Digital Zine Workshops

So, as we come up to a year since the great shift to digital, I thought it was worth writing up some of my experiences of digital zine workshops – both run independently and as part of Edinburgh Zine Library.

These aren’t absolute rules, but reflections on my own practice. I’m sure you can disregard all of these thoughts, and still run a banging workshop!

In total this year, not including EZL own-brand stuff, I have facilitated or co-facilitated 11 digital zine workshops. Of these, 3 have been on Zoom, 3 have been on MS Teams, 2 have been pre-recorded and then gone live on Facebook, 1 has been pre-recorded for Youtube, 1 has been a Youtube Watch Party (with pre-recorded elements) and 1 has been Webex.

8 of these were paid. Payment ranged between £100 – £175 depending on the organisation and the length of the workshop.

4 of them were around environmental justice, climate change and/or food sovereignty, so apparently I’m carving a niche there. I do think zines are well placed for workshops around these issues though, because they a) are political and engaged in social justice b) create a space for creative imagining c) can hold intersections and d) are an accessible way of processing and sharing information,

In terms of platforms, I am most familiar with Zoom, although since I started both doing my PhD, and doing workshops with colleges/universities, I’ve gotten more familiar with Teams. Taking some time to establish what you want to do, and figuring out what’s possible, is a key part of planning digital facilitation. A good starting point can be attending other workshops or online creative spaces – for example, I had no idea you could play music through Zoom until I went to a Stonewall zine workshop on trans joy with Kirrin Kaye. Whilst I don’t like music played in the background of chat – I do think that when people are quietly focusing on their zines, having some music on makes it feel like you are somehow in the same place. I guess a good clue is if you don’t like *attending* events on that platform, you probably won’t like facilitating them either.

None of the workshops I’ve facilitated have had a BSL interpreter, and only 1 has involved a live captioner. This has been behind some of the shift to Facebook and Youtube, and generally pre-recorded content, for me. As a freelancer, and part of an unfunded organisation, securing funding for interpreters and captioners for our own workshops is challenging. When asked to do workshops, I generally work with what the org has got, I can’t afford to turn down work neccessarily, although I think I could do better at having… higher expectations? and articulating when they are not met. With pre-recorded content, I have substantially more control over things like captions, transcription, audio description etc. I also feel like chat interactions are less demanding at the moment. I’d like to get to a point where I had a good blend of pre-recorded, text and chat, and voice/video connections, but I also think…. zines are a slower media, and they maybe benefit from a different approach. This is less of a rumination on my like, bread-and-butter workshops which are just like a whirlwind intro to zines, and an exploration of their potential in a specific context, and more thinking about the long term future of my practice and of the Edinburgh Zine Library I guess?

Breakout Rooms

When you’re with a large group, breakout rooms feel like they make a lot of sense – especially if that group feels reluctant to talk because its so large, or one or two people are really carrying the conversation for the group (I don’t know if carrying is the right word but I kinda want to shift away from using ‘dominating’, as in ‘dominating the discussion’, because what I’ve observed is that when a few people are doing most of the talking true this can sometimes be about them not being aware of how much space they are taking, but more often, its because they want to help make the whole thing work.)

Here are some obvious disadvantages of breakout rooms: they can’t have captions, and if you have an interpreter you have to place them in a room; they put even more pressure on people to talk, who might simply not want to; if you’re worried about people ‘dominating’ the conversation, you risk just replicating this in breakout rooms, but you’re not there to mediate; also, and this is from my experience of Uni seminars, there’s no-one there to hash out misunderstandings of the task or text, and the labour of facilitation often ends up with one person in the breakout room.

With that in mind, in a short hour to 90 minutes zine workshop, if I use breakout rooms, they are short and sweet moments of debrief after a particular task – think max 2 – 5 minutes after responding to a prompt in a mini-zine. I rotate the groups every time I form them, because it sort of evens out the experience (eg. if first time round someone ends up in a less active room, then next time round they’re more likely to be in a chattier room). I set one clear task for the room – I highly suggest if you have multiple tasks, you bring participants back in between them because – well, you’ll know yourself as a facilitator that it’s very hard to chat and time keep. In this context, I don’t pop my head into each room because I want it to be a space away from the ‘expert’ eyes of the facilitator. But, this is why I keep it short.

I have seen other uses of breakout rooms that have been good – where the rooms are longer, with perhaps focus on different topics, and each one gently facilitated. This sort of team approach is useful as well because it allows for easier comms between breakout rooms and the facilitator(s). (gotta love a signal or whatsapp back channel)

In general though, when my impulse is a break out room, I try and push myself to think – is there a way we can do this task, activity, a way everyone can feel they can contribute, with us all staying in the same ‘room’? This might involve using something like Google Jamboard as an interactive way of everyone adding to a conversation or making a joint decision, it might be about shifting focus to the chat function (or having a second facilitator who’s solely focused on the chat). It might also involve… shifting what we think ‘participation’ looks like? I get a huge amount of value, sometimes, from just attending a workshop and listening to other conversations and thinking and reflecting and making. Similarly, not everyone has to have said something out loud to have ‘participated’ and I think it’s important to take the pressure off from the outset. When we ran in-person workshops, we always used to say that sitting in a corner quietly reading zines is just as much participating as talking lots and making something. It’s important to balance everyone feeling like they can speak up, write in the chat etc. with no-one feeling like they have to.

The End Result – the mini-zine vs. the collab zine

The workshops I facilitate fall into three sort of categories – those focused on introducing folks broadly to zines, those focused on using zines to explore a particular topic, and those focused on introducing folks to zines with the intended end result of creating a collaborative zine. In actual fact, these are harder to distinguish, because what you’re actually doing is the same across them: introducing zines and the values that underpin them, exploring the diversity of ways you can make zines, looking at zines that are about [X] topic, working through creative blocks, thinking about different ideas for zine content.

I don’t think I’ve ever set collab zine pages up as a task for a workshop, because I feel that folks want to make these in their own time. Since we’ve often only got a short amount of time, I focus instead on exploring and experimentation and working out ideas. I also nearly always run some variation of wreck-this-zine, which I’ve talked about before, as a quick fire way to get everyone making marks on paper! If I’m focused on using zines to explore a particular topic, I’ll slow the pace of wreck-this-zine right down and use each prompt to reflect on different aspects of this topic.

In amongst these are the zine clubs that EZL occasionally puts on, which is more about working on whatever you’re working on in a chill social atmosphere, and these don’t have a fixed end result.

I’ve not had an opportunity to do like… a series of workshops yet. But I’m waiting on some funding apps which might make that possible, and I feel like that’ll change everything!

Self-Care

Digital workshops are hard, you’re launched into the space, often jumping from Something Else, you’re managing tech etc., and then afterwards you’re just at home in silence, no decompress, no bananagrams at Bar Burrito as you chat through the whole thing and process your regret at handing a zine including a description of spermicide to a group of children. I find it useful to have a routine for setting up for a zine workshop. I’ve also learnt that I can do basically one thing in a day! Just because I don’t have to travel between places, doesn’t mean I can just stack things on zoom. If I’d put aside a day for a zine workshop face to face, then I should if its digital! I prefer facilitating as part of a team – even if its only one other person, and love having a whatsapp back channel as its a great place to spread some of the anxiety and have silly unprofessional chats and talk things through afterwards. Also I rely pretty heavily on stim toys and talismans when I do a workshop! 10/10 recommend.

Community Care

I’m probably going to write a whole separate blog post about this, because I found the process of writing a community care expectations for IZLuC super illuminating. But I’m just going to flag that folks often weave their personal experiences into zines, and they are often sites of vulnerability, accounts of trauma, a place to process things. How to make a space one where people feel able to share, whilst being aware of our shared responsibility to look after the other people in the room, is something to consider especially in a digital context where it’s harder to like… read the room, or to give folks breathing space, or to navigate difficult conversations. Also, like I don’t think I’m the only person who kinda… forgets other people exist when they are on a screen. Idk it’s harder to get a sense of place online and so harder to create the cues that distinguish public and private which are how we often judge what we want to share, and how vulnerable certain things make you feel. I’ve been part of Mad Covid’s For The Record project, and every two weeks we meet to share our work. It’s really well managed – with work submitted and trigger warnings attached ahead of the meeting, and different breakout rooms with different trigger warnings so you are able to avoid things if you need to. I’d expect nothing less from Mad Covid, who are leading the way in lots of things, but I wanted to acknowledge it as really good practice!

Plans for the future…..

Ok so I talked a bit about things I’m looking forward to. First up, the opportunity to do a longer term project or workshop series! Secondly I’ve been getting into the idea of doing some purely digital zine workshops playing around with digital remix and collage. Thirdly, my wonderful colleague at EZL have managed to secure some funding for a zoom account and adobe, so I would love to run some workshops supporting folks to turn their zines/zine ideas into printable / accessible digital zines.

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