There has to be more to a great zine than just long hours at the local copy shop. Some are content to view them through their punk, "anything goes" roots, and figure that if it's out there, it's good. But I prefer to define zines by their more nuanced appeal: relating experiences with a commitment to DIY production values -- you know, thin paper, the hand-drawn illustrating the handwritten, and naked staples as preferred binding. It's in these crafty details where a lot of what makes zines worth reading becomes apparent, along with why people still choose zines over their cheaper, easier counterpart: blogs. Sometimes small runs and the main zine motivators of TLC plus a lot of free time combine to bring us titles that have one foot in the literary world, the other firmly planted in art.
Enter Ker-Bloom, a beautiful letterpress zine whose most recent issue, #60, reflects on its own ten-year anniversary. For a modestly sized zine, Ker-Bloom always manages to pack an impressive amount of heart in its few pages. Part of this appeal comes from the fact that only 250 editions of each issue are ever produced, allowing copies to occasionally sport beautiful fabric covers, snazzy inks, and sewn binding. The zine's handset type manages to make it even more visually endearing. Blotchy letters and shaky alignments suddenly seem relevant when they're the result of labor-intensive printing -- not just the affectation of an oh-so-quirky flea market typewriter.
Plus, the writing is fantastic. In her essays, Ker-Bloom creator Artnoose, a.k.a. Karen Switzer, pulls off the delicate balancing act of introspective nostalgia with derring-do: an intimate conversational tone and insights that ring true despite their personal nature. Issue #60 deals with the way one's life takes unexpected ups and downs, as viewed through the lens of swapping the plan of motherhood for a brood of bi-monthly zines. She writes with characteristic wit, "But the zine always had to come out, one way or another, and the next thing I knew ten years had gone by and I was what sociologists call S.I.N.K. -- Sixty Issues, No Kids."
Within the trope of the zine, Artnoose manages to touch on everything from the death of loved ones to personal triumphs. This breadth of topic reminds me of why I like zines so much: they can literally be about anything. The only rules governing subject matter are that it matter to the author, and there's something inspiring about that kind of sincerity. In fact, Ker-Bloom's quiet poignancy is exactly why zines speak to one of the most overlooked truths in mainstream media: sometimes compelling information isn't really all that, well, dazzling. Yes, we love to read fresh new exposés and matters of international importance, but people mostly function in small moments strung together with small doses of anything worth broadcasting to the masses.
In Ker-Bloom #60, Artnoose goes on to describe how creating the zine has added to her life in ways she never anticipated. Though she does mention getting to meet and connect to other people through her little publication, we get the sense that she has most benefited from the way issues have chronicled and organized her life: "I went all around the country. I went to love and back, a number of times. I went to hell and back, a number of times. My zine went with me." It's as though, looking back, Ker-Bloom has formed a trail of pebbles through the woods, telling Artnoose where she's been in order to direct her to where she's going.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED