Vanessa Berry – On Zines

June, 2010

Vanessa Berry is a Sydney zine-maker and writer. Since 1996 she has made over 120 zines about her observations and obsessions. Currently she makes the zine “I am a Camera”. A collection of her work, Strawberry Hills Forever, was published by Local Consumption Publications in 2007. In 2009 Vanessa’s zines were exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

What is a zine?

A small print-run, personal publication, which is most often photocopied. They have a long history and can be linked to such movements as mail art, science fiction fanzines, punk, activism and other subcultures. Zines today are made by a variety of people from different backgrounds, who are interested in communicating aspects of their lives, interests and obsessions, through handmade objects. Communication, rather than profit, is their motivation.

Why should any writer create a zine?

Zines are a great place to experiment with your writing, and connect with other people. The handmade nature of zines makes them a very personal and immediate way to communicate with other people and share ideas and words.

What is your favorite zine you worked on?

I have made a lot of zines over the last 15 years and it’s difficult to choose a favourite. Currently I make a zine called Disposable Camera, which I write in one day using a typewriter. I shape a story out of my recent experiences and preoccupations and the results are often surprising. I like to use the typewriter, as it makes me write differently to how I do on a computer. I think more about what I write before I type it, for one thing. I am interested in the relationship between the process of writing and the finished work.

What kind of distribution networks exist for zine-makers and how can you access them?

A lot of the distribution is done by the zine-makers themselves, through the post. There are zine fairs where zine-makers can sell and swap their zines, for example as part of the Sydney Writers Festival in May, and as part of the This is Not Art festival in Newcastle on the October long weekend. In addition to this there are online zine distribution services, such as Take Care, based in Sydney, and zine shops, such as Bird in the Hand in Newcastle, and Sticky in Melbourne.

How did your zines come to be published by Local Consumption Press?

A selection of stories from my zines was published by Local Consumption Publications in 2007. The publisher approached me and asked if I’d put together a manuscript from the autobiographical stories I’d written for my zines. I built the manuscript around particular themes that I explore in my zines: details, place, adventures and objects. I like to think that the particular zine attitude comes through in it, even though it is designed like a conventional book.

What’s one thing that’s happened to you because of zines that you didn’t expect?

I was asked to be part of the exhibition “Avoiding Myth and Message: Australian Artists and the Literary World” at the MCA in 2009. I had always though of myself as more of a writer, but zines also have a strong presence in the visual arts world these days, and it was great to be included in this exhibition.

What do you do when you get stuck writing?

Go out op shopping, I always find interesting things that make me feel inspired about potential stories.

If you could be anything other than a writer, what would you be?

I do think of other possible careers when writing seems difficult. These vary widely. Sometimes I like the idea of being a gardener. My dream ‘job’ is probably to be an eccentric.

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