“Off-beat, funky, and anything you want it to be” sums up the quirky little trend experiencing an uprising in Salem. Artists and Salemites with ideas are putting them to paper and self-publishing “zines.”
One woman behind the zines trend is Jessica Ramey, a graphic artist, creative spirit and work-at home mom. Ramey presented the idea of a “Salem Community Zine” to the Culture Shock Community Project. What is a zine? It is a self-published booklet designed to educate or inform the community about a topic without involving the mainstream media.
Ramey was introduced to zines while in college at University of Oregon, studying journalism and fine arts. “I made my first zine in 1999. I had my car stolen and I put all my anger and angst into a zine. I got my car back, but it had been completely stripped, so I had a picture of my car the way it was, and when you moved the transparency, the only thing left was a shell,” said Ramey.
This summer’s project was less about angst and more about being thankful. The Salem Community Zine was created on a hot summer’s night during July’s First Wednesday. Ramey introduced the concept during open mic night at Clock Works Café and Cultural Center, and had a booth on the sidewalk during First Wednesday. “I just asked people what they like about Salem,” Ramey said.
The answers were inspiring and caused her to stop and think about how unique Salem really is. “One person said that he liked Salem ‘because it wasn’t all concrete.’”
The response gave her new eyes for her surroundings. “Our landscape is beautiful. We have beautiful vineyards, rivers. We really live in Utopia as far as that goes.”
So on that summer night about 100 responses were gathered, and a Salem-focused zine was born. “At first it was hard to get people interested. The work of a zine is intimidating. But I didn’t hear anything negative. I learned people’s different perspectives and stories. I think there are a lot of talented people in Salem. It was fun later to sit in the evening and go through them.”
If Ramey had asked “what do you like about Salem” and then promised to blog about it would it be as interesting? Would there be the sense of a community art project? Ramey thinks not. “I think a zine is more reflective and personal than a blog. You can touch it, and it’s unique and approachable. It’s artsy; not high-tech. It’s like books moving to Kindle: you lose the ability to touch and feel the story. With a zine you are really putting yourself out there,” Ramey said.
Besides the art and creativity of a zine, the paperback opinion piece is a way to test out a big idea without going big-time. “A zine is an affordable way to test out an idea, or something they want to share without really committing,” Ramey said.
The “Salem Community Zine” idea was about the culture of Salem that some think doesn’t exist. “I feel like Salem has an interesting subculture that we don’t normally hear about. We have all walks of life here, and we respect diversity. This project was about encouraging people to get out of their comfort zone. Put a piece of ‘you’ out there and being willing to share it with other people, “said Ramey. “I didn’t grow up in Salem, and I was always hearing people talk about what a sad town it was. I see it differently, and I see a lot of momentum.”
Ryan Rogers of Salem’s Culture Shock Project and Clockworks Café agrees. “We have limited media exposure in Salem. There are not a lot of ways to communicate with Salem as a larger body. A zine is a way to communicate with an audience without having to start a radio station or newspaper,” Rogers said.
A zine is as much about art as it is writing. “It’s about how you want to tell your story,” Ramey said. “Distributing the zine is just as much of the process as creating it. Zines may not be expensive to create, but they are not really designed as a get-rich-quick scheme either.”
“It’s not about money,” Ramey said. “You hear about people who have made money on zines, but typically they might sell for $1 to $5 each. On the internet there are distributors. But it’s more about the ideas and creativity than the earning potential.”
Today zine creators are welcome to distribute their works at Clockworks Café, and people do. “We want to be a place where people can distribute their ideas. We hope to have more of that going on as we grow,” Rogers said.
Want to pick up the Salem Community Zine? The Zine will be released at available at Clockworks Café, located at 241 Commercial St. N.E. Salem.