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The Zine Scene
The Malaysian zine makers, distros and shops you should know about.
Zines, a contraction of “magazines”, are self-published, small-circulation printed content. Due to its accessible, easy-to-make, and low-cost nature, zines are a popular form of independent publishing, especially amongst underground subcultures beneath the surface of the mainstream. Seek out these three zine distros, makers and shops in Malaysia to stock up on weekend reading.
Kedai Buku Mak Ali
By all appearances, you’d think Kedai Buku Mak Ali small and unassuming; in reality, it’s one of the more thrilling book and zine shops in the Selangor scene. Providing printed matter to fans of anarchy, fiction, film, poems, and punk materials, Kedai Buku Mak Ali – which doubles up as a café and event space for gigs and talks – both publishes and stocks zines, mostly local and in the Malay language.
Ali Rafiq Ibrahim
Ali Rafiq Ibrahim, 24, has been making zines since he was in Form Three; he writes a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and is now translating and publishing anarchist pamphlets. Initially, Ali stocked a selection of independent, local titles – think the likes of Buku Fixi and DuBook Press – but he later realised: “The bigger bookstores, such as Kinokuniya, MPH Bookstores and Popular, stock these books, too. Apa beza kita dengan kedai buku lain? [What’s the difference between us and other bookstores?] Anyway, it’s almost impossible for zines to be stocked in these bookstores, because they don’t typically come with ISBNs. At Kedai Buku Mak Ali, we want to support the zine scene, and zinemakers in Malaysia.”
Ali thinks of self- and zine-publishing as “a radical act”, due to its accessibility and creative freedom. The zine scene is a participatory playground, in which writers can share life-writing on issues they deem to be important, and a space to transform personal experiences into public awareness. As Ali puts it, “If you like cooking, write a recipe zine. Zines can be anything and everything – and they are. I’d say, you have to live by the ethic and ethos of do-it-yourself.”
Kedai Buku Mak Ali also organises #PasarPercumaKajang every Sunday, from 5pm to 7pm.
Address: 64-GF Jalan Tengah, 43000 Kajang, Selangor. Open Mon-Sat, 8.30am–7pm.
Raksasa Print Studio
Raksasa Print Studio peddles raksasa content – some spooky, most sketched, the scary turned affable, affordable and accessible. The silkscreen studio on Jalan Panggong shares its space with Findars. While it primarily provides printmaking facilities and services, Raksasa Print Studio also prints, publishes and stocks a collection of local, regional and international zines; other offerings include art prints and tote bags, which are ancillary artefacts to support the zines – the star of the show.
The small shelf space here demands careful curation, with a focus on quirky comics, illustrations and short stories. Bianglalalitis, for instance, illustrated by co-founder Jane Stephanny and written by Pieter De Richter, is a short story about a séance, during which a spiritualist channels a man who died after contracting a skin-eating disease.
“We’ve got demented tastes, we like dark humour and things that don’t necessarily have to make sense, things that you can read in like, five minutes but are still cool to keep,” explains Stephanny.
Raksasa Print Studio co-founders Julienne Mei Tan (left) and Jane Stephanny (right)
The two reuse scrap material and scrap paper, which is leftover from the studio’s silkscreen productions for clients, to print zines. “There’s a tiny cost that comes out of it, of course – the inks that we use, the labour, the Xeroxing – but otherwise, zines are very, very cheap to produce. We like to produce them cheaply, too; we want them to be affordable,” adds her co-founder, Julienne Mei Tan.
Stephanny and Tan’s passion is in printmaking. It’s no surprise, then, that the zines at Raksasa are art-like, design-minded, and playfully expressive – think beyond black-and-white, stapled zines and into the world of Japanese binding and surprise fold-out sheets.
“With silkscreen, each and every zine is a little different. There are lots of happy little mistakes, and we love that. We like to churn out anything that’s content-related; we don’t have a set thing in mind when we’re making zines, we do it when we’re bored or when we’re inspired, and if it happens, it happens. It’s how Raksasa is founded on,” says Tan, who picks Faces as her favourite zine at Raksasa. “It’s a zine about faces – just drawings of faces.”
“That speaks volumes about Raksasa, I think, because it really doesn’t have a concept or anything to think about; it’s a collection of visuals, its cover is silkscreen, it’s fancy-not-fancy,” says Stephanny. “We kind of like to have fun. We kind of roll with the punches, you know?” .
Address: Fourth floor, 8 Jalan Panggong, 50150 Kuala Lumpur. Open Tue–Sat, 11am–9pm; Sun, 11am–3pm.
Biawak Gemok’s reputation as a zine distro does not disappoint – particularly pleasing is when the co-founders Liyana Dizzy and Nine (who is a fan of geckos and who has been making zines since the mid-90s), as well as collaborator and friend Syar S. Alia, are on hand at one of Biawak Gemok’s pop-up stalls to take and talk you through the bestsellers, the latest releases, and the lesser-known selections.
Biawak Gemok at Art For Grabs, Urbanscapes House. Credit: All is Amazing
Biawak Gemok sources, stocks and sells almost fifty-something titles, mostly non-fiction, accumulated over the past two-plus years. Tying them all together is the theme of the intersectional, the marginalised, and the underrepresented; they actively seek to publish alternative narratives and voices that aren't as highlighted in the mainstream, or are still being introduced to collective consciousness.
Think Raceing And Dating, penned by a Nigerian man who has lived in Malaysia for a decade. In it, he weighs the possibilities of romance against racial bias, and what it’s been like living amongst Malaysians while navigating the trials and tribulations of modern love. Cast Aside, meanwhile, is an illustrated zine about forgotten figures in Japanese history. Not Afraid of Ruins #2 is a travelogue of sorts through Israel and Palestine, and the history and origins of Zionism.
Zines aren't subjected to as much scrutiny, compared to books or newspapers, given that “they do, by nature, exist often outside of established institutions and platforms,” says Syar.
“From what I find, people who are reluctant to read big books seem more open to spending RM5 for a zine on a topic they're interested in,” opines Liyana. “I’d say they're less intimidating to approach than books, and I hope that facilitates a reading practice.”
Biawak Gemok donates almost all its profits to marginalised communities – such as Justice For Sisters, and the Pusat Bantuan Khidmat Sosial (PBKS) drop-in centre in Chow Kit – after covering the costs of booth rentals, copying, and supporting zinemakers.
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