The Most Unwanted Zine

Liz Mason wanted to know — what are the least desirable aspects of a zine? What aesthetic, content, or construction choices simply repel zine lovers? Having worked at Chicago zine mecca Quimby’s Bookstore for two decades, the Chicago zinester (who publishes Caboose and Cul-de-sac, among others) did what no one else had: she asked. The result? Some great survey data and, brilliantly, her own real life Frankenstein of bad choices… The Most Unwanted Zine.


So here we are, The Most Unwanted Zine. What was the #1 thing people said they didn’t want in a zine? Poetry. So there’s that. The #2 thing people complained about zines? Shitty construction. So there’s also that. But also, don’t miss a self-involved perzine rant, ridiculous font decisions with bad leading/kerning, a poorly laid out photo spread, the obligatory punk scene report, vague or meandering ramblings, lecturing with pedantically big academic words, whining and more!”

Most Unwanted Construction

1 // Shoddy construction

Uncollated, generally sloppy, unevenly trimmed, badly folded, pages are missing, repeated, or blank

2 // Hard to read

Tiny print, illegible text, tiny handwriting, print/font too hard to read, design makes it hard to read

3 // Printer issues

Poor toner contrast, pixelated

4 // Not enough text

All visuals

5 // Poorly bound

Unbound or bound by rubber bands

6 // Expensive

Overpriced. Some said zines shouldn’t exceed $10

Most Unwanted Topics

1 // Poetry

2 // Art zines

Photo zines, art zines, beautifully style over substance e.g. pretty, but lacks content (or content is too quickly absorbed and forgotten), collage zines, graffiti/street art

3 // Perzines

Self-indulgent/whiny/self-pitying/ wallowing perzines and rants, venting screeds without resolution or self-awareness, “author complains how difficult life is” or “collections of someone’s neuroses.”

4 // Ambiguity

Vague or meandering ramblings, too specific to the writer and not the reader (reader can’t relate), lack of anything substantive to communicate, strictly #s and facts with no personality or anecdotes, unfinished sketches, unclear theme

5 // Being lectured to

Preaching, morality, politics, veganism, socialism, virtue signaling or “hectoring wokeness”, see also social justice/politics, too academic/pedantic/dry/using big words & make reader feel they’re being lectured to

6 // Excessively graphic topic

Comics & illustration that is too graphic (gore/sex/zombies/horror), drugs, alcohol, “how cool it is to be drunk”, trauma, “mature”/“adult”

The data provided here was culled from a Google survey asking zine readers and zine makers about their preferences and dislikes regarding zines. Supplemental information was gathered from my experience curating customized zine packs for Quimby’s Bookstore customers. Scan the code to see the research: 

The Most Wanted Zine

Most Wanted Construction

1 // $3 or less

Could also be free

2 // Collaboratively made

Or submission-based/split

3 // Cut’n’paste or collaged

4 // Black and white

5 // Uses mixed media

Rubber stamps, stickers, etc.

6 // Quarter-page sized

7 // Photocopied

8 // Handbound

Most Wanted Topics

1// Perzines (personal)

2 // Social justice / politics

3 // Outer limits / mayhem

4// Fanzines

5// Art

6 // Comics

7 // How-to & DIY

8 // Health

Liz Mason has been self-publishing for over two decades, making zines with names like Caboose, Cul-de-sac and Awesome Things. Her work has also been published in such publications as The Chicago Tribune, Broken Pencil, Punk Planet, The Zine Yearbook, Third Coast Review, and more. Currently, she is the manager of Quimby’s Bookstore, home of wild and weird reading material in Chicago, where she has worked since 2001. She once appeared on the reality show Starting Over to provide instruction on publishing zines, which NBC executives referred to as “pamphlets,” as if they were Marxist propaganda. Check out