If you told Lanh Hrafn five years ago that they’d eventually be making zines for a living, you’d hear loud, disbelieving laughter.
Hrafn, 28, always loved to write and make art, but back then they foresaw a conventional future for themself and their wife, Rin Vanderhaeghe, 30. Both worked ordinary jobs and went to school, pursuing artistic endeavours only on the side.
But life never turns out the way we think it will.
Working regular hours became impossible when the couple began to experience various health complications. With rent to pay and a cat to feed, Hrafn and Vanderhaeghe decided to work from home and turn their side ventures into a fulltime career.
In summer 2016 Hrafn and Vanderhaeghe combined their separate brands to create Crow and Moon Press (CAMP). Under CAMP the two produce experimental science fiction noise music, handmade dolls, fictional stories, comic strips, photography and zines. Hrafn and Vanderhaeghe then market their wares online and at various craft shows in and around London Ontario.
Making a living as independent artists is financially challenging, but Hrafn and Vanderhaeghe are garnering immense satisfaction that they wouldn’t find in any other vocation.
“To know that we’ve put everything into a piece, that we did that and released it and sold it, it’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day,” says Hrafn.
In less than a year, CAMP has made its mark on the London arts community. While each of their products reflects a unique vision and extreme work ethic, their work in zines has generated a profound buzz nation-wide.
Vanderhaeghe had select mutism when she was a young child. As an adult she reflected on how it impacted her life in her zine “Forest City”.
“I think that it has helped me, especially knowing what’s going on now. With zines it has helped me push myself to use words more, to articulate myself,” she says.
“Forest City” was nominated for Broken Pencil Magazine’s first ever national Zine of the Year award, in the “perzine” (personal zine) category.
The nomination is a huge deal both professionally and personally.
Hrafn’s own zines are less personal than Vanderhaeghe’s and more sci-fi oriented. But both agree that the medium is remarkable in its applicability to any kind of storytelling and level of skill.
The key to making a good zine, says Hrafn, is to simply get started.
While Hrafn’s first eight-page booklet took almost a year to complete, in the past 12 months they has released six zines with three being almost 50 pages long.
“Your first zine is probably going to be weird,” says Hrafn. “It’s probably going to be crappy. You might look back later and think it’s one of the worst things you’ve produced, but if you don’t do that first one then you’re not going to get to the second.”
Just do it, says Hrafn.
The rest will follow.
Jillian Clair, 27, is a believer in the power of zines.
When she’s not studying for her masters of library and information science at Western University or working at London’s beloved Hero’s comic book store, she’s organizing meetings for Zine Fiends at the East Village Arts Collective.
Zine Fiends is Clair’s up and coming pilot project to revive London’s zine community.
The zine scene in London was at its most vibrant during the 60’s and 70’s, as was the rest of the local arts scene. But the urge for artists to create self-published work never fully dissipated, and Clair insists it never will.
Through Zine Fiends, Clair intends to create that space and offer artists a refuge from the bombardment of technology while connecting over their work.
Clair first started working with zines as she was developing her skills as a comic book illustrator. Inspired by both comic books and Riot grrrl culture, she published her first zine, entitled “The Abyss Stares Back”, at the age of 23.
Written over the span of a series, the work predominantly deals with negotiations between female identity and the patriarchy. Her first story, for instance, questions why women shave their pubic hair.
Making the zine gave Clair the chance to freely express something she needed to release.
“I am a feminist, and I feel there is a lot of misunderstanding in a broader context of what exactly that means. I’m finding that zine making is a way for me to talk about some of my frustrations of identifying in that way, and existing in a body that identifies as female in a culture that always says it’s not good enough, and will always see me as somehow less than because of that.”
Building upon a budding community is no easy task, but Clair says the empowerment she experienced in self-publishing her own work is something she is determined to bestow on others.
In addition to Zine Fiends, she hopes to help publish anthologies and create a zine library in London.
“I want to emphasize how friendly and open London’s DIY art community is,” says Clair. “How prepared everyone is to share resources, how welcomed everyone tries to make you feel. Come to Zine Fiends, everyone. Make some zines.”
Megan Arnold is known for her work illustrating “Nihilist Dog”, an online comic about a golden retriever experiencing existential nihilism, written by fellow Londoner Maverick Summers.
Her own zines are less about philosophical animals, and more about her own intimate thoughts – thoughts that are sometimes easier to express using art.
“I find a lot of strength in vulnerability,” says Arnold. “That’s been a huge theme since I started making zines and comics. I’m not a person who opens up readily, so it’s much easier to just put it on paper and then slide it over casually to somebody.”
Arnold, 24, had begun her degree in fine arts at Western University when she first got into zines.
Her first zine, “Sorry”, was about saying sorry too much. Another, “Valuable”, explored valuing oneself.
As part of her final project, Arnold created a retrospective of her fourth year at university using print making techniques and photocopying. One scene includes her finding pizza in a garbage can; another shows her and her classmates on a trip to New York City. She also predicts the futures of her peers.
The booklet also includes scenes of herself confronting a personal fear of failure.
“I was worried that I wouldn’t be making art afterwards. My idea of success at the time was getting an arts job right away,” says Arnold.
Like many young graduates, Arnold didn’t immediately find the job of her dreams. But she’s okay with that.
Arnold works as a barista and teaches zine-making classes to young children at the London Public Library. Alongside zines and comics, Arnold also creates music, performance, and installation art at downtown’s Good Sport studio.
She has developed solid footing in London’s tightly-knit arts community, and has enthusiasm that the Forest City zine scene will persevere in the midst of changing times.