Raw Material

Whatcha Mean What's a Zine?

Excerpted from The Book of Zines

Most zines suck. There's no nice way to say it. The truism coined by Theodore Sturgeon applies: Ninety percent of everything is crap. Most people forget what Sturgeon said about the remaining 10 percent. He said it was worth dying for.
I'm dying! Zines (pronounced "zeens," from fanzines) are cut-and-paste, "sorry this is late," self-published magazines reproduced at Kinko's or on the sly at work and distributed through mail order and word of mouth. They touch on sex, music, politics, television, movies, work, food, whatever. They're Tinkertoys for malcontents. They're obsessed with obsession. They're extraordinary and ordinary. They're about strangeness but since it's usually happening somewhere else you're kind of relieved. You can get to know people pretty well through their zines, which are always more personal and idiosyncratic than glossy magazines because glossies and the celebrities they worship are so busy being well known.
Most zine editors can recall the moment they first saw Factsheet Five, the zine that reviews zines, and asked themselves (1) that's what I've been doing? or, more likely, (2) I can do that, and why not? Everyone cleared space on their kitchen tables, and estimates flew like confetti—10,000 zines, 50,000 zines, a million readers. Nobody knows. A zine dies, a zine grows. Over the years since I assembled the first issue of Chip's Closet Cleaner and sent copies to my puzzled relatives, I've exchanged zines and letters and e-mail with hundreds of underground publishers and found we share the same desire—the same need—to create. Factsheet Five used to ask its readers a deceptively simple question, "Why publish?" and always received passionate (if sometimes long-winded) responses.
Most zines suck, but you find that golden 10 percent and you're hooked for life. Found mine.

Chip Rowe