In October 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, my partner and I decided to move our family (Stefan, me, our then 11-year- old twins, and our cat, Jodie Foster) from Oakland, Ca. to Växjö Sweden. Stefan grew up in Sweden but had lived in California for 25 years. His aging mom had steadily progressing dementia and was living alone. That, coupled with the chaos of the pandemic, led us to finally take the leap and do an international move.
One of the scariest parts of moving out of a metropolitan area is not knowing how progressive the inhabitants outside of your old bubble will be. Sweden has for a long time been on the cutting edge of design and fashion, with feminist ideals woven into societal infrastructure including paid maternal AND paternal leave, however, besides knowing the ins and outs of Ikea products, without ever having lived in Sweden I had no idea how much of a community outside of the mainstream I might find.
In October 2021, I entered Växjö Bibliotek (the library) for the VXO Zine Fest and wasn’t sure what would await me. We had been living here a year and even though we’d met some really nice, fun peeps, most of the town felt pretty standard mainstream. So you could say it was a long-ass drink of water in a dry-ass desert to find a gathering of artsy-fartsy progressive types.
Ranging in age from early twenties to early fifties, many coming from other parts of Europe and settling in Växjö, nearby big-city Mälmö, or Copenhagen, Denmark, divided between the library and the city art gallery, were twelve tables of folks displaying their zines. A couple from Brazil who had been living in Japan then decided to move to Växjö, a Black woman from England who co-founded the whole thing, a German tattoo-artist, a couple from France who moved to Mälmö but are considering Portugal. A Swedish textile artist who lives on the West Coast archipelago, just north of Gothenburg.
I find it endlessly reassuring to know the Riot Grrrl scene/mentality is alive and thriving in small-town Sweden. Women are writing about the personal and political, making zines to start conversations about issues that aren’t typically openly discussed but are prevalent in so many of our lives.
To share about our experiences is to begin to bring subjects that remain taboo out of the shadows so we can connect with each other and discover we’re not alone. In this way, we can ensure we are represented. “You cannot be what you cannot see”. We don’t have to wait for someone else to represent us, we’ll do it ourselves.
We’ll talk about depression and fatphobia and privilege. Vaginas, not shaving, periods. Insecurities, inner worlds, feminism. By making ourselves vulnerable, we can connect with others about the lived experiences that we have been socialized to hide and be ashamed of. The more these subjects are out in the open, the more easily the shame can be stripped away.
Here are some highlights from conversations with a few of the awesome artists, writers, and makers I had the privilege to chat with at the VXO Zine Fest!
LOUISE BANG : Tyksak zine, Denmark, @tykzine
Tyksak means chubby or fatty in Danish. Louise has been making Tysak zine since 2015 but didn’t start straight away with fat activism.
Fat activism wasn’t really talked about that much. I got some really nice responses to my first zine about being a fat person in a world that hates fat people. Someone even wrote me an email after about having given it to a friend who had an eating disorder, and it helped them, so that was super nice. ~Louise
Louise made one before that was about music stuff. She played in a band "very badly", and says "it's not about having to do it perfectly, or neatly, you just do it. It helps to have a loud guitar with a lot of distortion so you can’t hear mistakes." As a present to the audience at shows, people would get a little zine with Interviews with all the bands that were playing that night and a cd with one song from each band.
In 2015, before the CPH zine festival, her friend who was participating asked if she wanted to table with her. "I was like, yeah sure! Then I realized I should probably make some zines." At first, they were about different interests, like World of Warcraft, but eventually "evolved into all kinds of stuff, all about me: motherhood, fatness, losing my mom, then becoming a mom, trying to become a parent, becoming a parent, and nursing not working. That’s the stuff I'm writing about."
"In 2015 fat activism wasn’t really talked about that much. I got some really nice responses to my first zine about being a fat person in a world that hates fat people. Someone even wrote me an email after about having given it to a friend who had an eating disorder, and it helped them, so that was super nice. I’ve been making that series ever since. I keep meeting some of the same people who will come up and want the new issue or meeting new people because it’s a bit more talked about now, which is a nice change. It felt a bit more fragile to be sitting there [in the beginning] and being like here I am with my fat body. Now it’s a bit more like a cool thing to be able to talk about."
ERICA ENGDAHL: Stress the zine, Sweden, @erica.engdahl
Erica, the co-founder of the VXO Zine Fest, made zines before she knew what they were called.
One of the things I really like about zine fests. You don't talk about platitudes, you don't talk about just, like, Hi, how are you? What do you work with? You dive right into the important stuff. You're putting yourself out there, which also means the conversations get right to the point. ~Erica
"I just called them pamphlets of poetry, I didn't know there was a word for it. But then I found this skillshare class, like a make-your-own zine kind of class and I was like, ooh, this is the stuff that I do already. Oh, they are called zines. That's cool. So that’s how I learned what they were called." The final project for that skillshare class was to google your nearest local Zine Fest and sign up, and in 2017, the nearest was in Copenhagen."
"I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into because I'd never been to a zine fest before, and it was in a part of Copenhagen I’d never been to before, and I knew nobody who was going, so it was completely new. I was nervous, but I went over the bridge and got on the bus and saw a girl who I thought, was probably gonna go to the Zine Fest and I can ask her the way. She had some dye left in her hair, I can't remember if it was blue or green, but she was dressed kinda punky, she had combat boots, um, I think she had some pins on her bag, kinda lefty, kind of a socialist kind of vibe, uh yeah, and she had a big bag, so those things put together made me think 'she’s probably gonna go to the Zine Fest.' We got off the bus at the same stop so I figured yeah, it's even more likely she's going. So I tapped her shoulder and I asked her 'Are you going to the Zine Fest?' and she said 'Yeah, are you too?’' and I was like 'Yeah' and I said to her -when I saw you on the bus I figured -she’s looking like the kind of girl who would go to an event like this and she laughed and said 'I thought the same when I saw you!' I had my blue hair and I had my combat boots and I had my band shirt..and she’s actually here today, Louise."
When Erica arrived at the fest, "I had this wonderful feeling when I came through the doors. A wonderful, very visceral physical feeling. My entire body, like, said You’re home. This is your people. This is your place, you’re supposed to be here. I could feel it in my entire body, it was such an insane thing. It was a place I’d never been to before and I knew nobody there but everybody, I could tell immediately that those were my people. And I met so many great people that day, and was stupidly inspired."
Copenhagen Zine Fest is very different from Växjö Zine Fest, according to Erica. "It’s [in] a small concert venue and they cram seventy members in there, so people are basically sitting on top of each other...It’s super crowded. It’s like a fricking melting pot of pure inspiration. Everything’s going on in there, everybody’s talking to each other, creating a community, and like, swapping art with each other...it’s super cool. After the event in 2017, I talked to my friends so much about it, that my friend Rose said, 'you’ve been talking so much about this, I have to join. I have to come with and see what’s what,' you know? So she tagged along and she was smitten immediately too. She was just like, this is AMAZING. And that time I felt even more at home, and even more like these are my people, even more comfortable, so we started talking to people, and they started asking us, Is there anything similar going on in Sweden? And we said, unfortunately, no, there isn’t. We’ve got a bunch of comic festivals, but that's just for comics. I mean, we do comics here too, We have all sorts of zines, design zines, art zines, poetry zines. So we love comics- we do. But we love all the other sorts of zines out there."
"So unfortunately we had to say to the Copenhageners that no, there isn’t anything like this in Sweden. And then they answered by saying, If there would be, we would really love to come up. On the train ride back to Växjö that very day I and Rose decided, Why not us? Why shouldn’t we be the first ones to put on a zine fest in Sweden? So this [VXO Zine Fest] is our brainchild. We did the first one back in 2019, so this is our third. We actually managed to get one together last year too. It was small, we only had twelve vendors, but I’m still baffled that we actually managed that."
When asked what their zines are about, Erica responds, "I say that I am an asexual poet who also happens to be fat, and my zines are about that. Being Ace, being fat, being depressed. Basically about being me."
Erica produced a zine series in 2021 called Mixtapes where she lists songs, inspired by her radio show on student radio. Each session had a theme, with transitions from song to song with planned out, chatting, and telling stories about the theme in between songs. Earlier this year she found her old notebook with all the playlists from her radio show days and figured that she could do something with that. "So I made a zine for each of the episodes that I did. I did sixteen episodes, so I’ve got sixteen zines." The themes range from sleep to time, to travel.
The deeper interactions between reader and writer are important to Erica. "Usually they start a conversation...Asexuality is so invisible and so underrepresented. It’s not even spoken about as, like, an option, um, well, because there aren’t a lot of us, I guess, still? But yeah, they create great conversations. One of the things I really like about zine fests. You don't talk about platitudes, you don't talk about just, like, Hi, how are you? What do you work with? You dive right into the important stuff. You're putting yourself out there, which also means the conversations get right to the point. Like, I’ve had zines about being depressed, which means that somebody who comes by my table, who might also be depressed, or also struggling with depression, we can start talking about the important stuff."
SARAH RIEDEL: Vagina Facts, Germany/Sweden, @sarahkathrinriedel
Sarah is from western Germany but moved to Stockholm 11 yrs ago after leaving a job at a psychiatric hospital. She’s been doing art her whole life.
Sarah went to art school, then thought, "Nah, I’m not gonna be an artist because you can't make money from that. I became a social worker instead. So I'm loaded now." (laughs) Sarah also has a soap company for the past nine years, that sells soap worldwide. It's difficult to get soap approved in Sweden (by the equivalent of the FDA), so she named the company NOTsoap. "Then I started to tattoo, so that’s what I’m doing as well. Stick and poke."
When asked where the inspiration for Vagina Facts zine came from she says "I took a good look (laughs) and I thought, What is this? I like what I see! No. I don’t know. It's… I love vaginas. I mean they're everywhere. Just go into nature, look at the trees, so many places you can see them."
The response to her table that has earrings and other objects in the shape of vaginas, as well as her zine, has been good. “I think most people are really open to it. There have been some older men that I think are a bit offended, mostly older men, but otherwise, I mean, a lot of women are really open to it. And I like that."
KIM: The Elephant in the Room, Sweden
Kim was the youngest zine fest participant I spoke with. She’s 21 and studies at Linnee Universitet in Växjö, and the zine was a student project for a class called Power Relations.
Kim along with a partner started with the topic of feminism but realized what a huge topic it is, decided to narrow it down to the notion of privilege. "Everyone's identity with privilege is so diverse, we don't even realize the different experiences we have to depend on our identity and privileges we have, so we wanted to explore that through the zine. We researched and wrote stories about it, and divided it into four different topics, we have four issues.
The first one is gender and sexuality, the second is nationality, the third is health and ability, the last is culture and religion. We wrote an introduction, explained why this is important to think about, and then we made this privilege [checklist]. It's a list of statements that imply privilege in each specific topic. It is interactive so you can cross out what applies to you, and really feel your privilege points. The idea is to create empathy, really, and understand other people's perspectives."
SELINA (ROSE) ROSETTA : Plant Life, London/Sweden, @roses_bitz_n_bobz
Originally from London, Rose has been living in Sweden for 8 years.
Books have to go through a long process to come to light, and zines don't… That's the thing with a zine. It could just be text, it doesn’t have to be pictures. You don't have to be a great drawer. There’s so much variety. Zines are therapy. Being able to get your thoughts out, and share them with other people is very important.~Selina
Three or four years ago she went with Erika to the zine event in Denmark. "It was so good, that we decided if there wasn't one already in Sweden that we needed to have one, so we decided, Let's have one in Växjö. Because we already have the team in Denmark, we had a gang of people who were interested, people in Sweden and people from all over the world have been involved, and we've had the VXO Zine Fest for 3 years now. It's a bit special. We're quite positive it's the first ZineFest in all of Sweden."
"I am not a particularly creative person… but I thought, rather than just be part of the festival, I might as well start to create my own zines, so this year I made 4 or 5. Initially, I was just helping to gather people together to enjoy the subject but now I’m actually a zinester." Rose also crochets miniatures that fit into tiny bottles, such as cactuses and horses.
Zines are not always profitable, because they can take several days to make, only sell for less than 200kr (around $20). Zines can also be expensive to produce, especially if you want colored ink. Rose keeps the cost down by printing on colored paper with black ink. She also started making her own paper. "I was inspired by Erica Engdahl. She makes her own paper from scratch. But I decided to use black paper and put a marble effect on it. I call it the trippy zine. It’s about all the weird stuff that goes on when people drink too much alcohol."
Selina has also made some minizines "I call them microzines. So I've taken photo paper and folded them into six, to make a tiny book. And the themes were doors, which I’ve taken pictures of on my travels in Germany and some in Sweden, and also mushrooms. Just like a snowflake, there are never two that are the same. So never-ending mushrooms."
Rose also made a zine about being a plant parent. "It was a series of confessions of caring badly for my plants. So in one case, I got one as a gift and sort of abandoned it by accident, then remembering a few weeks later, shit, I have a plant somewhere! Then also mishaps with over-watering, not watering enough, a Bonzai tree that is supposed to live for thousands of years but dies within three months. And then the question at the end is, did it die, or was it that bonsai trees are just supposed to look old, the older the better, and I just chucked it out. I don't know."
Christine Hebel created her first zine 28 years ago. She believes every woman should experience both shaving their head and traveling outside of their home country (not necessarily at the same time). She has worked as a massage therapist, cookie salesperson, art studio manager, and home organizer, among other things. Christine grew up in Oakland, Ca but is learning to thrive in the snowy environment of Sweden where she now lives with her partner, twin tweens, cat, and two guinea pigs. She is currently sitting in front of a roaring fire. Christine is the author of the zine Respiratory Searchlight (1999, 2001), A Notebook of One's Own (2021).
Look out for Christine's profile and talkaboutit podcast interview coming soon!
© 2020-2022 withitgirl. All rights reserved. We appreciate your feedback!