Sanaa Khan is from the Bay Area. She produces her own art and helps bring other folks' projects to life (through Tiny Splendor Press (TSP) and Max's Garage Press (MGP) in Berkeley with her partner Max Stadnik).
TSP publishes zine and print collaborations with artists they admire. MGP is a community print shop providing affordable access to risograph printing, lithography, etching, relief printing, screenprinting, and more.
Sanaa Khan splits her time working on her own illustrations, prints, and zines while collaborating with others to produce every kind of print project under the sun—from totally functional flyers to gallery-bound fine art editions to poetry chapbooks to comics to recipe books to business cards to show posters, on and on and on...It's fulfilling for Sanaa to work within the medium of print because it's so multi-functional and she can engage with so many types of people, artists, causes, and projects.
How did you get interested in zines?
When I was sixteen I bought my first zine, a slim booklet of graffiti by Sam Flores at a bookstore in San Francisco. I really idealized SF's art scene as a kid living in the suburbs of San Jose. Finding that zine felt like owning a small, cheap piece of it. It wasn't objectively valuable but felt precious to me because I stumbled upon it and connected with it independently of anyone else telling me what I should think of it.
The first zines I made were hanging out with my friends, three of whom I would start Tiny Splendor Press with—Max Stadnik, Cynthia Navarro, and Kenny Srivijittakar. We drew or collaged silly and sincere zines, then photocopied them at the copyshop Cynthia worked at. We'd sell them really cheaply at parks and pop-ups in Berkeley and San Francisco. This was after we all graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a traditional printmaking focus.
The virtues of printmaking seemed to have many parallels with zines—Cheapness. Limitations. Collaboration. Self-producing multiples, it became easier to get more art into the world, more cheaply and in more places. When we couldn't seem to enter into the traditional avenues of success the art world had to offer—gallery shows, patronage, commissions—zine-making kept us busy and validated. It allowed us to use what we have, and gradually we worked up to buying ourselves a risograph machine so we could own the means of production and work in color.
Since that time we've grown into two separate studios (Berkeley and LA). We now publish more ambitious book, zine, and print editions. We also offer printing for hire and a whole community printshop for others to affordably access a range of print mediums.
What are your zines about?
Zines are an excuse to draw things that appeal to me; to serve as a sponge for the excesses dripping off my brains. I wish I made zines about "more important" stuff sometimes. But I am drawn to illustrating cute, funny, gross, beautiful, weird visuals. I don't like using too many words because they never accurately capture what I mean, so drawing animals, people, food, and plants let me process thoughts and feelings. I let people who look at my drawings decide if they see something they relate to, which they sometimes do which is a bonus.
My zine World of Warts was full of frog drawings with minimal words, and I made it because I love frogs; but it became about being vulnerable, depressed, and alienated while acknowledging that those experiences are normal and not the whole sum of being alive.
I made a mini-zine called the Many Ways of the Potato simply illustrating and listing potato dishes because I love drawing food, love potatoes, and am tickled by the fact there are so many ways.
What are some of your favorite zines and zine makers?
I have tons of love for Unity Press and everything they ever do—they're a stunning example of making incredible art while being kind, making the world better, and building community.
I love Floss Editions (also in the Bay Area); they keep alive a spirit of artmaking with friends—one of my favorites they've printed is the comic WILD by Cristian Castelo.
I'm drawn to a lot of illustrations and comics overall: I love everything Hellen Jo has ever drawn—I feel incredibly seen and comforted by her characters and barest of pencil strokes, which come alive in zine format. Jia Sung and Sarula Bao are both incredible artists who frequently collaborate, based in NYC, with who I have quite a few zines that excite me. Spicy Mango Comics' work also draws me in, a powerhouse trio of comics/illustration.
Aside from that, I've learned so much from the zines & informational literature put out by Brown Recluse Distro, which is collectively run and puts out content (mostly writing) for and by QT BIPOC that I really appreciate. There are so many more to mention...
Your zines are in our library collection for patrons to borrow. What do you think about that?
I think that's really neat! It's fun thinking about all the different people who might have held my zine in their hands and smiled at it, related to it, didn't care for it, rolled their eyes at it, didn't get it, or got inspired to make their own zine.
What do you think is the future of zines?
Zines can be anything. In addition to the continuation of the risograph zine boom of the last decade, I think digital-download zines will be more normalized—and even social media posts and memes can be considered types of zines, getting out imperfect digestible chunks of information, ideas, ephemera. Zines are never supposed to be in any specific end-all, be-all format. There's more blending than ever before of distinct corners of culture, and zines are going to be an interesting, often tangible way to track peoples' interests, or just take a break from the screen.
Why are zines important?
Zines are vehicles for sharing helpful information, ideas, interests, art, writing, ways of seeing the world. It gives people agency to be able to self-publish anything they care about. It's empowering, easy, limitless, fun, and low-stakes to make a zine. It also can get pretty complex and ambitious too if you want it to. It's nice to stop and take a little breath to make or read a physical zine in a world of digital fatigue and endless scroll.