|So, You Want to Start a Zine?|
getting out your scissors and committing your thoughts to paper,
ask yourself, "Do I have anything new to say? Do I know
any new ways to say them?" These are tough questions to
answer honestly. Everybody thinks their ideas are truth. So also
ask yourself, "Do I have any talent? Can I write better
than your average college graduate? Can I draw a straight line
... consistently? Do I have superior taste and sense of design?"
When you've answered yes to all these questions, ask them of
someone close to yousomeone who will tell you the truth.
Finally, if it is agreed by
many that you have the direction and talent to pull off something
special, take the time to do it right. For you extraordinary
few, I offer these recommendations in the hope that as you prepare
to cast your lure, you'll do it with skill and panache. The rest
of you can go back to watching television.
and Half-Legal: 8 1/2" x 11" or 11" x 14"
folded and stapled is the ideal size for zines that have no ambitions
beyond impressing their friends, trading with other zines and
getting their work reviewed in other zines, which, I believe,
is all the majority of zines should ever hope for. This size
is cheaper to mail, fits in your purse or back pocket, requires
less design skill, and doubles the page count you would have
if you were to put the same amount of copy on folded 11"
x 17" pages or, God forbid, 8 1/2" x 11" pages
that are just stapled together.
Standard: This is the
most common size, 11" x 17" folded in half and stapled.
At this size you are forced to make design decisions. Eight or
12 pages of straight type in columns is OK for a newsletter,
but more than that and it's too dense and boring. You need to
give the pages visual appeal, balance white and dark spaces,
and make use of illustrations. If you don't you may find yourself
with interesting writing that no one will bother to read. Remember,
just because it's D.I.Y. doesn't mean it's OK if it looks like
Tabloid: Except when
printed on newsprint and distributed locally as free papers that
are meant to be discarded, this size is cumbersome and requires
design experience and talent to keep it interesting.
Mini: Even more disposable
and difficult to read than tabloids; this size can be a good
way for artists or cartoonists to distribute samples of their
I wouldn't say it's entirely necessary, but color goes a long
way towards selling your publication, if that's your goal. Even
in the small press, many zines are springing for color Xerox
covers, which, if you're printing less than 500 is often less
expensive than color offset. If your zine is digest-sized you
can get two covers on each 8 1/2" x 11" page. If you're
printing more than 1000 copies using offset, each additional
color can often run you less than $100. Another way to get a
distinctive look is to have the cover printed with a color other
than black. That won't cost you any more at all.
Information: If you
intend to sell your publication on newsstands there are rules
that, when broken, will drive distributors and retailers to treat
your work badly. For instance, the title should be all the way
at the top so it can be seen when stacked behind other magazines.
Somewhere you also should print the issue number and price. Most
distributors require that UPC thing. It is often helpful to list
on the cover some of the more interesting items readers will
find inside, but this is usually overdone, and generally it helps
readers decide they don't need your publication as often as it
Artwork: I look for
publications with great artwork on the covers, which goes with
my distaste for too much information on the cover. I like to
see something provocative and expertly rendered. It's irritating
to see a cover with great artwork desecrated by a bunch of words.
There are still diehards typing their zines on typewriters, and
there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the design is clean
and easy to read. Still, for the most part getting access to
a computer and different fonts is as easy as going to your library
or copy shop. If you have a lot of text it's best to stick with
a straightforward font such as Times, Garamond or Stone. Serif
fonts are generally easier to read than Sans Serif. Titles, headlines,
lists, sidebars, pull quotes, and captions are some of the places
you can use the fancier, quirkier typefaces.
Artwork: No matter
how good a writer you are or how brilliant the articles you've
collected may be, you need to include illustrations. You can
cut them from old books and magazines or spend the energy it
takes to find good artists who will submit work, but I implore
you to dress those pages up. Have pity on us poor Philistines
who hate a publication with no pictures. Please! If your printing
is photocopy or web press, you're better off using line drawings
because these processes often darken and muddy artwork.
If you use photographs be
sure they're high-contrast. Having photo-stats made will increase
the quality of photograph reproduction, but they can be expensive
if you're working with a small or non-existent budget. Your average
scanner may improve your reproduction slightly, or it may make
it worse, while high-end computer technology will give you the
polished deal, if you know how to use it.
Overall: Get yourself
to the biggest newsstand you can find and examine the publications
you think look good. Look at the fonts they're using, how they
balance the artwork, text, and white space. Is the text in two,
three, or four columns? Do they use graphic borders? Where do
the ads fit into the design? Then look at the ones you think
suck and ask yourself the same questions. This will give you
an idea of the direction you should take and pitfalls to avoid.
Once you have the articles and stories you want to print, it's
important to edit them, not only for errors but for coherency
and brevity. The writer of that long-winded rant may be a friend
you don't wish to offend, or you may feel it's not your place
to decide if someone else's writing is unclear and sophomoric,
in which case you don't deserve to be an editor. You'll just
be a collator. You also should proofread your copy once it's
typeset and again after it's layed out. Don't let those spelling
and grammar errors get past you; they have a way of deflating
the impact of your work.
Layout: To do your
layout the old fashioned way, you'll need some Bristol board,
a ruler, Exacto knives, and rubber cement or a hand-waxer, all
of which can be purchased at any art supply store. All copy and
artwork are placed on the boards by hand; to do a clean job you'll
need practice. Of course, desktop publishing software has all
but eclipsed the need for this messy method, although some find
it less fun than getting their hands dirty and putting their
sweat into it. Quark XPress and Pagemaker are excellent programs
that, when mastered, give you the ability to make your publication
look just like the real thing.