Magazine vending machine still serves UI undergrads


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A vending machine sits in the southwest corner of the University of Iowa Main Library — but instead of a bag of chips or candy bar, it dispenses a handmade zine as “Have a nice book” scrolls across the tiny screen.

This unique machine may go unnoticed by many passersby, but it has served a niche group on campus since 2001, when it was repurposed to vend handmade zines and mini-comics from all over the world.

When officials installed the zine dispenser in the library 10 years ago, it raked in $800 each week.

Now, it’s a bit more lonesome, making only roughly $100 per semester. Each zine costs $1.

But many said the nonprofit machine still serves its purpose for the student population.

“It’s one place where students can get democratically produced pieces of art that are for mass distribution,” UI art-education Associate Professor Rachel Williams said. “In a way, it’s like its own little gallery of underground themes, mini-comics, and artists’ books.”

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Williams said she has her art students distribute their mini-comics through the machine as part of her sequential art course, she said.

UI senior Tripp Yeoman, a teaching assistant for Williams, said zines provide a community for some students.

“Academically, if you’re a writer, if you’re an artist, I think you can find a place within zines,” he said.

Zines are independently produced booklets that cover any topic, typically created with entry-level methods of production, such as copiers and staplers.

Today, some authors have shifted to online forums.

“The funny thing about zines, of course, is everyone always wonders why no one just makes a blog,” Yeoman said.

Yeoman works stocking the zine machine, which currently holds 11 titles, and he has sold his own hand-drawn mini-comics through the machine.

“It’s very much a labor of love,” he said.

Cody Gieselman, UI graduate and co-owner of 30th Century Bike, 310 Prentiss St., has been involved with the zine machine since its beginnings. Gieselman writes and draws the mini-comic “Awkwardly Put” and has sold nearly all of its 15 volumes through the zine machine.

“It’s a pretty unique store — it’s hard to even call it a store, because it’s a vending machine,” the 32-year-old said. “It sits there all the time. Whenever the library’s open, it’s open for business.”

Regarding the type of profits she makes, Gieselman joked that she had a mansion on the East Side of Iowa City, entirely funded by zines.

“You’re lucky if you are able to cover your expenses to make them,” she said.

Many zines are donated to the zine machine and come from zinemakers from many different countries, UI Main Library conservator Gary Frost said. If there are profits, they are given to the zinemaker, reinvested into the machine, or donated to local charities.

Frost archives almost all zines sold through the machine in the UI Special Collections. He called the decade-old machine a success.

“I don’t know how you qualify success for something that’s unique, but it’s been here 10 years,” he said. “People have taken an interest in it in terms of buying the zines and in terms of producing them.”

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