CALS zine collection gives a varied but not well-noticed media platform public exposure

Afsordeh’s 50-item collection can be visited at the library

Danielle Afsordeh, a community outreach archivist with the Central Arkansas Library System, talks about the Librarys collection of Zines during a meeting with reporters at the Roberts Library in Little Rock on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Zines are small DIY and subculture self-publications.

(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Danielle Afsordeh, a community outreach archivist with the Central Arkansas Library System, talks about the Librarys collection of Zines during a meeting with reporters at the Roberts Library in Little Rock on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Zines are small DIY and subculture self-publications. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

According to those who produced it in the late 1990s, Volume 451, Issue No. 8 of Hendrix College's "Akimbo" publication was "not a zine."

It also was not a literary magazine or an alternative newspaper, because it had "no counterpart."

Instead, it was described in the front-page opening as a collection of poetry, essays, editorials, comics and "whatever we can choke out of people."

Despite the declaration, that issue of "Akimbo" -- a publication with no digital trace based on a simple Google search -- can be found in a collection of zines at the main branch of the Central Arkansas Library System.

The brainchild of Danielle Afsordeh, CALS' community outreach archivist, the 50-item collection is almost a year old.

Afsordeh's definition of a zine is a publication "that's not mass produced, usually made by a local artist or a poet or a variety of folks."

The zines collected so far come in various forms.

From the professionally published and colored comic "Pizza Therapy" featuring art by Layet Johnson, to a black and white copy of "Bible Belt Queers: Queer in the Time of COVID," to "Cast Iron Daydreams," a zine that a former punk band member and his son makes that is dedicated to cornbread-based recipes.

One of the most prominent zines in Little Rock history, Fluke Fanzine, is represented with a ripped copy of issue #11.

Afsordeh does not always know where contributions to the collection come from, as some will just "show up in my (office) box."

But when the zine's origin is known, Afsordeh always makes note of it on the zine's file, because of "Nerdiness of Provenance," which Afsordeh observed is "an archival theory," meaning where things came from, "because as much as the zines have to tell us, I think where they came from also tells us something."

There is another zine, if you want to call it one. It is simply an anonymous handwritten note titled "You" by a man named Luke.

Afsordeh pulls the paper out of a storage container full of manila folders reserved for individual items. The paper itself is enclosed in a food wrapper.

"He's talking about his experience at a show. Said he witnessed some 'sick circle pit action,'" Afsordeh reads. "'Wild, wild circle pit action' ... probably at Vino's if I had to guess."

The items in the CALS collection come from multiple sources: donations, purchases by Afsordeh and Vino's Brew Pub.

Specifically, the green "Free Zines" distribution box on the back patio of the bar, located at 923 W. Seventh St. in Little Rock.

THE ZINE SCENE

The box at Vino's is the creation of Henry Rhodes, a 20-year-old, nonbinary artist and zine creator.

The "DIY culture" zines represent are "the basis for pretty much everything that I do," Rhodes said Wednesday while smoking a cigarette near the box.

The box has been at the bar since last spring after Rhodes rescued it from abandonment behind the Kroger on Beechwood Street.

Rhodes' first zine was a "little, tiny comic" they made and wanted to distribute.

"Then I found the box. And it was like, perfect timing," Rhodes said.

On this day, the box is occupied by three different zines, including two copies of Rhodes' hand-drawn "My (expletive) Favorite Curse Words."

There are also multiple copies of "Smacked," an arts and culture zine produced in rural Oklahoma that has sent Rhodes copies to put in the box.

Of Little Rock's zine culture, Rhodes described it as "sporadic" but growing.

"It's pretty easy to get started if you hang out in the music scene here, because a lot of the people kind of overlap," they said.

Anyone wanting to have their zine placed in the Vino's box can send it to Rhodes via their Instagram account, ghosty.000, and they will print it out.

Rhodes admits they have a "junky printer" but one that "does the job that it needs to."

ZINES FROM THE EDGE

A good chunk of Afsordeh's recent additions to CALS' Zine collection came from North Little Rock.

In early June, she attended "Zine Night" at the Dedicated Visual Art Studio at 5521 MacArthur Drive.

For about three hours, roughly 75 zine enthusiasts, including Afsdoreh and Rhodes, milled about 10 tables outside the small building that had been right on the edge of the path of the March 31 tornado.

The studio, which had to have its roof replaced, is next door to the ruins of what used to be the ParkLane Motel.

One of the owners of the studio and hosts of the zine swap is artist Jose Hernandez.

A native of Mexico, Hernandez has operated the studio for five years, using it for rapid design, screen printing, mural painting and events like "Zine Night."

"The area got hit pretty hard, so we thought it was important to keep this open," Hernandez said. "Because we don't really make any profit from doing shows or anything. Just something that we like to provide."

Just inside the front door of the studio is a yellow grocery store basket full of various zines on sale for $5.

In his office, Hernandez pulls out a small green and black box with a pirate skull logo from a shelf. The box, full of various booklets and pamphlets, is Hernandez' personal zine collection.

"I've always loved seeing these little things around ever since I was a kid going to punk shows or house shows or whatever," Hernandez said. "Traveling around and people just made their own stuff. Either for information or for (expletive) and giggles, you know?"

It includes issue #17 of Fluke, a stained copy of a zine called "Breaking the MANacles: An anti-patriarchy reader" and "Stencil," a zine from Mexico.

Hernandez' zine preference are lifestyle pieces, covering "stuff about what's going on in people's cities," like graffiti art and the music scene.

In 2023, the continued importance of zines for Hernandez is "informative, cheap mass production."

"You have some information you want to pass out and don't have any means? You can go to Kinko's [and] make a copy, or you can do it free at the library. Anybody can do it."

Zines are valuable for "[being able to] record a moment in time, really," adds Hernandez.

Historical Posterity

Capturing a specific period of time was one goal Darci McFarland had when the Fort Smith native began producing her art zine, "Bible Belt Queers: Queer in the Time of COVID."

The project has two issues in two years so far -- both of which are in the CALS collection. They are an offshoot of the "Bible Belt Queers" book she published in 2019, which featured poetry, essays and full-color visual art from 78 queer artists across the Bible Belt.

The book explored what it means to be an LGBTQ person in the Bible Belt and "how growing up in the Bible Belt affects us and our lives and our identities, as well our community and our sense of family and self," McFarland said in a phone interview.

McFarland became attached to the idea of zines as a publication method about 10 years ago while earning her master's degree in multicultural women and gender studies at Texas Woman's University.

"They provide a specific look inside the history of marginalized communities," McFarland said. "So they're very much community building pieces of history."

McFarland shifted the focus of "Bible Belt Queers" to zines to show how members of the LGBTQ community were coping with the pandemic. They also address "the lack of acceptable affordable health care, as well as the policies that are being passed in the Bible Belt" that limit the access of queer, Bible Belt residents to affordable health care.

A planned third collection will likely include art related to emerging themes about "the recession and how that's affecting everyone and inflation. ... With how bad everything is currently [with] the cost of living and just surviving every day, I think we'll see some of those things."

For McFarland, the value of capturing the art of "Bible Belt Queers" in zine form rather than pumping it out solely on social media -- which she believes "it's important that it's accessible in that way as well" -- is in it being history you can touch.

"I think having that tangible history is very important for southern queer folks. Because so often our history has been erased," McFarland said. "We haven't had that representation, and I think social media is just so fleeting."

Put another way, McFarland observed that "the feed disappears after a while, right?"

Even on the Internet, nothing is guaranteed to last forever, let alone a year. Just ask MySpace.

The anxiety surrounding the lifespan of digital media is arguably reflected by Hunter Schmuck in the "Smacked" zine found in the distribution box at Vino's.

It came on the last page of VOL. XI, "The Music Issue," written in silver marker on its black cover, which was bound together by a green string.

Schmuck's message was directed to both present and future readers, possibly even someone exploring the CALS collection someday.

"If you are just now reading this in some weird internet archive in 2046, researching independent media during the Great Analog Media Resurgence of the 2010s and 2020s, WELCOME," Schmuck wrote.

"I cannot wait for what comes next."

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