From Fandom to Feminism, cont'd
The punk press demonstrates that not only clothes
and music can be produced cheaply and immediately from limited
resources and experience. Punk zines have influenced much of
the modern zine press, and their characteristics carry almost
across the board. Edited by an individual or a group, punk and
other types of zines contain reviews, editorials and interviews
with prominent figures in the subject covered, are produced on
a small scale as cheaply as possible, are stapled together and
distributed either through retailers, mail order or a widespread
trading economy. [Hebdige]
With the advent
of desktop publishing and photocopying technology, much of the
original flavor of punk zines has been lost (i.e. the typing
errors, grammatical mistakes, misspellings and jumbled pagination).
The original science fiction zines were most often typed and
printed on lithograph machines, but most zines today are produced
on a computer, a typewriter or by hand and then photocopied.
Nevertheless, the widespread nature of modern zines, including
the music zines, arguably the most numerous type of zine, can
be credited to the do-it-yourself spirit that pervades punk and
other alternative styles of music, as well as the deep human
need for self-expression. [Gunderloy, 1992]
This brings us
to the modern zine press. Most modern zines, devoted to various
aspects of fringe culture such as cyberpunk, the Church of the
Subgenius, sex and leftist politics, are greatly influenced by
punk's subversive qualities. But over the past few years, zines
have received a lot of mainstream press coverage, not all of
it totally accurate. In a brief column that ran in Newsweek,
zines were colored as overly ephemeral and focusing solely on
obscure pop culture. Six zines about television and music from
the 1960s, '70s and '90s were featured with the following lead:
"Johnny can readand publish. A growing youth print
culture is churning out 'zines': brash, fun, cheaply made (many
are photocopied) mags for fans of underground trends, sold in
alternative music and book stores." [Newsweek, Jan. 18,
While one cannot
contest that zines are decidedly ephemeral, many have achieved
bimonthly and even monthly publication schedules and are reaching
a continuously growing audience through retailers such as Barnes
& Noble that employ magazine distributors including Desert
Moon Periodicals, Fine Print distributors, Flatland and See Hear.
As a zine editor myself, I view this exposure as healthy and
good, but some zine insiders fear that the public's increasing
awareness results in co-optation of the zine press by the mainstream.
Of course, many
zines are devoted solely to pop culture and cover such topics
as Pez dispensers and bowling, but there are others that are
quite issue-driven in nature. The upswelling of feminist zines
within the riot grrl movement is a prime example of zines with
more serious intentions. The riot grrl movement is a support
group for young activist women who network through punk bands,
weekly discussion groups, pen-pal friendships and more than 50
Most of the riot
grrl zines attempt to expand the boundaries of feminist conversation
through discussion of the editors' sexual exploits, the ins and
outs of menstruation and feminine hygiene, and the danger of
silverfish. Like punk zines, riot grrl zines exhibit the aesthetic
of rough-edged, hand-written text, doodles in the margins and
third-generation photocopied photographs. "The more urgent
the message, the more chaotic the design." Editors of feminist
zines even concede that they started their respective publications
to provide an alternative to mainstream magazines. [Austin]
Other zines cover
subjects that blur the lines between pop culture and political
issues. A couple of zine sprouted up around the cyberpunk movement,
a rough mix of the punk mentality, psychoactive drug experimentation
and science fiction as expressed in the novels of William Gibson.
Mondo 2000, an absolutely beautiful glossy magazine, has made
the quantum leap from zinedom into being a full-fledged magazine
despite the fringe nature of its editorial content. bOING bOING,
another cyberpunk zine, had more underground-based material and,
understandably enough, has a smaller circulation. Coverage of
political and personal issues, and popular culture aside, there
are zines covering absolutely everything. If a person is interested
in something, there is a good chance there is a zine addressing
that subject. But if people don't know about the zines, no one
can get ahold of them.
The inherent underground
nature of zines was reaffirmed when Factsheet Five floundered
in the midst of two different publisher changes. Zine editors
feared that their readership would decine without the clearing
house Factsheet Five provided. Many zines expanded their individual
zine review sections to fill the gap, and editors now try to
be less dependent on just one publication for their networking.
There are enough
zines that contain review sections that a network will continue
to exist even if the main clearing house publication ceases to
print, but without Factsheet Five and other review zines like
it, thousands of quality, independent magazines would go largely
unnoticed, and the pool of information and opinion would dry
up considerably. Zines, acting as forums for discussion and analysis,
provide a brilliant alternative to mainstream periodicals while
providing a valuable service to the subcultures and movements
addressed in zines.
Whether they cover
an aspect of pop culture or a political ideology, zines are the
direct result of the drive to write and publish. Throughout the
latter portion of American history, zines have continued to fill
an important, if not overly visible, position in the history
of periodicals. As long as there are readers and writers, people
will publish. As long as manuscripts are refused by mainstream
press outlets and publishers, people will publish their work
themselves. Those vital, personal publications will be called
Austin, Bryn, "The Irreverent
(Under)World of Zines," Ms., Vol. 3, No. 4, January-February
1993, p. 68.
Blowdryer, Jennifer, "Modern English: A Trendy Slang
Dictionary," Last Gasp, San Francisco, 1985.
Chideya, Farai, Melissa Rossi and Dogen Hannah, "Revolution,
Girl Style," Newsweek, Vol. 120, No. 21, Nov. 23, 1992,
Cometbus, Aaron, "On 'Zines,'" Cometbus No. 29,
Friedman, Seth, "Editorial," Factsheet Five No.
Gelb, Jeff, and Bill Schelly, "Fandom's Founders: Biljo
White," Comics Buyer's Guide, Vo. 23, No. 2, Jan. 8, 1993,
Gunderloy, Mike, letter, Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, No. 77, October
Gunderloy, Mike, and Cari Goldberg Janice, "The World
of Zines: A Guide to the Independent Magazine Revolution,"
Penguin Books, New York, 1992.
Hebdige, Dick, "Subculture: The Meaning of Style,"
Routledge, London, 1988.
Henry, Tricia, "Break All Rules!: Punk Rock and the
Making of a Style," UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, 1989.
Knight, Les U., letter, Slam No. 3, February-March 1993,
Shiach, Morag, "Discourse on Popular Culture,"
Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1989.
Shires, Ian, "Driving Force," Self-Publisher! No.
19, July 1992, p. 2.
Wertham, Fredric, "The World of Fanzines: A Special
Form of Communication," Southern Illinois University Press,
Reprinted from Media Diet, Spring 1997. Copyright
1997 Heath Row. Posted with permission.
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