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From Fandom to Feminism:
An Analysis of the Zine Press
By Heath Row

Throughout most of the history of the United States, the periodical press has held a prominent position in mainstream American society. Starting with the insurgence of popular magazines in the late 1700s, periodicals have existed almost as long as the United States itself and have established a foothold in the hearts and minds of the American people, maintaining an overwhelming presence in today's culture.
Magazines have evolved substantially over time, their content becoming more focused and appealing to select audiences. Yet there are still thousands of magazines that go unnoticed because of their underground nature. This invisible press is not composed merely of specialized trade publications known only within certain professional strata but has sparked an independent magazine revolution of sorts, bringing zines to the forefront as the primary actors in this insurrection.
At its most basic level, the word "zine" is derived from "fanzine," a contraction of fan magazine. [Wertham] But zines, like their mainstream periodical counterparts, have changed considerably, and the historic definitional connotations attached to the word "fanzine" have become too limiting. Instead of focusing solely on fandom (a collectivity of fans) and pop culture, today's zines encompass many aspects of the periodical press, including the modern underground press spawned by the alternative newspapers of the 1960s, magazines such as Mother Jones and the Nation, the small press of literary and poetry magazines and, still, the fandom press that services music, science fiction and comic book enthusiasts. [Gunderloy, 1992]
In fact, the definition of fanzines has expanded somewhat to describe magazines produced by and for fans of science fiction, popular music, sports and other topical subjects, but an overwhelming lack of study in this field has also added to the difficulty of accurately defining zines. [Wertham] In the book "Modern English: A Trendy Slang Dictionary," Jennifer Blowdryer, a well-known participant in the Berkeley and San Francisco punk scene, pornography actress and one-time columnist for Maximum RocknRoll, one of the larger zines to chronicle the punk scene, completely ignores the zine press, despite her relatively in-depth coverage of subcultures serviced by them.

Most zines are extremely ephemeral, many not surviving past the first few issues or changing titles with relative frequency, and are therefore difficult to study. To simplify things, zines can then be defined as uncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines produced, published and distributed by their editors. [Wertham] The word "zine" therefore aptly embodies the independent magazine press that has become all but invisible in recent years.
Mike Gunderloy, the founder and long-time editor of Factsheet Five, a zine devoted to cataloging the zine press and acting as a networking clearing house, said 90 percent of modern zines fit into one or more of the following classifications: art (including comics, mail art and collage), conservative/Constitutionalist, ecological/environmental, film (horror, sleaze and gore), poetry, religion (pagan, Subgenius, Discordian and ceremonial magic), anarchist/leftist, music, science fiction/fantasy, mainstream literary, UFO/Fortean/psychic/odd science/cranks, peace/anti-war/ socially conscious, and gay/lesbian/bisexual. [Gunderloy, 1989]
In a single issue of Factsheet Five, Seth Friedman, the current editor, divides almost 1500 zines into sections including publications labeled as or covering catalogs, reviews, comics and humor, B movies, arts and letters, mail art, personal zines, sex, food and health, spirituality, work, travel, sports, hobby and collecting, science fiction, technology, community, student, environmental, peace, leftist and anarchist, libertarian, international news, rants and cranks, music, punk and queer zines. But the zine press has not always been so diverse in subject material.
According to most literature on this subject, the first zines focused primarily on science fiction fandom. Generally considered the first publication to be called a zine, The Comet began publishing in 1930 and was basically a science fiction zine composed mostly of articles on science. Other science fiction zines soon followed, including Time Traveler and Science Fiction, which was edited by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, who later became famous as the creators of Superman.

The content of these early zines was characterized by letter columns (also called lettercols) in which readers debated and discussed issues concerning science fiction, science articles and fiction written by amateurs as well as professionals in the field, columns, reviews of new science fiction book and film releases, editorials and other features that helped network the enthusiasts who produced and read the zine.
The contributors who worked to produce zines were usually amateur writers and artists whose interests centered on science fiction fandom, and many of these early zines developed from APAzines. APAzines are produced by a central editor who solicits page submissions from fans, compiles the pages under one cover and then distributes the finished product to the initial contributors, members of the amateur press association (APA) that produced the zine. [Wertham]
As science fiction fandom developed and its audience began to cross over to reading comic books as well in larger numbers, zines devoted to comic book fandom closely followed. Like their forerunners, comic zines grew out of comic APAzines, and many zines combined elements of the APAzines with more news-oriented content to chronicle and network comic fandom. One of the more popular comic zines was Batmania, edited and published by Biljo White during the 1960s. Inspired by Jerry Bails' and Roy Thomas' zine Alter Ego, also produced during the '60s, White provided a forum for "Batmanians" all around the world.
Many contributors to and readers of comic zines, including Alter Ego's Roy Thomas, later went on to work in the field professionally as artists, writers and even editors. [Gelb] The early comic zines also inspired people to produce their own comic books, many printed in a smaller format than mainstream comic books. The minicomic press still exists today, influenced by comic zines and independent comic books, although self-publishing can be frustrating and challenging. [Shires] Zines have been and continue to be influential contributors to American popular culture as zine producers, like mainstream periodical producers, help map out the hierarchy of cultural forms and analysis of pop culture. [Shiach]
The networking and unifying quality of the science fiction and comic zine worlds can be viewed as parallel to the alternative newspapers that provide an outlet for the "other voices" not expressed by the mainstream news. One must still remember, however, that covering science fiction fandom is far different than covering African-American communities.
Zines have made great strides in gaining legitimacy and cultural importance as they have moved away from addressing subjects dealing strictly with popular culture and have started to cover more relevant subjects that affect more people. While still documenting a niche of pop culture, the punk zines of the late 1970s, such as the defunct Sniffin' Glue, were a crucial step in this direction and continue to thrive, providing the modern zine press with a backbone of inspiration.
Before launching into a full-fledged discussion of the punk zine press, it might be helpful and important to define punk rock itself. As a movement, punk adopted the same revolutionary ideals held by the early avant-garde movements: unusual fashions, the view of everyday life as an abstraction of art, the juxtaposition of unrelated objects and behaviors, adversarial involvement of the audience in performances, a general lack of artistic training and the rejection of accepted modes of performance. [Henry]
As a style of music, punk rock combined elements of the glitter-rock epitomized by David Bowie, working class London pub-rock, the mod subculture of the 1960s, southern rhythm and blues, soul music and reggae. Its loud, fast-paced, jerky rhythms and anti-authoritarian lyrical content stood in stark contrast with popular mainstream music and reflected the subculture's members' wishes to escape the humdrum of acceptable behavior and life. [Hebdige] Drawing on Andre Breton's Dada movement, the punk press also embodied and continues to embody the attitudes expressed in the music.


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