Personal to political: Activism and feminism in the local literary community

. August 2, 2017.

Zines can be an overlooked form of literature and artistic expression, perhaps because they are a mostly underground and non-mainstream platform. However, the Toledo area has a more active zine scene coming out into the foreground.

Marissa Medley, a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University (BGSU) where she studied Arts Administration and Creative Writing, is working on the first issue of her start-up zine called Daisies. Brittany IRL, who has an MA in literature, has been making zines for several years and attends zine fests to share her work and meet others in the zine community. They sat down for an interview to discuss their work and participation in the literary community, as well as the inherent feminism of their zines.

Brittany IRL, who has an MA in literature, has been making zines for several years and attends zine fests to share her work and meet others in the zine community. They sat down for an interview to discuss their work and participation in the literary community, as well as the inherent feminism of their zines.

On the left, Brittany IRL. On the right, logo for Daisies.

On the left, Brittany IRL. On the right, logo for Daisies.

They sat down for an interview to discuss their work and participation in the literary community, as well as the inherent feminism of their zines.

For the Love of Zines

Q: Let’s talk about your current projects (how they got started, what they are about, etc.)

Marissa: I kind of started this because I had experience with editing through Prairie Margins and Mid-American Review [literary journals at BGSU]. I was in a poetry class one day and it’s an all girls class, and they were writing these really powerful pieces, and I thought, “if there’s one thing I can do, it’s collect these voices to include some sort of message.” I’m working on our first issue. I’m really excited.

Brittany IRL: So you’re curating?

Marissa: Yeah, I’m just having submissions, and we’ll go through and pick what we like. It’s going to be around 40 to 60 pages, depending on how much we get in.

Brittany IRL: I think that’s actually pretty significant because when I think of zines I think of 16 pages, like tiny little pages.

Marissa: I’m not sure how big it will actually end up being. In my head, it’s a smaller literary magazine. I like the flow of a zine. I want art and writing, and it all depends on what I receive in submissions.

Brittany IRL:  For me, my zines have been primarily personal, solo efforts up to this point… avenues for me to publish my own art and writing without having to deal with the male-dominated art and literary scene, which is just how it is everywhere, but especially in Toledo and northwest Ohio. It’s nice to not have to navigate the politics of the art world or to have to navigate the politics of an editor and just put out something that is purely my own. I’ve been drawn to zines because of the DIY ethics and because of my background in the DIY music and art scenes. I’m currently curating my first group zine called Pouring Salt, and it is a collection of firsthand accounts of what it’s like to come forward and tell people about having experienced abuse, be it psychological, financial, physical, or sexual. Not accounts of the abuse itself but of how others reacted. And my zines are totally handmade. I find it meditative. I have a poetry one about my relationship with a heroin addict, and I’ve sold a couple hundred of this one. I go to zine fests regularly. There are a couple places in the midwest where you can send your zine to them and they will do some promoting for you. Independent bookstores, mostly. There are some places locally too, such as Beads and Books. Are you a poet then?

Marissa: Oh yeah, I’m a poet. It’s very confessional.

Brittany IRL: Is that the style you plan on using for your issue?

Marissa: Well this is our first issue. A lot of it is confessional so far. It’s people telling their experiences about being a woman. I want more voices, and I want to include the trans community and others as well, but right now I’m just trying to get my zine out there. Social media is my best friend. The community is stronger than you would think in this area. BGSU has been really helpful. Word of mouth and social media are my biggest efforts so far.


Q: When did you start making zines or first come into contact with the idea of zines?

Brittany IRL: It’s something that I’ve dabbled with on and off since I was a teenager. Back in the olden days of LiveJournal, my friends and I did confessional writing in that space. A lot of my friends graduated to making zines, and I followed with that. My most recent stuff has only been the past 5 years, but I’ve always gone to zine fests and helped out with zines others have created.

Marissa: I first came into contact with zines in high school. I was really lucky and I got to go to Toledo School for the Arts. Someone got a copy of this one zine and spread it around the school. It was really cool and was like a public diary. And then I had an art class at BGSU, and I ended up doing a zine project. I then realized I’m really into this multimedia platform.

Q: What is so appealing about the zine platform?

Marissa: I want to do a community-based thing, which is maybe a little different than your typical zine. But it’s very hands-on. You usually meet the person who created or wrote the zine, and it creates a connection between people.

Brittany IRL: The cool thing about a zine is that there are really no rules. I have zines about jokes about band aids and other stuff. It’s whatever you want to do.

Q: Has there been an ebb and flow in the popularity of zines?

Brittany IRL: Because it is an underground thing, it’s always there. There’s always going to be punk kids with xerox machines making stuff.  I have seen more of an interest in it locally.

Brittany IRL.

Brittany IRL.

Zines as avenues for feminism and activism

Q: Why a feminist zine?

Marissa: I have always been a feminist, and I’ve always been very vocal. When the opportunity came, I was like “of course it’s going to be feminist.” I don’t want complacent writing.

Brittany IRL: Well, I’m interested in reclaiming aspects of femininity that tend to be thought of as negative. Such as being okay with emotions. Feelings are not weak. My press is called VerySoftPress. It takes its name from a poem I wrote where someone referred to my skin as being very soft. There is this expectation that you must be hard and emotionless to be respected. I want to embrace my softness. I’m interested in radical emotional honesty and aspects of femininity. I don’t want femininity to be thought of as being unable to be taken seriously. It’s feminist in that I’m interested in embracing femininity, whatever shape or form your femininity takes. It’s as intersectional as it can be in thirty pages.


Q: How important is intersectionality?

Brittany IRL: If it isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminist.

Marissa: This third wave of feminism is all about intersectionality. As a white feminist, I am using resources I have to put other perspectives out there. I would also be interested in hearing men’s voices because feminism helps men too. There’s this huge stereotype that men have to be super strong and stuff but feminism helps them realized they can be sensitive or emotional without the need for being called slurs. I want to hear everyone’s voice on how feminism affects them. The voices will be predominantly women, however.

Brittany IRL: I think the medium of zines, given that they have that DIY backbone, makes it accessible to women across the board. You don’t need a lot of money or need to be connected to put one out or gain access to one. If you’re interested in making zines, you can. Just do it.

Marissa: The wonderful thing about the zine form is you don’t need to know what you are doing to do it. When I first got into zines, I decided I could do collages or handwrite things when I didn’t have the artistic ability to draw.


The zine-making process

Q: What does your process look like for your current projects?

Marissa: I have been collecting submissions through email. I am back and forth between doing it by hand or through a press. I do like that handmade aspect of it. It makes the zine feel very authentic. But if I end up with like 40 pages, it might be difficult to handmake it. It’s very experimental at this point.

Brittany IRL: All of my submissions came in during November. Because it is an incredibly sensitive topic, I’ve been taking my sweet time with it. Some of it is especially triggering. It’s the first zine I’m considering having printed, but I will still do handmade touches. All profits are benefiting The Cocoon Shelter in Bowling Green.

Marissa: I  want to have some financial impact as well. We just haven’t decided where the proceeds will go. I might do a poll on social media to see where people want the money to go. I’ve been selling some stickers for the zine on Etsy, and the money from the stickers will fund the zine production. At some point I’d like to get some bags printed as merchandise to promote the zine as well.


Positives, Negatives, and everything in between

Q: What responses have you gotten so far to your work with zines?

Brittany IRL: A lot of responses I have gotten are positive. At a zine fest I attended, a person bought two of my zines, read them, then came back and said, “You hurt my feelings.” Because it got to them at an emotional level. There’s nothing better than when someone tells you they recognize a line within themselves.

Marissa: I’ve gotten really good responses as well. People are super interested in it. I’ve had a submission from England, and I have no idea how they found out about it,  but I have international people interested in it. No negative feedback yet. I’m very excited.

Brittany IRL: For the most part, the zine community is ultra supportive. It never feels competitive.

Q: What kind of obstacles have you faced and how do you get past them?

Brittany IRL: Because my most recent zine effort is about really difficult stuff, I’ve had to remind myself to take care of myself as I’m reading accounts. I’ve had to tell submitters to slow down if it’s too much. I don’t want it to be a reliving of their trauma. I have to be a nurturing curator. I’ve also had to get over my self-consciousness, but I’ve always been an over-sharer.

Marissa: Writing things out on paper… I find it to be very therapeutic. If something is bothering me, I write a poem about it and I go to bed.

Brittany IRL: The process of the zine is very healing. Others can heal when they read these accounts as well. It’s the most empowering thing I have done in my life.


Q: Has the current political climate affected your zine creation? If so, how?

Marissa: Part of the reason I started this is because I have always been an activist at heart. Right now, I work three jobs and am in school full time and felt I didn’t have the money or time to protest. Not everyone can protest, and sometimes I am one of those people. I felt guilty I could not participate. If I complain, I feel it is my duty to go out and change things. And so I decided to make an art form. It’s still making an effort to get these voices out there. It’s going to piss somebody off. I want to ruin the illusion and let others know that their actions and choices affect others. I’m reminded every day about what happened in this election, and that’s what bothers me.

Brittany IRL: I announced the project a month before the election, and two days after the election, after I had recovered, I said, “This issue is even more important with a man in the White House who thinks he has a right to women’s bodies…” The fact that all of these things are known to the public that voted for him and they are okay with it is appalling. He openly admitted to sexual assault and it was regarded in some media outlets as “locker room talk.” These toxic attitudes about women’s bodies and how “boys will be boys” are what I hope to be shedding light on with the submissions I got. Feminism affects everyone, after all.

Q: Are you actively pursuing conservative female voices as well?

Marissa: It’s partially my fault; I do not run in circles with many conservative women. I know some and have talked to them about my zine and they have kind of brushed it aside saying that it does not affect them, but it does. When I write, my perspective is feminist. I would gladly take work from people about their experience as a woman even if they are politically opposite of me. Their voices are just as important.


Looking to the future

Q: What’s next?

Marissa: As long as I feel I have the energy, time, and support, I will continue the zine after the first issue. These stories don’t stop happening, unfortunately, and so I will continue to collect pieces in some form.

Brittany IRL: I’ll always be writing and I’ll always be doing stuff related to whatever issues are on my mind. I don’t necessarily sit down and say, “I’m going to create a feminist thing,” but I’m a feminist and so that’s just kind of the way it goes.

Marissa: You don’t just stop being a feminist when you want to write. If that’s how you look at life, it will come out in your work.

Brittany IRL’s newest zine, “Pouring Salt”, can be found at

Marissa Medley can be contacted about her zine at and the zine website can be found at