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Arts & Entertainment

The White Rock Zine Machine Vends ‘Tiny Little Masterpieces’

In a burgeoning zine scene, Dallas poets and artists are their own publishers.
Deep Ellum is home to many things: unconventional stores, vibrant murals, and of late, the White Rock Zine Machine. Sitting in the Deep Vellum bookstore, it’s a renovated baseball card vending machine painted a bright teal with red lettering. For only a quarter, a tiny leaflet—a zine—pops out.

These small, often handmade booklets are filled with everything from poetry to art collages to personal essays. Partly because they are self-published, the content is exceptionally unrestricted and varied. Typically zines aren’t made for widespread consumption, but the White Rock Zine Machine has made these intimate forms of expression more attainable to a larger audience.

Lisa Huffaker, the singer, poet, and artist who founded the White Rock Zine Machine, says she got the idea from seeing a vintage vending machine. She didn’t realize at the time her project would become so popular, but past events, where attendees have come to hear readings from featured zine-makers, have all been packed, and each new series of zines loaded into the machine has sold out.

“Everybody has gone out in the world to have their heart broken by how much the world isn’t about being delighted, but I want to put people back in that position of passion and fulfillment,” Huffaker says. “For 25 cents you get a handmade object that’s full of wonder and mystery.”

Huffaker has been making zines for about seven years, and is excited about the resurgence of zines and zine culture. Previously zines aligned with the counterculture and were used as outlets for political and social movements. In some ways, zines are still used politically, but also as creative outlets for poets, photographers, essayists, and artists alike. Even Kanye West made a zine for his Yeezy clothing line.

“I think there is such a need right now for creative expression,” says Anne Hollander, who owns and operates Deep Vellum books.  “There is such a need right now to voice your opinion in something that is meaningful.”

Hollander says that many customers have come through the bookstore to use the machine, which she likes because it allows everyone to leave the store with something. Many people return to get more or even to complete the zine series, which changes quarterly. Within each series, or flight, there are 1,200 zines. These 1,200 are comprised of 100 copies of individual works from 12 contributing writers. Each series features a certain literary group or is set to a theme, such as a color.

“For 25 cents you get a handmade object that’s full of wonder and mystery.”

“I just have favorite ideas that I want to explore,” Huffaker says. “But I like that people are reinventing what this tiny little thing can be.”

One zine-maker, Will Rhoten, more commonly known as DJ Sober, has a very specific niche for his zines, based on monikers, the graffiti tags typically seen on freight cars. Rhoten says he’d always been attracted to graffiti.

“I think it’s just the DIY culture and spirit,” he says. “Anybody can do it, and with zines, the sky is the limit.”

Huffaker equates zines to little treasures, although the process to create those treasures takes time. Huffaker is always working on the next series, whether it’s thinking of a new theme, reaching out to contributing writers, or helping to create new work. The process can take up to months depending on the size and medium of each zine.

“I think there are so many kinds of zines, and I’ve seen zines by children that I love and I’ve seen zines by really erudite literary people that are successful,” she says. “It’s when you feel like through this object, I have access to a human being, makes it a great zine.”

With the literary scene in Dallas growing, it’s no wonder that the zine scene is growing as well. Hollander says that Dallas has one of the most collaborative and inclusive literary cultures she has seen.

“I think that has something to do with the Texas spirit,” Hollander says. “We have open spaces. And when you have events in this space, suddenly it’s the ability to express that and express what you created. So then somebody else in the audience will hear that, pick up on it, have a conversation, get involved somewhere else…it just keeps moving.”

Huffaker is happy to keep the machine local.

“I don’t want it to grow beyond my ability to make it beautiful,” Huffaker said. “I want it to be about people who love making zines and coming together to make tiny little masterpieces.”

Huffaker will be a visiting artist at the Dallas Museum of Art from July through September. For more information on the White Rock Zine Machine, go here.