The Fly Away Zine Mobile and the “Paper Communities” of Zine Culture

A few months ago, I wrote about the Miracle Bookmobile Project, an effort in California to use mobile print “to create new reading spaces altogether” and “provid[e] access to hidden histories which may otherwise be forgotten, rewritten, or destroyed.”

Today, I learned of a similar (and similarly awesome) project that roamed the central United States in the last few weeks called the Fly Away Zine Mobile. From their website:

The Fly Away Zine Mobile is a traveling library and skillshare focused on zines…and other forms of DIY publishing. It’s the first piece of a larger project called Connecting the Dots, a traveling free school caravan and circus/carnival/road show that seeks to spread the values of cooperation, love, sharing, generosity, and community-building through free, fun, and active education.

As you might imagine, I’m thrilled with the project (and sad I missed all of the stops, though I’ve spent a good chunk of time in many of the cities they visited) and fascinated by the motivations behind it.

The organizers—Jenna Freedman (Lower East Side Librarian), Celia Perez (I Dreamed I was Assertive), Debbie Rasmussen (former publisher of Bitch), Jami Sailor (historical-society and zoo-reference-person extraordinaire), and John Stevens (of the Access and Information Division of the State Library of Victoria, Australia)—have found an ideal method for getting at what is so damned cool about both bookmobiles and the zine movement: materiality, corporeality, and community.

Janice Radway, in a talk at the University of Illinois in March, described the ways that zines facilitated the development of what she called “paper communities” (if I remember the phrase correctly…my notes are currently 2000 miles away*). Painstakingly assembled, then passed from hand to hand at shows and other gatherings, or sent through the mail, the physicality of zines called forth a particular kind of belonging predicated on the movement of a textual object. (Radway went on to point out the way that the fact that zines were both physical and ephemeral has called forth a different sort of community, and different sorts of spaces, as people like Jenna Friedman fight for the preservation of zine culture in archives and libraries.)

If you’ve been paying attention to—or even just barely glanced at—this blog, you know that I think bookmobiles at the very least had the potential to do something similar: bring people together through an emphasis on the physical spaces and infrastructures of community.

This would, no doubt, be why I am particularly intrigued by the “Connecting the Dots” project that the Fly Away mobile zinesters reference in their blog. Moving text, has the capacity to quite literally connect people, shaping communities out of seemingly discrete individuals as connecting the dots makes an image out of a seemingly shapeless mess.

As it’s current tour comes to an end today in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I’m very interested to see what comes next.

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*Perhaps a downside of paper…