By Jessica Lawrence
When Northern Ireland went into lockdown in March 2020, many musicians and artists were suddenly left without a major source of income.
Having seen the impact COVID-induced lockdowns had on her creative friends, Megan Hopkin and her brother, Jack, decided to set up Stranger Dais.
“Our whole thought process was that musicians, artisans, and creatives weren’t really getting the same opportunities anymore because of the loss of venues,” Megan said.
“So we thought since everything’s moving onto an online platform it might be quite interesting to offer that to everyone.”
Stranger Dais is a digital zine, published every three months on WordPress and prides itself on being stylistically DIY.
The duo also work hard to create a space for musicians and artists, big or small, to have their voice heard.
Ms Hopkin said: “Our whole raison d’etre is we’ve got a platform, say what you want to say and be heard, and it works mutually.
“The more people you get involved in the magazine, the more people who will share it and the louder you’ll be heard”
Zines are self-published prints that are produced in limited batches. They first emerged in the 1930s as a way for science fiction fans, who were predominantly female, to exchange ideas, theories and fanfiction.
Over time, zines were adopted by others. This includes the literary world in the 70s, the punk scene in the 90s, and the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s.
While different groups have utilised zines for their own benefit, the common goal is the same: to come together and spread a mass message. It’s this same core value that Ms Hopkin has instilled in her own zine.
“It’s why we’re called Stranger Dais,” she said.
“Because a dais is a platform but also a play on ‘days’ that pass by, so the whole idea was a group of strangers coming together and taking to a platform and mutually raising each other up.”
To do this effectively, both Ms Hopkin and her brother decided to scrap the idea of traditional, paper zines and go digital. This was both to be cost effective, but also to offer musicians and artists publicity that could be downloaded in a PDF format.
“The reason that we took it digitally was that we thought it would be better and more beneficial for the creative culture, and that it was really available to everyone.
Ms Hopkin is not alone in starting a zine during the pandemic.
Caitlin Young, a final year PPE student at Queen’s University Belfast used her free time between online classes to rediscover her passion for writing.
Having joined the committee of Scribblers, Queen’s creative writing society, Ms Young was inspired to showcase a collection of works that were a product of their time.
From here, literary zine The Apiary was born.
“The Apiary was started with that goal of just getting student voices out there, especially at that time,” she said.
“It also very much came from a place of frustration, which when I talk to people that have started literary magazines, a lot of them say the same thing, that it comes from the fact that a particular piece or persons aren’t being represented.”
The frustration felt with regards to the monotony of lockdowns manifested in the zine’s first issue, ‘The Lost Summer’ – an ode to Summer 2020. It was later sold as physical copies in independent bookshop, No Alibis, in the heart of Botanic Avenue in Belfast.
Despite the zine being in its infancy, Ms Young said that during their last submission call, they received over 70 pieces of work.
She said: “I started it not realizing the amount of opportunities that publishing something like that gets you because I just started with the goal of giving other writers the opportunity to have space.”
Shannon Delores O’Neill, founder of Girls Rock School NI and performer in Sister Ghost, has been involved in zine making since 2016.
Frequently attending camps in the United States to teach zine making, Shannon praises the DIY and self-expression that the mediums offer.
“It’s just such an easy way for young people to express themselves, but also tackle big issues like self-esteem and body issues, body hair, identity, sexuality, and racism,” she said.
“They can just cut and stick and then they just photocopy them and send them out around their friends. It’s just so accessible.”
In June, Shannon’s group will be hosting a ‘Zine and Heard’ workshop as part of the Women’s Work Festival 2022.
The workshop is advertised as a ‘zine activism’ event, with Shannon stating that many people’s reasoning for starting zines was to react to major political events. This includes everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to the recent Supreme Court hearing on abortion rights.
“Zines are kind of a good way to spread your anger and frustration out there, and try and do something about it,” they said.
“We just thought it would be a good way to like sit down with them, and teach them this thing and to empower them to be able to maybe start their own zines as well.”
As the minds behind Stranger Dais work on the zine’s tenth issue, Ms Hopkin believes it could someday be much more.
She said: “Eventually it would be class to be able to turn around and to say we’re the next Kerrang magazine, but it’s a long time away.
“But it would be good to keep the roots of what things are right now but be able to expand it to interacting past just a screen.
“Who knows,” she jokes, “But it’s good fun.”
The ninth issue of Stranger Dais can be found on WordPress at https://strangerdais.wordpress.com/
The third issue of The Apiary, Home/Away, can be found on https://noalibis.com/product/the-apiary-issue-3-home-away-preorder/
More information about ‘Zine & Heard’ workshop as part of Women’s Work Festival 2022 can be found at https://womensworkni.co.uk/zine-heard/