Making zines that matter

A 3D-printed etching press

Personnel Image

Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

20 June 2022

Creative spaces hold the promise of expression

What do English, History, Law, Earth Science, Education and Languages students have in common? They can all be found at the Nguma-bada Zine Club. JCU Associate Professor Roger Osborne formed the Zine Club out of a desire to create a space where diversity and creativity could be expressed and celebrated.

“My inspiration for the club goes a long way back to work I did with libraries and maker spaces —places where creative ecologies could be fostered,” Roger says. “These spaces cater for connected learning, allowing people of all different backgrounds to creatively and collaboratively express any topic, idea or experience in an informal setting.”

For the Nguma-bada Zine Club, that informal setting is the JCU Ideas Lab at JCU Cairns, Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield. “I’ve seen universities facilitate programs like a public letter press, or BookLab or a Fab Lab, and I wanted to do something similar in Cairns,” Roger says. “When the Campus Life Innovation Fund reached out for expressions of interest for creating events around campus, I put my hand up and they funded our Zine Club. So, the Campus Life Innovation Fund enabled us to purchase resources and the Ideas Lab provided the creative space.”

The Zine Club sent out an open invitation for anyone who was interested in crafting and constructing their very own zine. For students from many different areas of the Cairns campus, the offer of creative expression was one they couldn’t resist.

A few of the Nguma-bada Zine Club members.

Inclusive spaces are creative spaces

An aspect of the Zine Club that contributes to its charm is its inclusive and collaborative nature.

“We have student contributors from many different disciplines and backgrounds who are there with a shared purpose of creative expression but with specific ideas to express,” Roger says. “Some students were using their zine to challenge ways of thinking, such as gender stereotypes, while others focused on communicating ideas about science and creative writing.”

For JCU English and Sociology Student Zoe Hull, the Zine Club was an opportunity to explore how we express our relationships with each other. “I thought, ‘what can I do in just nine pages?’ and the answer was a love story. It features three people in a relationship, and it alternates on every second page each person’s journal entries, which are their intimate expressions of their experiences.”

While Zoe was excited to sharpen her creative writing skills, she was unsure about how to design and create her zine. The Zine Club is a collaborative one, though, so two other contributors helped her to construct the zine in a way that physically reflects the story with different handwriting, different types of paper, different pens, and even purposely designed as slightly fragile in its construction, similar to the situation of the story’s characters.

The first page and cover of a zine with butterflies and artistic writing.
A zine with a jagged black cover with a string tying it closed.
A student's hands holding their zine open.
Zines handcrafted by students Zoe Hull and Lilian White. (Images: JCU Marketing)

Revival of press printing

While zines are typically small-circulation, self-published works often produced on copy machines, the JCU Zine Club also used a small 3D-printed etching press to help produce one of the zines. There is something undeniably impactful about creating a physical artifact, as opposed to a digital work, and that is exactly what Roger aimed to capture for the Zine Club’s members.

Though we may tend to think of print as a dying technology, it is a thriving art form. “Printing and constructing — whether that involves paints, inks, stamps, or other tools — provides us with the opportunity to learn with our hands as well as our minds. Even the smell of the paper and the ink imprints on our memory of the event, which is an event of imagination,” Roger says.

The “event of imagination” is a concept that Roger is eager to help his students explore. “Storytelling has a long history, of course, and so does printing,” he says. “Now, as we create our own works, we are a part of that history. We can ask ourselves where we are in that moment of the tradition. Are we just having fun or is this a more significant cultural event than we realise? Are we participating in a tradition or are we continuing it, ensuring its survival?”

A student using the club's typewriter.
Typed prose and etched designs created by the club.
The Nguma-bada Zine Club used a range of methods to create their zines, including a typewriter and a 3D-printed etching press. (Images: JCU Marketing)

Creative communication

While most of the semester one Zine Club contributors are undergraduate students, JCU Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Emma Rehn, joined the Zine Club because of the appeal of not only creative expression, but creative communication.

“I liked the idea of it being a creative club for students, and that it facilitates creating something new and unique,” Emma says. “My zine is based on my work, which is a database of radiocarbon dates for archaeological sites. Often when I talk to my family or friends about what I do, they don't understand how it works. So, I wanted to create a fun way of explaining it.

“Rather than having to sit through a lecture about the chemistry and physics of radiocarbon, you can just read my zine for a very brief introduction in cartoon form. It explains everything you need to know to understand the concept without getting bogged down in details or technical terms.”

A student making blackout poetry.
The mantra of the zine club, mistakes are opportunities.
A page with blackout poetry.
Students created blackout poetry as a creative exercise. The club found a mantra in the phrase, "mistakes are opportunities". (Images: JCU Marketing)

Just the beginning

“Creative spaces foster spontaneity, experimentation and maybe stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new and experience growth because of it,” Roger says. “That’s what I’ve tried to foster within the Zine Club, and we saw a really positive response to that.

"We’re all excited to continue next semester, and we invite everyone to come see what we’re doing and maybe join in. It’s a great way to create connections and friendships as well as learn about yourself.”

If you are interested in contributing, you can make an expression of interest by emailing

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Featured researcher

Roger Osborne

Associate Professor

Dr Roger Osborne's research concentrates on Australian literature and British Modernism as seen through the lens of book history, magazine culture, and scholarly editing. He is a contributing editor to the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad, an award-winning series producing the most up-to-date and authoritative scholarly texts of Conrad's publications. Roger completed his first edition, Under Western Eyes, in 2013.

Roger’s other works include his co-authored book, Australian Books and Authors in the American Marketplace 1840s-1940s, with a projected second volume, and the Joseph Furphy Digital Archive. Conrad’s Nostromo was published in 2023 and a book-length study of the textual and cultural history of Furphy’s Such is Life in 2022.