When I looked at the games nominated for the 2020 Indiecade: Anywhere and Everywhere, I was immediately drawn to Electric Zine Maker, a self-proclaimed “art toy” made by alienmelon. As someone who used to do a lot of digital art, I was eager to try out the freeware print shop software. I downloaded the beta from their website, and loaded into a bizarre, quirky, and frankly adorable little program. Then it hit me: oh my gosh, this is just fancy KidPix for the next generation.

As someone who was born in the mid-1990s, I grew up when computers were just starting to become commonplace. Since society was moving to rely on computer technology, our teachers wanted us to learn how to use a computer, mostly for research projects. Once a month, we would ditch the classroom and head over to the ‘computer lab’—in our school, it was a dimly lit room jammed full of computers. As kids, we all loved computer lab days, not because of the research, but because of what came after the research. Each computer had a program called KidPix, which was an ‘art’ software loaded with silly clipart stamps, weird drawing tools, and preloaded backgrounds. All the kids I knew would rush through their research work just to get as much time as possible to mess around in KidPix. It was a highlight of my elementary school days, and Electric Zine Maker brought all that happy nostalgia in full force.

Like the program from my youth, Electric Zine Maker lets users import images to draw, stamp, and type all over them, or you can use the built-in pen to create your own drawings. You can even upload an image and turn it into a stamp, then use it to stamp smaller versions of the image over itself. The tool encourages this sort of wacky art fun with its variety of tools.

The program includes dozens of fun brushes and tools, each doing a variety of unexpected things—I found myself sitting for hours scrolling through all the different tools and trying them out. Some of my favorite brushes include “Glass Stamp,” a stamping tool that adds a glassy, rhinestone-like appearance where applied; “Goldfish,” a tool that adds water ripple effects to your drawings (and you can even simulate rain!); “Bacon,” a brush that draws with 4 colors at once; “Eggs,” a random splatter paint brush that uses two colors; and “Scream into the Void,” a… “brush?” that makes your drawing incomprehensible while the program screams at you. There is even a tool that turns what you've drawn into ASCII character art, which is insane to me (and definitely going to be useful to spam my Discord friends with in the future). I also love the “Authenticity Tool” feature (“The Authenticity tool will ensure that you graduate from 'fanzine' to 'zine'!” the tool claims) that can add a variety of overlays to change the look of your art like halftones, monochromatic, and dither.

Like with the Authenticity Tool and the Scream into the Void option, the tools and interface in Electric Zine Maker are full of quirky little comments, silly remarks, and the occasional motivational phrase. I mean, the tool even has a potato in the bottom right corner that you can click for an occasional burst of potato-wisdom. The aesthetic of the program is also reminiscent of an early Internet website (including the white pixel borders, the bright, clashing colors, and the overabundance of GIFs). I found the interface and comments just added to the fun of the experience of the whole thing!

electric zine maker
The interface of Electric Zine Maker, featuring my helper potato being unsure on how to pronounce 'zine'.

Now, for those who don’t know, a ‘zine’ is a sort of artistic magazine that artists can use to showcase their art, or a project full of art by many different artists. As it is the Electric Zine Maker, the program is designed to turn what you create into tiny printed pamphlets. Built into the program is a way to print your masterpieces so you can cut and fold the finished print into a tiny booklet (yes, it also includes the cut and fold instructions, in picture, word, and video forms, so even someone like me who is terrible at following directions could understand). It has a few different options, from 8-page booklets that do or don’t have to be cut to bigger 16-page booklets. It also lets you save and import full zines or individual panels, which makes it possible to collaborate with friends on fun little projects!

The program is not fully finished, and the developer plans to add even more “tools specifically for drawing,” they state on their website. They also plan to add more “digital pets” like the helpful potato that watches and supports your artistic endeavors. I would personally love to see some sort of layering function added to the program, so then I could use multitudes of tools to create a funky background and then draw on top without messing up my creation, but that may be a far-fetched dream in a program that prides itself on being easy to use and mess around in. Either way, I am eagerly awaiting whatever future updates alienmelon has planned for this program.

spooky cat
The full piece I created to test the program. Happy Halloween!!

If you love doodling, or love adding silly effects to images and photos, then I highly recommend you grab this fun program. And, heck, even if you don’t, I still recommend you get this program—I guarantee everyone will find some fun in this “art toy”.