Local zine publisher wants to empower Hamilton artists

Hamilton artist Tara Bursey says Partizanka Pressher micropress and zine distributor, was born in part out of a desire to find community amid the many COVID-related lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.

“There’s something inherent in zines, that kind of resonated with what we all were missing,” Bursey says. “We all miss each other and our ability to have these kinds of hands-on, physical artistic experiences.”

Partizanka – named after the Serbo-Croatian word for partisan – was launched in late 2020 after Bursey took advantage of the sudden isolation during lockdown to start publishing zines away from her home in Hamilton. Thanks to the press, zines focusing on everything from underground rock music to workers’ rights are published and put up for sale.

“I think zines are a great way for people who don’t have a lot of infrastructure to be able to sustain their creativity and connect with people,” she says.

Some of the earliest precursors to today’s zines were self-published fanzines created in the 1920s and 1930s by science fiction enthusiasts in order to interact with other fans of the genre. Since then, they have often played a crucial role in various underground and alternative subcultures thanks to the relative ease with which anyone can post their own.

Bursey says his initial fascination with zines grew out of his reading about the vibrant zine culture surrounding British punk band The Sex Pistols. During her teenage years, she began creating punk and feminist zines using her father’s fax machine. Later, as she moved in and out of various post-secondary schools in her 20s, Bursey says zines were a constant creative outlet.

“The beauty of zines is that you really don’t need any special materials or equipment,” she says. “So zines were always something I could do from home.”

There are a wide variety of types of zines that Bursey has chosen to publish through Partizanka. While some are composed of his own work, others are collaborations with local artists and writers, like a guide to key sites in the history of the city’s punk music scene. Some of the press catalogs are reissues of zines from around the world, including an illustrated compendium of makeshift inventions devised by prisoners of the American prison system and a collection of printed materials made by left-wing activists from the 1970s. Bursey says that what connects much of the press catalog is the desire to share knowledge and act as a physical record.

“Education is really part of the foundation of this project,” she says. “If we keep our zines about the things we do now, we’ll have them to pass on and share and give to a larger public archive in the future.”

Bursey notes that local harm reduction organization Keeping Six has also released zines through Partizanka as a way to build community and share information in Hamilton.

“We can do all the things in the world, but if people don’t document and honor them in real time, and also in retrospect, then that knowledge and those activities get lost,” she adds. “Zines are really exciting that way, it’s a way of documenting cultural and political work.”

Although she temporarily moved to Sackville, New Brunswick, to participate in an artist residency at the École des beaux-arts Pierre Lassonde until June, Bursey says that when she returns to Hamilton, she hopes focus more on publishing his own work, as well as the work of others in Hamilton moving forward.

“With zines, you can make the form an amazing reflection of the content,” she says. “So I wish I could help people explore that and be as inspired by that process as I was.”

Alex Ramsay is a freelance writer living in Hamilton.