Behind the Zines: An Origin Story

By Kyla Reda

About a month ago we launched Zine 0004: Origins, which gave our artists the space to creatively reflect on the unique experiences that made them who they are today. In the spirit of that theme of origins, we wanted to take the same opportunity to share with you the story of how our zine journey first began.

As a club, our main focus was always intended to be hosting events to help connect our creative community here in Ottawa. Zines were actually just a side project, born out of a pandemic innovation mindset and longing for a connection to the world of the physical which was just out of our reach. Now, our zines may be what some of you know us for most!

It’s been incredible for us to watch the zines grow, develop, and flourish from an idea into several successful editions, each with different themes, artists, and multi-sensorial experiences attached.

I sat down with the Ottawa Design Club’s founder, Isabelle Poirier, and cofounder, Ariane Bédard, to get a little more insight into behind the scenes of how all of this zine magic happened:

Ottawa Design Club

Picture of Eliane Cadieux from where I was sitting at my first MTL Design Club event — Izzy

What first triggered the idea of zines?

Izzy: Back in July 2019, I attended my first MTL Design Club event. They were doing a Printed Edition event with two speakers: Mathieu Lachapelle from @dinettemagazine and Eliane Cadieux, from @beside_magazine. I was infatuated with the speakers' stories. I loved learning about their motivation and how they curated content. That event was memorable (for multiple reasons—this is also the same event that inspired me to start a club in Ottawa. You can read about it here).

A few months later, when I had started the club, I knew I wanted to do something in a printed format eventually. I didn’t know what, how, or when, but I knew it was going to be something, someday.

When the pandemic started, I started to watch all the creative digital content I could find. While watching AdobeMax, a few speakers talked about making zines. Call me crazy, but I had never heard of them before. I became really curious about them and started looking into them.

At the same time, Ariane and I were noticing all the amazing creativity from our community. We would say, “Oh have you seen this from…? Have you seen that from…? It's so good!” Then I mentioned to Ariane that I had just discovered zines (we would always allow a bit of design geeking-out time in our meetings). That’s when it clicked. We were seeing all this amazing creativity and we had the platform—could this be a way to reach out to our audience in a different way?

In that meeting, I asked Ariane if she was interested in doing a zine with the club. She didn’t hesitate, and said yes immediately!

But having an idea is one thing. We would soon learn that there are a lot of logistics that need to be in place in order to execute something like this.

Did you hesitate with this idea? If so, why?

Ariane: Honestly, once we decided we wanted to do this, we did not look back. The hesitation was more on making decisions around what the format would be, size, design, theme, etc.

Looking back, I do think the circumstances were perfect for this project to work:

1. We were in the middle of a lockdown with nothing to do, we had all the time in the world to brainstorm and work on this new exciting project!
2. We were very naive and had no idea how much work was in store for us. Honestly, if we knew ahead of time, we may have felt too overwhelmed and abandoned the idea.

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Zine 0001 proofs.

Who or what motivated you to pursue the zines?

Izzy: When we first launched the ODC, Adrian Jean from Spark*Advocacy reached out to us as he wanted to be a part of our community. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to host our first event due to pandemic restrictions, as you all know, but we decided to reach out to him and see if he was interested in helping us figure out some logistics about our zine instead.

Adrian is an amazing creative director and he really helped us elevate our idea. It was great to work with him. He challenged us during our brainstorming sessions and we’ve learned so much from him.

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Ariane proofing Zine 0003.

If not for zines, what were your options?

Ariane: The zine is a unique project so I don’t think anything else could serve the same purpose. Knowing that people in our community are consuming creative content on paper and taking a moment to immerse themselves in the experience is really quite special. That moment couldn’t be achieved in a 100% digital format.

Who/what are your go-tos for zine inspiration?

Izzy: This may sound artsy-fartsy but I try to look at the world with a creative lens at all times. I stay attentive to colours, textures, concepts, social movements, ideas, and concepts.

Of course, I look at designs to get inspired. I like using Behance, personally. I try not to look at other zines too much but at design in general. I don’t want to get inspired by the ‘same product’ if that makes sense. I want new ideas.

Ariane: The drawers of my desk and my bookshelves are filled with random bits of design inspiration that I save. Ask Izzy how many times I reach for something in my drawer while we’re brainstorming! I love getting ideas from other magazines and books, my house is overflowing with them now.

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More proofs of Zine 0002.

What was your reaction to the first zine launch?

Izzy: I don’t think people know what it takes to have a zine launch, but it’s a lot. You need to think about the communication, website, newsletter, photography, social media strategy, online store set up, packaging stuff, and, specific to our zine, hand-numbering the copies.

So it was quite chaotic trying to manage all of that, along with a course I was taking at the time, and keeping my business afloat as well. But at the same time, it was so satisfying finally being able to put our project out into the world.

I remember my phone pinging from all the people buying our zines and it was such a nice feeling. I just wish I had been able to focus all of my attention on the zine instead of spreading it so thin, so I could’ve lived the experience more fully.

Ariane: It was so much fun! I remember going over to Izzy’s house to number the zines and pre-package all our mailers, getting ready to ship zines on the following Monday. We were on an adrenaline high! The fact that we sold out in 3 days was mind-boggling! I always prepare myself for the worst, so it was a really nice surprise.

If you could go back in time, what would you do differently for any of the zines?

Izzy: I personally wish we would have added a multi-sensorial experience to Zine 0001 to make them all cohesive.

I’m extremely proud of Zine 0001, but it’s a little different than the others. We were safe with it as it was a bit of a prototype, and the zines have grown so much in the newer editions. I still can’t believe it sold out in less than 3 days.

It’s Ariane who came up with the idea to include music for Zine 0002.

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Stamp to brand our shipping mailers.

If you had an unlimited budget, how different would the zines be?

Izzy and Ariane: There’s so much we would love to do…
1. We would love to pay the artists that are featured
2. We would love to add augmented reality to our zines
3. We would love to do some very fancy stuff with the printing (silk screening, Pantones, different types of paper, customization, etc.)
4. We would love to give more gifts with the zine, in addition to the stickers and goodies we give now

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out with the zines? Is that still the biggest challenge?

Ariane: The biggest challenge for me is definitely finding funding to print our zines. Reaching out to potential sponsors could be someone’s full time job! It’s not something that comes to me naturally being the introverted nerd that I am, haha!

Another big challenge is time! Finding the time to work on the zines can be really challenging sometimes since I work from 9 to 5. We also have to work on our events and keep the rest of the club’s activities going, so it’s a lot of work for our small (but mighty) team!

Izzy: Printing has been the hardest. Not just the funding aspect but the printing accuracy. For those of you who followed our Zine 0002 adventure, we went through five zine proofs before we were able to print. Our main printer at the time couldn’t deliver the order as their machine broke, which delayed our launch for a full month (after we had already announced it).

We are very picky about the rendering of the printing. We want to make sure all artworks truly shine. This is why we go through proofing. As we changed printers, the cost of printing tripled, but the service has always been impeccable and the quality of the product has been amazing.

Which zine are you most proud of and why?

Izzy: All of our zines are very different from one another and they are all very special. There’s a story behind each theme and how we got there and how we made each little decision to add to the zine experience.

I’m most happy about Zine 0002, with the bubble gum and pop culture concept. It truly set the tone for our zine potential. I think it also opened up the door for our zines to be about more than design. It was about the full experience that design can render.

Ariane: I am very proud of Zine 0003 - RAW. I love how we did a full 180 from the previous Pop Culture issue. We really leaned into the theme and let ourselves be inspired by the photocopied/handmade origins of zines in general. I remember filling my floor with painted pieces of paper and scribbles, trusting the process.

Also, we had the genius idea of spray painting the Kraft stock that would be used for the zine covers which ended up looking AMAZING! Each zine is 100% unique, and that’s really special. I’ve literally never seen anything like it before. I’m so glad the printer was on board with this! We may or may not have jammed their machines with our painted covers a few times (whoops).

The design all came together beautifully and I think captures the essence of the theme perfectly!

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I was so excited when I picked up Zine 0003, I opened the boxes in the back of my car. — Izzy

Can you give us the background story behind the next zine theme?

Izzy: The idea for Zine 0005 came to me when visiting the Mayten's Art Gallery in Toronto. Each work of art was a collaboration between 2 artists, elevating each other's style and message. The result was some very interesting narratives, perspectives, and works of art.

This was the lightbulb moment: why not do the same thing for our zine? After all, it will reinforce our mission—our zines have always been about collaborating. Why not bring this to the forefront?

Thank you!

As you can see, the zine journey has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding. We’ve grown so much as creatives as we worked to make each zine unique and special in its own way. We hope you love them as much as we do. Stay tuned for Zine 0005: Collaboration!

Kyla Reda

Ottawa Design Club

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