A column about navigating the zine scene by Toronto-based zinester Rabeea Syed
I’ll cut to the chase — this will be my last edition of Exposure Unit. This column has had an incredible run, but I am merely one perspective navigating the zine scene and understanding its ethos. So the Broken Pencil team and I have agreed that it’s time to offer this space to another mind to use in some new or different way. Two years is a decently long time for a project like this, and I’m proud of it. I’d like to use this space one last time to reflect on this column’s life, what I’ve learned, how it’s grown, and how we might take Exposure Unit off the page and keep it alive in the big, strange world going forward.
When I was first approached to write a column, I had no idea where it would take me. I remain very grateful — I still cannot believe someone trusted me to write what I wanted regarding the sprawling universe of zines and self-publishing, and to do so from my perspective as an artist. In fact, I was encouraged to speak from my own experience! I finally had a space where I could be vulnerable and open up some topics that weren’t easy to talk about, to bounce my thoughts off of a large audience. The column has grown of its own accord in many ways, organically changing shape and tone, sometimes measuring a half page and suddenly spilling over to two and three to accommodate the ideas. In these years, I’ve shared my thoughts and fears surrounding topics such as tabling, workshops, zine cred and accessibility. Most importantly, I was able to pen my comments about the overwhelming whiteness of zine culture. This resonated with so many people, and we all have a duty to continue our conversations about how the community can be unwelcoming for many people of colour, both socially and economically. Shout out to my zinesters of colour out there.
Sometimes these topics were hard to put words to, but working with amazing editors at Broken Pencil has made the writing process easier. I want to thank Jonathan and Anisa for all the help along the way — I couldn’t have written so frankly without their support.
There’s only so much that I, one person can offer on the topic of zines at any moment. It’s a topic that is so vast and textured that I find myself desiring opinions from so many more people. It’s great that I got to put down my thoughts on this page for a while, and now I’m very excited to reorient, to read what everyone else has to say about zines and much more (not that I was on a two year long reading hiatus or anything). I hope you’ll stay in touch.
Magazine writing was very new to me when I began. But I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone, such as interviewing other zinesters, including new friends and long-time tablemates. Above all, I hoped Exposure Unit could bring the reader into the conversations I have with my peers, which inspired virtually all of the topics I took on — things that are hard, things that are magical, and above all, things that merit public attention and a larger discussion with others. It felt risky at times, but it turns out my gamble wasn’t wrong, because so many (like you!) have added to and built on each column, whether on social media or in my inbox or even in their zines.
This is the spirit of cooperation and dialogue that will continue to inspire me as I make more zines and do my part to build community through workshops, events, and many, many group chats and festival hangs. My time here may be closing, the spirit lives on. If you’ve enjoyed my musings, learned something new, or even been challenged by my column over the years, I humbly ask that you value your own vulnerability and curiosity. They’re zine world superpowers if you let them be. As for me, I’ll be busy making zines! Don’t be a stranger. Thanks for reading. Until we meet again!