We were students seeking solace from COVID-19. Then, with a burst of artistic creativity, an online ‘zine’ was born.


“Breathing Space,” by Marianne Labrie

“Breathing Space,” by Marianne Labrie
“Breathing Space,” by Marianne Labrie

During the early days of the pandemic lockdown in Toronto, I found myself trying to pin down that vague feeling of listless unrest induced by the unprecedented uncertainty around me.

It felt like the aimless days between Christmas and New Year’s, but substitute festivities with a barrage of disheartening news. An article I read identified the feeling as a kind of collective grief in the wake of COVID-19’s ripples around the globe.

As the pandemic spread, my best friend, Virginia Ling, sent me photos of bare grocery store shelves in the United Kingdom, where she was on exchange. She came home to Canada shortly after, not because of the pandemic but because she wanted to present her undergraduate thesis in person. Little did she know that her presentation would be cancelled and that she wouldn’t get to finish her semester abroad.

So, Virginia and I decided to seek solace in our extended communities. Together we created Distanziner — an online “zine” (pronouced “zeen”), or self-published work, featuring original drawings, poetry, music, listicles, recipes and photos by 18 contributors who plumbed their imaginations while in lockdown.

“This pandemic has affected us all in unique ways, and each of us have stories we want to share,” Virginia said.

Taking a breather from COVID-19 with zine

In the first issue, Laura Nguyen reflects on her increased appreciation of small things that have brought her joy while confined to her Toronto apartment.

Michelle Khuu expresses a twinge of hope with an illustrated tableau of bunnies reuniting after successfully flattening the curve.

Terese Mason Pierre offers an ode to the power of creativity in the face of adversity with a poem that reads,

… one day at a time is the mantra, it will
come back, the wings, the beating energy
against the back of our necks, the desire to run, to change

Perhaps Anike Morrison’s recipe for cocoa-nut butter energy balls will pick you up during quarantine.

We had originally planned a dinky archive of quarantine creativity housed in an online document, but the zine quickly took on a life of its own. With the support of an interdisciplinary team of students from Canadian universities, we created something much bigger.

“I think what we’ve created is a way to just take a breather from all the COVID-19 news and just unwind,” said Irfan Hakim, a member of Distanziner’s design team.

To help raise money for local charities identified by the its editors, Distanziner dispatches postcards showcasing artwork from the first issue. Donors can have the postcards sent to themselves, friends or family, or Distanziner can send cards on their behalf to a healthcare worker or a resident in a long-term care home who could use the extra support and cheer right now.

Distanziner is accepting submissions for its second monthly issue, centered around adapting to change and physical isolation. Interested in submitting? Find details here.


  1. Has COVID-19 changed how you connect with outside communities?
  2. How can you use the arts to engage in contemporary issues?
  3. Do you expect people to change how they gather socially once pandemic restrictions are lifted?

“It’s all gonna work out someday,” by Vivian Mei

Angela Gu is News Decoder’s summer intern. She has experience working with student publications and enjoys creating opportunities for emerging writers. Gu is currently a law student pursuing a combined JD/MBA degree at the University of Toronto, where she completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts. She speaks some French and some conversational Mandarin, and is learning Spanish and Italian through travel and song. 
“Breathing Space,” by Marianne Labrie
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CultureArtOur ‘zine’ offers a creative antidote for COVID-19