A Portland zine primer

Immerse yourself in the city’s thriving self-publishing scene.

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    Molly Woodstock

    Since the invention of the photocopier, zine-making has proven one of the most popular forms of self-publishing. These small-batch, low-budget booklets come in many shapes and sizes, both literally and figuratively — contents might include absurdist comics, vegan recipes, political manifestos or bike maintenance tips, just to name a few. And few cities have embraced these offbeat, pint-size tomes like Portland. For starters, our famously bookish city (Hello, Powell’s City of Books!), claims groups like the Independent Publishing Resource Center and the Portland Zine Symposium, along with a healthy dose of independent spirit and DIY ethos. Brush up on the local zine scene with our guide.

    Check out Travel Portland’s own Portland zine guides. >>

    Where to find zines in Portland

    Independent Publishing Resource Center

    Since its creation in 1998, the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) has helped more than 27,000 authors create zines, books, comics, art and graphic novels. Rather than act as a publishing house, the IPRC provides all the necessary tools for self-publishing, including public workspaces and workshops in screen-printing, binding and letterpress. The center even offers one-year certificate programs that teach students to write, design and publish zines with the guidance of Portland’s top writers and cartoonists.

    A zinester’s equivalent to the fabled Library of Alexandria, IPRC maintains a rich repository of more than 6,000 zines, comics and other materials for members to peruse for inspiration. Visitors are invited to stop by the “Zine Machine” outside the studio on bustling Division Street, where a dollar scores you a freshly printed mini-zine.

    Portland Zine Symposium

    Founded in 2001 by local zine celebs Alex Wrekk, Nicole J. Georges, Joe Biel, Eleanor Whitney, Theresa Moulter and Gillian Beck, the Portland Zine Symposium, held each July, features more than 150 zine-makers from around the world. One of the largest annual zine events in the country, the free event also includes fascinating workshops in subjects from podcasting and self-publishing to coping with trauma and supporting marginalized groups, like queer youth and people of color.

    Reading Frenzy

    One part gallery, one part event space and one part specialty bookshop, this “Independent Press Emporium” first opened its doors in 1994 in Southeast Portland, and relocated to downtown two years later. Now located on hip North Mississippi Avenue, the tightly curated space showcases artsy comics, zines, books and prints for sale, and hosts frequent gatherings and gallery shows featuring graphic design, typography, paper craft and the occasional eclectic collection. (Their first exhibition was an assemblage of macaroni & cheese boxes.) Reading Frenzy also operates its own small press, Show & Tell Press, which publishes sought-after titles like Sean Tejaratchi’s Crap Hound.

    Microcosm Publishing

    Founded in 1996, Microcosm independently publishes and distributes an incredible array of hard-to-find zines, books, buttons, patches, posters, videos and other media. Known for its colorful covers and zine/book hybrid aesthetics, Microcosm has been credited for renewing mainstream interest in zines in the last decade. Drop by the company’s storefront — a bright green cottage on North Williams Avenue — to browse hundreds of titles exploring topics like feminism, bicycling and DIY skills.

    Portland zine reading guide

    Zinester’s Guide to Portland

    This small-but-mighty zine, subtitled “A Low/No Budget Guide to Living In & Visiting Portland, OR,” began as a leaflet-size, hand-stapled supplement to the first Portland Zine Symposium. Five editions and 15 years later, the guidebook has ballooned to 128 pages, and has sat on Powell’s Books’ Top 20 Bestsellers shelf since 2006. Comprehensive in scope, pages boast contributions and illustrations by many of Portland’s premier zine artists, and are loaded with suggestions on the city’s best parks, theaters, records stores and pizzerias, among other can’t-miss sights. Special callouts are devoted to Portland-centric topics like public transit, biking and skateboarding. 

    This Is Portland

    After hearing countless claims that Portland was the “best city ever” without any concrete supporting evidence, recent transplant Alexander Barrett decided to document what specifically sets Portland apart. Barrett’s witty tribute, This is Portland, is composed of micro-essays on what keeps Portland weird (and great), from $3 movies and backyard chickens to tattoos and tater tots. Another Powell’s bestseller, this Portland primer is must-read material for visitors and residents alike.

    Invincible Summer

    A Portland Zine Symposium co-founder and longtime IPRC instructor, Nicole J. Georges has been chronicling her life in zine form since at least 2000, when she published the first issue of Invincible Summer. The autobiographical comic chronicles the highs and lows of chicken raising, vegan baking, queer dating, art making and other antics, created in diary installments and collected into two anthologies for easy reading. (Georges is also the creator of Tell It Like It Tiz!, a zine documenting the stories of Portland’s senior citizens, and Calling Dr. Laura, Georges’ gorgeous graphic memoir.)

    Oregon History Comics

    Portland reporter Sarah Mirk teamed up with local nonprofit Know Your City in 2010 to create this charming set of comics exploring little-known stories in Portland’s history — think Black Panthers, women’s suffrage, dead freeways and lost cities. Each short, engaging volume is designed and illustrated by a different Oregon artist. The collection of 10 zines is available in a boxed set; download Tom McCall & the Vortex as a free PDF.

    Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture

    When she’s not composing her popular history comics (see above), Sarah Mirk serves as online editor of the seminal publication Bitch. Originally launched out of the trunk of a car in 1996, Bitch has evolved into one of the nation’s most respected feminist magazines, providing thoughtful commentary on contemporary media, politics and mainstream culture to more than 10,000 subscribers (not to mention 200,000 Facebook fans!) from their Portland HQ.

    Crap Hound

    While living in Portland in the 1990s, Sean Tejaratchi carefully combed through vintage catalogs, advertisements and obscure books to create collections of high-contrast imagery — a sort of alternative, lo-fi clip art. Dubbed “a picture book for discussion activity” by the artist, each issue of Crap Hound explores the meanings, symbolism and cultural ideals of subjects like “Death, Phones & Scissors” or “Superstition.” Copies of this hard-to-find series are highly prized by fellow zine-makers, tattoo artists and graphic designers, especially, for their inspirational images. The most recent issue was published in 2011, but the project lives on; a related book, A is for Zebra, was recently published by Show & Tell Press.


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