what exactly is a zine?

Great question. tricky answer.

The word zine has come to represent a range of small-batch, DIY, “magazine-like” publications in terms of form and content.  

For the purposes of Milwaukee Zine Festival, we like to think of zines in the following way:

ZINE (n) : Pronounced “Zeen”

A zine is a self-published, non-commercial print-work that is typically produced in small, limited batches.  Zines are created and bound in many DIY ways, but traditionally editions are easily reproduced—often by crafting an original “master flat,” and then photocopying, folding, and/or stapling the pages into simple pamphlets.  Zines may also be sewn, taped, glued—or even exist in unbound, sculptural, and other non-folio formats.

People who create zines [“zinesters”] are likely to be more motivated by self-expression and artistic passion than they are by profit: zines are usually inexpensive and sometimes distributed for free or in trade for other zines, goods, and services.

Zines can touch on a variety of topics from music and art, to politics, sexuality, humor and personal memoir.  Their content may be written, drawn, printed, collaged, or any other form of combining words and imagery—a zine’s structure may be narrative, journalistic, comic-like, or completely abstract. 

why zines matter:

Culturally and historically, zines have served as a powerful outlet for content considered to be too niche, risqué, or outside of the mainstream, in terms of more traditional/commercial forms of publication. A zine can be produced with the simplest of tools, and easily distributed low-to-the ground, outside capitalistic or potentially oppressive systems: amongst friends; in local gathering places or homes; at fests designed to celebrate them!  


Zines thus provide a safe, independent platform of expression for underrepresented and marginalized voices: people of color, young people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ(+) community, persecuted religious groups, and people with limited economic resources. 



Essentially, zines can be hard to define—but that’s what makes them great: they’re a glorious mash-up of art, letters, story and emotion; just like the brains, hands and hearts of those who produce them. Their small, simple format belies their unique ability to speak creatively [and loudly] for even the softest voices. (And ain’t that worth celebrating.)

For everything you’ve ever wanted to know about zines check out ZineWiki.com or WeMakeZines.com.

MZF Zine vendor policy

*Milwaukee Zine Fest asks its vendors to present mainly zines at their table*

(Buttons, books, posters, print-work, etc. are more than welcome, but at least 70% of your offerings should be zines or zine-related, per the definition above.)




Milwaukee Zine Festival specifically focuses on zine art and culture.  This focus helps our community thrive & bear witness to itself, while also educating the general public about the importance (and brilliance) of zine-specific ethos, form, and history.

The city of Milwaukee is lucky to be the home of countless craft fairs, maker-festivals, art shows, book shops, and gallery spaces of all kinds. (That’s why we love it here!) By keeping our festival zine-focused, we are purposefully and proactively allowing space for the types of underrepresented voices and marginalized work that often don’t fit well in these other venues and contexts.

Luckily, the definition of a zine is broad enough to include all sorts of wonderful, powerful, small press creations! Not sure if what you want to vend “counts” as a zine? No problem: don’t be shy. Just reach out to ask before signing up to table.