The Fine Art of Collecting Zines

In a world of blogging, vlogging, and tweeting, anyone can broadcast their thoughts, creativity, and  identity to the world. But that wasn’t always the case – and for some even now, a pixellated platform isn’t enough. Thank heaven for zines.

If you’ve been to a locally owned coffee shop, record store, or music venue in the past quarter to half-century or so, you’ve probably seen them lying around or being passed from hand to hand. Self-published and resolutely independent, these paperbound notes from underground tell as many different stories as the lives of those who made them.

For example, the mini-comic Junk Yard Buddha by Jeremy McConnell, founder of Kansas City's Hip-Hop Academy, mixes philosophical musings with community-focused themes.

Kansas City has been home to a thriving zine culture over the years, and thanks to the efforts of librarian Stephanie Iser, the Kansas City Public Library has begun collecting zines, mail art, and mini comics produced by local authors, artists -- and, in a few cases, anarchists.

“One of the reasons these materials are so important is that they show a perspective of Kansas City that you won’t find in mainstream sources,” Iser says.

Take the Kansas City Squatters Handbook. Produced by a local anarchist group sometime around early 2009, the 27-page zine gives advice and instruction on how to live rent-free (and illegally) in one of the area’s 5,000-plus vacant properties – and, ideally, not get kicked out. Aggrieved by the shortage of affordable housing for the poor, the Handbook’s authors write: “The only housing problem is access, and we have the means, the power, and we grant ourselves the authority to solve it.”

Far from flop-house miscreants, however, the authors of this savvy tome advocate best practices such as cleaning up a property once you’ve settled in, establishing house rules, and taking homemade baked goods to the neighbors while asking them what improvement projects they’d like to see done in the neighborhood.

On the less political end of the spectrum, the Library’s zine collection also contains quite a few homespun comics that would look at home in a retail comics store. Two volumes of Joshua Cotter’s elegant Skyscrapers of the Midwest, for example, are inspired by the artist’s childhood experiences and feature extensive use of robots in place of humans.

Copies of the brassy Road Kill, on the other hand, document the punk scene in Kansas City with band interviews, previews of upcoming shows, DIY gardening and bicycle maintenance tips, and street-level satire.

Whether pieced together by punks on photocopiers or crafted by KCAI-trained artists, zines and mini-comics, as Iser puts it, “convey an immediate sense of action.”

“Sometimes people publish zines because they want to get the word out and their work wouldn’t get published elsewhere,” Iser says. “Or maybe they want the freedom of publishing it themselves.”

Read more about the Library’s zine collection through the finding aid in the Missouri Valley Special Collections online. If you’d like to see the materials, you must come to the Missouri Valley Room at the Central Library. (Photo ID is required to view the special collections.)

Donate your zines!

If you collect or publish zines, mail art, and/or mini-comics (or if you know someone who does), the Library is always looking for donations to add to its collection. Call MVSC at 816.701.3427, or email

-- Jason Harper