A new zine by mackenzie thomas finds joy in the chaos of the everyday.
By taylor stout
I ask artist Mackenzie Thomas what she loves about the internet.
“It’s my home,” she replies.
It’s easy to get lost in the chaotic, nihilistic swarm of the internet’s dark side. Social media makes us feel lonely, angry, and inadequate. Twitter is a fucked-up town square. Instagram is a shopping mall. And yet, for many members of Gen Z, we grew up in and alongside these spaces. They were always imperfect and dangerous. But they were spaces for us to try on identities, share our half-baked thoughts, and mold our senses of self. Depending on where and how you were raised, the real world may not have readily offered that chance up to you.
Thomas goes on to tell me, “I’ve always had a place on the internet where I’ve felt more comfortable than I did in real life [...] I think the truest parts of myself are what I save for the internet.”
She describes herself as a “terribly creative” person. As she grew up, the internet became an outlet for her to express this creativity. Her childhood dream job was comedian, and the moment she got her first video camera, she started making funny videos with her friends.
She migrated across a variety of platforms over time, beginning with Tumblr (“Everything I do will always be a fucking ode to Tumblr”) and currently, Twitter (“since I’m a little bit older and more mature”). Thomas’s online journey has been full of vulnerability, exploration, and community, but she is not immune to the disconnect that the internet can bring. She says, “There definitely is this bizarre emptiness in going viral, and I think the more deep I got into the internet, the more I had a want to make something that was more tangible.”
Growing up in Montclair, New Jersey, Thomas was surrounded by DIY zine culture. In this scrappy and lawless medium, she found a place to explore heavy topics in a tactile way. At nineteen, she published her first zine, titled Here By Choice, about her struggles with suicidal ideation. Her second zine, Evil Pervert, is about the end of a formative relationship: “I had a breakup with a boyfriend who I love, but I had to do it,” Thomas says.
About nine months ago, Thomas decided it was time for her to make another zine. It’s called Personal Heaven, and Thomas feels it’s her craziest, most intimate project yet. It doesn’t fit into the madcap energy of her online comedy or the darkness of her previous zines. It represents something new—it’s all about happiness.
While her first two zines may sound like a far cry from comedy, laughter and pain are often intertwined. Thomas has used comedy to excavate shame and embarrasment, weaking their restrictive power by owning up to them. She says, “I find too much comedy in my everyday life not to share the most embarrassing shit, because it’s fucking hilarious. And that’s how I get over it.” As a high schooler, she performed a show called Dear God It’s Us, in which she would stand onstage and read from her diary. That may sound like a nightmare to some, but for her, it was an act of catharsis. She later attended Emerson College and studied Comedic Arts, graduating in 2021. When TikTok gained traction during her college years, Thomas saw it as a natural fit for sharing her “wild, viral-ish” ideas.
Most notably, she led an international campaign on TikTok called “Date Mackenzie.” Thomas says, “It was my first time being single in the middle of the pandemic, and it was a really lonely time. I had always wanted to do an international dating campaign so I made these posters that said ‘Date Mackenzie,’ had the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, and it gave a little bio about me. I put them all around LA, I made a TikTok about it, and I gave a link to a downloadable version of the poster. All of a sudden, I was getting all of these emails from Ukraine and Japan, and people were taking photos of the poster they’d printed out and put up in their town.”
@dumbmackenzie on TikTok
“Date Mackenzie” was a wild ride that garnered millions of views and participation from individuals across the globe. It proves Thomas as a master of balancing humor and vulnerability to foster connections online. But as Thomas lived through a year full of change—including a cross-country move to Los Angeles, California—the physical spaces around her began to take on more meaning.
With new independence and distance from the stressors of her past, she says that this past year is “the first time I’ve lived without panic ever. Ever. It feels like heaven.”
Even though Thomas has spent years making people laugh, she views her newfound happiness as something separate—it is unfamiliar, delicate, and precious. “I was like a scientist of being sad,” she says of her younger self. “I was super depressed for five years, and I wrote a lot about being sad, and I had a lot of reasons to be [...] My parents went through a terrible divorce, my dad had cancer, and he randomly cut off his finger one time. I couldn’t get out of bed.”
Living through tragedy often requires us to dull our sensitivities to survive. Still, Thomas’s history has left her with an attunement to the joy that exists within the everyday. That is no small feat. According to Thomas, “[Personal Heaven is] about just this happy little year I’ve had living in LA, walking around, and the conclusions I’ve come to so far in my life. It’s been a big thing, finally making something that’s not specifically comedy and not specifically sad. It’s a really happy thing and I’m really proud of it.”
Personal Heaven marks Thomas’s first true experience with drawing, which she had previously abandoned because it felt “fruitless and dumb.” But she found herself struggling to capture her happiness through words alone. Instead, these feelings came out visually. “It feels frivolous to talk about being happy,” says Thomas. “It’s silly how we do that.”
The artworks in the zine illustrate the generous attention that Thomas pays to her new surroundings in Los Angeles. It isn’t a glamorous portrayal of life in the sun-drenched city. Gas station signs, stairwells, and parking lots fill its pages. Thomas locates a sense of rhythm and comfort within her surroundings. For example, Thomas finds LA’s tourist-swarmed Hollywood Boulevard to be “the most inspiring place in the whole world.” Why? “It’s chaos. Mundane chaos gets this girl going more than anything.”
This source of inspiration shines through, as do the seemingly oppositional forces of mundanity and chaos. Alongside the images in Personal Heaven, Thomas displays her words in illustrated iMessage icons, Instagram Story replies, and handwritten notes. Some text snippets sound more self-assured than others, but all portray a narrator attempting to navigate herself towards joy. The process is raw, messy, and earnest. Not every day is glorious, but it doesn’t have to be. The desire to get up and live it is enough.
That’s what Thomas’s personal heaven looks like: “It’s not perfect, but I’ve found some happiness within myself, which is exciting.”
Rather than exposing a wound to weaken its power, Thomas records tender glimpses of small joys. These feelings aren’t grand epiphanies but everyday thoughts, just as Thomas leans into the mundanity of Hollywood Boulevard rather than its gaudy icons. The conclusions she reaches in Personal Heaven arise from the in-between. What matters is how you look at them, and in turn, yourself. There’s an undeniable beauty to the life Thomas portrays: she built it, and it belongs to her.
“It’s a rebirth. It’s happiness. It’s love,” she writes. “It’s Tuesday.”
Your personal heaven won’t look like hers. But maybe it’s enough to know there’s something waiting for you on the other side of sadness.