Meet this Zinester: Ellen MacAskill

Who are you? Where are you based?
My name is Ellen MacAskill, and I live in Glasgow, Scotland. I grew up in the north of Scotland and lived for three years in Canada. In normal life, I work in retail, as a massage therapist, and run open mics and sometimes workshops for queer writers. Right now, I’m underemployed and trying to stay calm about it.

What are zines to you?
Zines have taught me so much about the anarchist and feminist politics that are central to my life. To me, zines are about circulating information that otherwise is difficult to find or communicate, for example, across prison walls, between survivors of violence, or teaching queer and trans people how to have safe and good sex with each other. I’m thinking of zines like Fucking Trans Women, Learning Good Consent, or Women in Prison: How It Is With Us.

In that sense, making zines helps me connect with people through topics that the dominant culture doesn’t like to acknowledge in any nuanced way – like queer desire and friendship, rape, PTSD, and recovery from sexual assault, gender dysphoria, and anti-fascist and mutual-aid based politics. Having a per-zine gives me space to work through my experiences of these things without having to assimilate into another person’s creative or political vision. And because copyright is largely irrelevant in zines, I can cite and quote from loads of my favourite writers and musicians.

What was your first encounter with zines?
I went to an event at the Glasgow Women’s Library, probably in 2016. I had come across zines before, but that summer sticks out as a turning point. It was a panel of zine-makers talking about their work. At the time, I was helping with the organisation of Free Pride, a radical alternative to corporate pride events in the city, and was making a zine with friends from a creative writing course to mark our graduation, raising money for Rape Crisis. The zine was called Departures, and we had a big fun launch on the night of the Brexit vote. King Wine (@kingwineband) played, and we went back to my flat after. Next thing, the results come in; we’re on the balcony watching the sunrise and chain-smoking and despairing beyond tears. Basically, zines came into my life at a very formative time.

Tell me about your zines. What kind of zines do you make?
For a few years, I made collaborative zines with a collective called Writers 4 Utopia in Vancouver. We started meeting up at a radical bookshop to write queer sci-fi together and ended up making three anthologies. I have also made zines of my poetry with the illustrator Lizzie Quirke (@quirkel), most recently, My Terrible Life.

Recently, I have started a per-zine called Slow Down, which has two issues. It is about both mundane stuff like skin conditions, going to gigs, hanging out with my cats, and conceptual stuff like understanding myself as genderqueer and maybe trans, relationships, depression and joy, and the struggle for liberation. I make a playlist for each zine and list books and other media that have influenced it at the end.

What inspires you to create zines?
Other writers! I have been writing all my life, and some of that has been in formal education and traditional publishing settings. Although there are amazing opportunities available, writing for and within those institutions can be so stifling in terms of form and content and damaging to my self-esteem. It’s 90% rejection emails when trying to get poems published in literary magazines. And they’re not going to pay me anyway. So I love the creative control of zines and the way they show up the standards of professionalised writing to be totally arbitrary.

What’s your favorite thing about zines?
I’ve been reading Jenny Odell’s book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, which covers so many topics that interest me, and at one point, she says that one weird aspect of social media in our lives is how we are expected to present a unified self who can be digested in the same way by everyone we know or influence; as opposed to in reality, where we share different things with family, coworkers, lovers, friends or strangers. 

I used to write a lot of personal and political stuff in blogs and articles online, and it made me feel vulnerable to my boundaries being crossed because there were no boundaries on the internet, and I would worry about who would read and respond to it. So coming back to print and zines is my way of channeling a part of myself towards a particular audience in a way that I feel safe and confident doing. What’s the point in a huge audience if you’re scared to say what you really mean?

It’s because of financial privilege that I’ve had enough money upfront to do print runs and then make the money back through sales. In a material sense, online zines and community-run and funded printing spaces are really important for access.

My other favourite thing is when people I know pass my zines to people I don’t know and report back that this stranger loved it—and flirting with people at zine fairs.

Do you recall your first zine ever, what was it about and what inspired you to create it?
The first zine I made on my own (although Lizzie did sit and contribute drawings while we watched The Simpsons and stuck it together) was in 2017, called Leave Me Starstruck. It was ten poems from that year about friends, travels, sex, birds, and crying. I made fifteen copies to post to friends for Christmas. I still hold it dear and will maybe share it around again.

Tell me a little about your zine-making process.
With the Slow Down per-zines, it has been a case of rewriting my life and endless diary entries into something more artful that can be coherent to other people. So I type out all this stuff, print it at home (on our printer that was miraculously here when we moved in like a gift to two writers moving in together), and add some illustrations around the edge at the end, then scan it in. I go to a print shop to get copies. The visual art and collaging aspect is a challenge as I am much more confident with words than pictures. It works out, though, sometimes with help from others.

What do you hope people get out of your zines?
I love when my zines fall into the hands of my audience, i.e., the people who get it or need to hear what they already deep down know from someone else. There’s a weird onus on queer and trans people to educate the cis-straight world through representative art as if education and therefore empathy can end oppression – a theory activists involved in class solidarity know can be a liberal distraction from the real matter of redistributing power. So what I’m saying is, my zines are not a resource for straight readers; they’re for the dykes and all the adjacent weirdos.

Name two of your favorite zinesters.
Liina Koivula of Local Smoke Press (@local.smoke.press) has made two amazing per-zines called It’s All Right. Specifically, I love the way they discuss music fandom, love, and non-binary gender. 

Anjeli Caderamanpulle makes the zine Meetcute (@meetcutezine) about various aspects of teen culture from the 00s. The Twilight edition is coming sometime soon!

Do you have any advice for new zinesters?
Throw out whatever concerns you have about what is good and what other people want and just do what you want. Zines don’t need to be good. They can be messy and odd and barely finished, and you might still find value in the process of making it and connect with people through it.

Is there a zine website or resource you would recommend new zinesters to check out?
Broken Pencil and Weirdo Brigade! I would recommend seeking out people doing cool stuff locally, as well as in other cities since we’re all online. In Glasgow, we have Category Is Books and the Glasgow Zine Library doing amazing work to sustain publishing subcultures. I also love the Edinburgh Anarchist Feminist Bookfair that has popped up in the last two years. And Weirdo Zine Fest organised by Kirsty Fife (@iffystrike).

Ellen MacAskill’s social media:
instagram.com/__leomoon

Interview conducted by Solansh M.
Photos provided by Ellen M.

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