zine, many people have noticed, “Oh shit, it’s not just ‘someone from a professional journal interview, that’s the friend of a friend who writes that she doesn’t like to walk alone at night.” If you only hear about it, it often seems fantastic, and you can quickly put it aside. Written in black and white and at eye level, it feels different, though. People can reread it, empathize, develop more empathy. Everything that seems normal for me – as an empathic person. But we are not all the same. We do not have the same skills. And this little wisdom of life was the biggest inspiration to start such a zine project.
Tell me a little about your zine-making process.
Chaos – Coffee – Desperation – Repeat! 😀 Hahaha!
First, I set a deadline via social media and the website. There is no main topic, so different people write to me that they would like to be part of it. Sometimes they know exactly what they want to write about, which picture or photo they want to contribute. Often, I get messages that say: “I want to participate, but I don’t know how / I’m not good enough in… / I don’t trust myself to do it”. All those find their place in the zine because it turned out that ALL of them are wonderful and enough. You don’t have to be a good writer or have an already perfect idea of what the contribution will look like. I’m here to help people to brainstorm. Often there is a lot of joy in this process because the contributors realize that they are making themselves very small. Unjustly so! Because all the people who have been part of Okapi Riot so far have been inspiring, special, and unique to me.
That and also, the coordination of interviews and photos/photo rights, etc. takes an incredible amount of time. I do all this in my spare time, and at the peak, it takes the place of a second job. When the edition and layout are finished, I sleep on it for a few nights (not sure if you say that in English, too 🙂 ). When my gut feeling says, “now the zine is ready,” the printing starts; Minimum 200, mostly 300 issues. All are numbered by hand, and additions are folded and added. And I must admit that without my loving partner’s support, I would need much more of my weekends and free time, I’d be starving or dying of thirst, haha! At this point: Thank you!
Meanwhile, I am selling through the Okapi Onlineshop, which I also make available for free to other German feminist projects and zines. Empowerment and support are the top priorities at Okapi Riot! And all this positive stress is the reason why I usually take longer breaks. This is not a hobby, which you do 365 days. But with every new issue, I see the lovely network I have built up in the meantime, and I get feedback and so many kind and grateful messages. Contributors are proud of what they’ve achieved, and not only once have I been moved to tears.
What do you hope people get out of your zines?
I hope that many find themselves in experiences and stories. When you see that problems are structural in society and not only happen to YOU, it’s not easier to deal with them, but it is easy to define the issues without beating yourself up. For example, Issue no. 3 had an extra zine on violence in partnerships, with very personal and painful stories. On the one hand, the feedback was that many people realized that you could name what happens to them and don’t look for the mistake in themselves as persons. Those who were not affected, especially cis men, gave feedback that they were shocked by what “women next door” had to go through.
But actually, Okapi Riot is a positive project. I want people to trust in themselves, try something, experience, and create something new. Others should inspire them with their uniqueness to simply be themselves. I see Okapi Riot as a platform, a safe space, and an empowerment mission. And of course, they hopefully get lots of laughs and little things like stickers or posters.
Name two of your favorite zinesters.
This isn’t easy, because I own and read so many zines from different subcultures and about various topics. After this interview, I think I will come up with lots of persons and zines in my mind I could have mentioned, haha!
But for now, I think it’s important to mention @Femtrail here; A feminist DIY zine from the real underground subculture of HC punk. It’s a one-person-project from a very creative human being who connects the subculture I live and love with the necessary queer-feminist topics. Next to cool interviews and texts, there are many cool drawings and photography, which let you know how diverse the HC punk scene is! So much power in this zine!
Next to very text-based zines, I love the ‘real’ DIY forms with cut & paste or nice drawings and precise texts on a few pages, like the activist zines of @de.construct_. I love how the zines look so ‘simple.’ It makes them more accessible, although there is a lot of work and creativity through research and drawing behind it. And I admire it because putting words about sensitive topics into a few sentences is usually harder than writing a text about them.
Do you have any advice for new zinesters?
Don’t be afraid of others’ opinions. If you have a plan, if you have fun doing zines (or other creative stuff), just do it! Focus on the positive feedback because humans are good at keeping the negative voices in mind. Give a shi*t on critic where people try to demonstrate how great THEY are instead of giving you a chance to grow. It is best not to take constructively formulated criticism personally but as an opportunity to learn. Nobody’s perfect; nobody needs to be. Keep always in mind: Zines are DIY!
And if you like, join networks, enjoy the support of others, and give others power through your zines and art. Zines are not about ‘who is the best’!
Is there a zine website or resource you would recommend new zinesters to check out?
To be honest, not really since I rather stumble upon zines by chance, through other people, and a lot through social media.
I think it is pretty cool – but I’m not sure if it makes sense to mention outside the German-speaking area – that there is the ‘Archiv der Jugendkulturen,’ an archive of youth cultures in Berlin. I’ve never been there, but they have a large collection, including zines. And there is an online research aid, like for public libraries.