Interview with a Zinester: China Martens!

China Martens – creator of The Future Generation and co-author of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind – talks to us about her mother’s influence, anarcha-feminism, and waffle irons, among many other things. Read her interview here:



Photo credit: Jenna B.

1. Kindly give us a short description of yourself and the work you do.

I’m an almost 48-year-old zinester (zines 4 life) that has had the idea of putting out a new issue of my zine, The Future Generation ever since Atomic Books issued the Revenge of Print challenge in 2011. I wonder how long you can go without putting out zines and call yourself a zinester? However I have put out zines more recently than the last issue of TFG, I tried to start up a literary zine called Catbird and put out three issues of that, and I was part of creating a zine (on ways to support children and parents) to hand out to the organizers at the Allied Media Conference; and I also put together a zine for the Kidz City Model. I find that I think in the form of a zine. I had to lay out the model, to see what it would look like. (And when I felt stumped I glued an outline on different colored construction paper to show my collective to get their input) I can’t just submit text without laying it out. How things fit on the page, with some images, will influence how I edit the words to fit. However I don’t make zines the way I used to, ”back in the day” when you had a hook up at kinkos and the world has changed so I actually don’t zerox a whole lot. I have been moving more and more in the direction of small press, since my first book came out in 2007 – The Future Generation: The Zine-book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others (Atomic Book Company) – which was a “best of” compilation of my zine that started in 1990. I like having others publish me, and also creating zines that others can zerox. It’s really wonderful to have someone else do that work. And now I work on other aspects that it takes to distribute that work, like getting the word out about it, which is also a practical hands on thing, like zeroxing. Its good to do stuff hands on. But I will always make zines, I think, although I make them less and less. My goal is to make the “middle age” issue of TFG for the zine fair! I still haven’t got started so I have a little more than a week. Wish me luck.

2. How did you get introduced to zines? Were you influenced by anyone? 

Political underground zines in the punk and especially anarchist scene, and seeing a library of zines in the Processed World office in a warehouse I lived in for a few months called the Cave, (in 1985, SF) as well as self-published poetry chapbooks such as the ones by Damon Norko (Submensas, a DC band) when he walked around with “Poems 4 Sale” pinned to the back of his black trench coat on the U. of MD campus in the early 80s (where I attended two classes at the age of 15, in 1981 after I dropped out of high school), impressed me a lot. But I would say it started with my mother cutting and pasting a few handmade books for me as a child, out of notebook paper put in cardboard report covers, with glued in images cut from magazines and playful big bold subtitles. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all seamstresses with materials, patterns, and pins (my mother was especially bad at that and it was usually my brother who would step on them) lying around the house. Perhaps that influenced me as well. All the different ways they created and were creative, artistic, generally pragmatic women.

3. What does it mean to do “feminist zine-making”? Does feminism appear in your work (explicitly or implicitly)?

I identify more as an anarcha-feminist and find it more interesting to talk about anarchism and zines, for some reason. Perhaps because I feel like my zine making came out of an underground scene that was anarchist, political, cultural, and subversive (including artistic, sometimes nihilistic, and gender non-conforming, border smashing, aesthetics) which included strong women (as well as gentle, weird, resilient, etc.) in all aspects as almost everything does. To me, as an ideal, anarchism is about liberation from all oppressions which would include sexism as well as racism, classism, capitalism, homophobia, colonialism, capitalism, and so on. Although it’s important to address issues directly as there is one thing about an ism and another thing about a practice; and I generally really like concentrating on specifics; as well as their intersections. I’m very obsessed with race and class issues – I feel like it’s so core to everything. Gender comes along with everything I do, and with the subject of parenting you would think so especially yet somehow I have sometimes felt pushed out by feminism in the late 80s and 90s – as a radical single welfare mom – that my concerns were not valued and my writing was not accepted. (That said I did often feel inspired by radical feminist writings in the 70s – which included more about children and mothering in them – as I searched for info.) On the other hand the most rad person or project in the world can identify as feminist. I take it as a case by case basic. I don’t get all caught up in labels very much. Although I still identify as an anarchist (even though white anarchists have issues with being racist, just the way that white feminists do, which is why whiteness needs direct attention on it; and in a similar way sexism would need direct attention on it, etc.) after all this time, but I make it my own way, do my own thing, define it however I like, and hay, we do need to use words or it would be hard to communicate at all. But I think a lot of folks would say my works have been explicitly feminist, I think you can say that. I don’t worry about it too much. Feminism is as feminism does.

4. What is your favorite zine or piece of mail art? Do you like any specific style/part of a zine?

I’m pretty attached to content. I like all different kinds of things and I like zines that are art-full as long as the words are important and not byproducts. That said I would not be against a heavily visual zine or whatever, different creative ways of making something. Whatever communicates to me, that’s the important thing. I value communication and especially that kind of communication that one person can make there own and put out in the world, no matter what anyone else tells them that it can’t be done or something about them or the way they communicate isn’t good enough to do what they do – they can do it. I love the informal and safer feeling of zines, which open up to endless possibilities for expression and creation. It’s kind of in the tradition of letter writing and other ways that marginalized groups use to communicate. I see them being very women friendly, like all the best things, I love women. I used to be a very mama-centric person. Now-as a post-empty nest single mama- I don’t know what I am. (Perhaps me-centric?) And what I like about zines is the diversity of voices that can express themselves which would not be welcomed in the mainstream. As a radical low-income single mother in the late 80s to 2K, my experiences, and my voice, along with my creative and irregular grammar, was not welcomed in the mainstream media as it would now (I don’t know how mainstream I am, but I’m up a level in small press and verging on mainstream that there are possibilities anyone would print me at all). What I love about zines is the power for a greater diversity of voices to take control and seize the power of the press.

5. If you could sum up your zinester life in a kitchen appliance, what appliance would it be?

I would say a waffle iron because its most like a zerox machine in that you open and close the lid and make many copies that are similar to each other, and its kind of hard to use and you have mishaps and people may be waiting for you but its going to take a while to make a stack, but they are extremely yummy. Disclaimer: I have rarely ever used a waffle iron but I do have a sandwich maker. Maybe I should have said that, but I find it less glamorous as well as less similar to my life as a zinester.


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