Risograph Dreams

The brains behind Reed’s Zine Fest are bringing DIY publishing to Reedies, the local community, and beyond.

By Megan Burbank | February 21, 2024

For Ann Matsushima Chiu and Chlöe Van Stralendorff, the creative forces behind Reed’s forthcoming Zine Fest, zines, and DIY publishing have long been a critical practice for both building community and making and appreciating art. Social science librarian (and, as she puts it, “the unofficially-titled zine librarian”) Matsushima Chiu first started making zines after she graduated from college with an art degree. She recalls feeling “really jaded at that point about high art.” So when her spouse suggested making a zine, it became a way to make art within “this whole world of zine making”—one that was much more inclusive and welcoming than the one she’d emerged from with her degree.

Matsushima Chiu’s first art project after graduating was “a very, very angsty zine”—“this very Asian American-centered kind of perspective on post-undergrad life,” she recalls. Making the zine led to tabling to distribute it, which led to art zine fests, which led to discovering even more zines she connected with; Asian American culture magazine “Giant Robot” was a favorite. “Zines allow you to kind of come in with almost zero knowledge of it, and it’s a very nonjudgmental space, and then it allows you to grow into it as you want to,” she says.

As she tabled in community with other makers, and explored other ways of distributing her work, she found her way into libraries: They were places she would go to as she placed her zines, “and so without zine making, I wouldn’t have gone into certain library spaces to try to get them to put them in their collection, and I wouldn’t have gotten my first job at a library, and I wouldn’t have met my mentor who wouldn't have encouraged me to go to library school.”

Zines have also been an important part of Van Stralendorff’s professional trajectory. Before she became Reed’s visual resources curator and manager of the college’s Visual Resources Center, she was first exposed to zines through the punk shows and DIY culture she was immersed in as a teen in Los Angeles. Bands would create zines and distribute them at shows, and buying them was a cheap way to show support, since a zine was often “the most affordable thing on a merch table,” she remembers. At 14, she attended a zine event for Los Angeles International Women’s Day at The Smell, the legendary DIY punk venue in downtown LA—a pivotal experience.

When the two met after Van Stralendorff’s arrival at Reed a year and a half ago, they connected over their shared passion for zines, and began exploring ways of getting Reed students engaged with zines and DIY publishing. Zine Fest emerged from those conversations, and builds on their past curatorial experiences. In her previous role within public libraries, Van Stralendorff organized a zine festival in California’s Orange County, and Matsushima Chiu has longstanding involvement with the Portland Zine Symposium. 

For Reed’s Zine Fest, they’re bringing some big names in DIY publishing to campus, including keynote speaker James Spooner, author of the graphic novel The High Desert and co-editor of the anthology Black Punk Now. But before the festival even begins on March 30, Matsushima Chiu and Van Stralendorff have dreamed up a vast lineup of zine and DIY publishing programming for Reed students and Portlanders alike.

Their offerings represent a unique overlap between the college’s zine-making resources and Portland’s robust culture of independent publishing. By design, the organizers timed the festival during a period of the year when the larger independent publishing community doesn’t typically have a large gathering of zinesters to attend. 

“In terms of DIY publishing and zine culture, Portland is kind of the spot to be, but over the last several years, maybe even pre-pandemic, a lot of the zine fests kind of burgeon up and they last for a couple of years, and then they disappear. People move on,” explains Matsushima Chiu. “And so springtime is actually this space in Portland where a lot of zinesters don't have a zine fest to plug into, because a lot of the zine fests happen in the summer and the fall.”

Not only will Zine Fest “fill that natural void,” but it will also expose Reedies to zine-making across disciplines. Among the resources the librarians have developed to support zine-making on campus are zine kits, zine-making materials students can check out.

Van Stralendorff also oversees the use of Reed’s risograph machine, which she proposed as an addition to the Visual Resources Center. A risograph machine is a digital stamp printer, she explains. Similar to silk screening but printing on paper instead of fabric, the machine uses unprocessed ink to produce vivid, neon-like colors. Mixing together layers of tones, the machine can print zines in dazzling Lisa Frank-esque palettes with an analog, almost touchable clarity to them. “You just can’t get that with color printing,” she says.

Reed is home to a zine club with a membership that hovers around 90 students, but the college’s zine programming is a cross-disciplinary effort. From the social sciences to the humanities to the creative writing department, Reed students and faculty are finding increasingly creative ways to incorporate DIY publishing into their intellectual pursuits. “The biology department is making a zine called Bio Zine,” says Matsushima Chiu. “And the anthropology students are making digital zines.”

At the center of this is Reed’s unusually accessible zine library. While other zine collections are often held in archives that require limited in-person visits, Reed’s zine library is a circulating collection students can browse and borrow from. It’s just one more way to spread the word and activate new zinesters throughout the community. “Anyone can make a zine. So oftentimes, it’s the people that are not in the publishing world”—or who have been gatekept out of it—who become zinesters, says Matsushima Chiu. “And then they find a place in zines and are able to tell unfiltered, uncensored stories, which is really exciting.”