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The Zine Machines change locations, and regularly have new zines available for purchase. Zine Machine Two, pictured, currently resides in Shelf Life Books.
courtesy Jessica Shumlich

Lean, mean Zine Machine

Calgarian artists bring independent publishing to the masses

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Write, draw, copy, fold and staple — what if getting published was as easy as an arts-and-crafts project? On bedroom floors and college campuses across the United States in the late ’80s and early ’90s, proponents of emerging queercore and riot grrrl movements found an effective communication tool in zine making. A ‘zine’ is an independently produced and distributed publication that usually consists of photocopied rants, manifestos or social commentary, hand-folded, decorated and stapled together into a booklet in a do-it-yourself fashion.


When most of us were still hanging out in a womb, zine authors would distribute their homemade booklets at punk shows or via mail-order operated through a P.O. box. Today, Calgarians Karlene Nicolajsen and Jeffrey Wood are working on a more efficient and accessible way to showcase and distribute zines in our city.


The “Zine Machine” is a project where Nicolajsen and Wood are filling conventional vending machines with zines instead of candy and chips, and rotating them through various Calgary locales “for the sake of art and awareness, joy and soul,” according to Nicolajsen.


The self-contained machines, which Nicolajsen and Wood consider an art installation in their own entity, spend one to three months at each venue, depending on the placement agreement with the venue owner. Zine Machine One spent a few months at the Old Y Centre, and will be sent to the Good Life Bike Shop in northwest Calgary in November. Zine Machine Two’s temporary home is at Shelf Life Books. Each zine is available for a dollar, with all proceeds going to the zines’ authors and artists. 


“The machine is not to spread my work,” says Nicolajsen, “but for the zine artists in the active community here. We stock local and Canadian content only.”


For Nicolajsen, the Zine Machine project is only the latest incarnation in a long-standing affair with DIY publishing. 


“I’ve been making zines since I was in high school in Edmonton,” she explains. “There’s something intimate and personal about it, because when you make a zine, take the time and materials and find a way to distribute, it’s usually because you’re trying to say something.”


Nicolajsen is now involved with local press Small Ghosts, which determines content for the Zine Machines.


“[French-Cuban author] Anaïs Nin ran a big press in a studio apartment back when no one was eager enough to publish her work,” says Nicolajsen. “She set the type herself and cut the paper and I admire that immensely.”


The inspiration for the Zine Machine springs from a desire to emphasize a zine subculture that is distinctly Calgarian.


“Montreal has a series of zine vending machines, and [so do] some other places in the States, but there’s nothing like that around here,” says Nicolajsen. “The zine scene is kind of small in Calgary, and I want to help spread the local content, as well as awareness of that scene.”


Nicolajsen explains that she hopes the zine vending machines will help make it so zines are easier for people to find, since the subculture has traditionally been very underground.


“You sort of have to be seeking [zines] out to come across them,” says Nicolajsen. “We have a zine library at the Old Y, and Frosst Books sells some amazing zine content. Sloth records has some, but not a lot. There are a few zine fairs a year, but it seems to be a lot of the same people attending. I wanted to find a way to get zines into new places and expose more new people to them.”


The challenges that Wood and Nicolajsen face are finding more content to stock the machines with and finding more venues to rotate them through — Zine Machine One will need a third venue in January.


Whether you call it arts-and-crafts, high art or experimental novelism, Calgary’s Zine Machines are sure to show you something new.


“Our goal is to introduce, surprise and delight,” says Nicolajsen.

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