Sarah G. Wenzel

Sarah G. Wenzel, University of Chicago Bibliographer for Literatures of Europe and the Americas, at Regenstein Library, Tuesday March 12, 2013. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / March 12, 2013)

Q: Why should the University of Chicago collect such outsider, even transgressive, material?

A; Because it's an important part of what makes Chicago Chicago right now. Part of our mission is to collect material that scholars want to study now, to collect what's happening in the city. It's like taking a core sample the way a geologist would do to learn what Chicago culture was at this particular moment. We see zines as particularly important to Chicago history. What may be seen as ephemeral or outsider now is often later seen as a precious window into the past.

Q: How large is the collection?

A: More than 400 but we haven't gotten our regular, quarterly shipment from Quimby's yet. Shipments average about 100. Chicago people are prolific. Quimby's sends any zines of the Chicago zine scene writ large, meaning created here or by and about people who have a relationship with the city.

Q: Early zines had titles like "Cop Porn" and fetish zines with people dressed in latex. Do you still see that outrageousness today?

A: Yeah, if you go to Quimby's, there's even a whole erotica section.

Q: But zines have mushroomed topsy-turvy with more lifestyle topics, like craft beer brewing, food or pets. They seem to have lost their edge.

A: No, they may be less timely perhaps but that doesn't mean they are any less anarchist or political. While the show is mostly autobiographical zines, what happens in people's lives is often political. They still have an edge.

Q: Do you feel zines have made some contribution to changing cultural attitudes by addressing once taboo topics like LGBT, poor body image and fluid gender identity?

A: I think they've helped the people who wrote them feel more comfortable and helped others feel better about those situations. They've been like a stone in the lake that ripples out.

Q: What do you personally find most fascinating about zines?

A: Well, professionally, they fascinate me because they are a stage of literature that we don't get to see when we look at a fully-edited, published book. Those have been refined by the editorial process with various people selecting the typesetting, binding and cover. With a zine, it's one person's aesthetic that goes into all of that. And, personally, they feel alive to me.

Tom Mullaney is a freelance journalist who has written for the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and Chicago magazine. He edits an arts blog at


For details on "My Life is an Open Book," which runs through April 13, or the University of Chicago zine collection, visit