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Zine Rebel, Zine Elvis...
or something in between?
A state-of-zining address
by Jeff Somers, The Inner Swine

First off, let me thank you for buying this zine and for reading this article. Out of all the articles in this zine, most of which are better, you're reading this one. And of all the other zines out there, you chose mine. Lord knows why.
Every issue of this zine is pretty much the same as the last: I ruminate crankily about subjects I know little if anything about, make a few lame jokes, and spruce it all up with stolen fonts and clip art. But, you made some sort of effort to acquire this issue, and then you turned to this page and by God, you're still reading! So, thank you, anonymous reader.
Friends, every now and then I am unfortunately compelled to pull my squinty, mushroom-pale face out of my cavernous (but wondrous!) ass and write about something other than myself. No! Wait! Really! I'm not kidding! Just keep reading, and I'll prove it. Today's subject is Zines, and the wacky personalities that feel compelled to produce them. It seems to me that above the other categories of zines (Review Zines, Punk Zines, etc.) you can divide all the ziners out there into three basic categories: Shock Jocks, Movementeers, and plain old Writers.
Now, everyone is a beautiful individual snowflake and I can't fit every zine, or every zine publisher, into one of these categories. But I do believe that in general, we're all one of them. Maybe I'm wrong. But that's okay, I'm still filling some empty space in this issue, so it's all good, baby! As with everything in this weakly written rag, this is all idle speculation on my part, based solely on the issues of zines people have deigned to mail me for free and the ongoing posts in alt.zines, where I continue to hang around like that kid who graduated high school three years ago who still shows up at the football games, trying to pick up the cheerleaders.
The Shock Jocks are those amongst our DIY brood who think they're the first people in the world who have dared to use cuss words and scatological humor. They tend to spend their time trying to, well, shock you. I tend to assume most of the purveyors of this sort of zine are teenagers, but that's not necessarily true. In this jaded day and age, of course, the moment any of your audience detect an attempt to shock, they generally put up their blasé attitude and shrug, so its kind of a futile effort. This isn't to say that Shock Jocks can't or don't write well, or don't often produce really interesting or funny work. But their main goal is to jolt, is to be outrageous. They give their zines titles like I'd Anally Rape Your Grandmother for Pocket Change and write articles about the different types of shits they've taken. Then they mail the issues out and sit up at night waiting for someone to tell them how sick and twisted they are, so they can feel smarter than everyone else. Or so it seems to me.
More frightening and usually less entertaining are the Movementeers, who believe that zines are part of some sort of underground revolution. These are the people who happily call you names when you add a UPC to your cover, or agree to be distroed at Tower Records. Their zines are not so much creative efforts as they are propaganda for whatever underground they perceive themselves to be a part of, and as such can be a little dry, and a little cranky, filled with endless railing against people like me who shrug in boredom whenever confronted by their manifestos.
It can be difficult to tell from the outside that a zine is a Movementeer product; they have the same look and feel as any other zine. Certainly if you bought it in a book store, chances are it's not, since Movementeers would never sink so low as to be coopted by the System. If the title is too subtle, scan the TOC; Movementeer product tends to include at least one screed against a zinester who 'betrayed' the underground and DIY ethic either by ‘selling out' to a distributor or by ‘buying in' to the mainstream, usually by taking on paying writing jobs. If the zine in question includes articles like that, the chance that you've got Movementeer product is high, and you should put it down unless reading about how lame a sellout you are is somehow entertaining.
Finally, there are Writers, and I put myself into this group. We generally have no interest in shocking people, and we generally don't consider ourselves members of some underground movement or revolution. Oh, we might believe in the DIY spirit, we might detest corporate America and we might turn down more lucrative sponsorship deals before 9 a.m. than you do all day, but that isn't why we're writing, bubba. We write because we like to write, and instead of sitting around waiting to be discovered by the clueless and disinterested literati of the world we're publishing ourselves and loving it. The main reason our zines exist is to get our writing in typeset form.
The Writers are usually much more concerned with creating new things than with preaching or selling issues or outraging their audience. We may or may not be ambitious about becoming the next David Foster Wallace, we may or may not have grandiose personal visions about where our zine activities are leading, but the main identifying feature is that we write. Our zines are predominantly filled with our material. Each issues is filled with stuff written specifically for that issue, not just leftover college Creative Writing 103 compositions and some random filler like half-assed reviews or pages and pages of clip-art montages rendered unreadable by the magic of Xerox. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Of course, there are those pesky Review Zines, which exist primarily to review other people's zines. I wouldn't put them in with the Movementeers, because most of them spend their pages reviewing zines, not wheezing on about their political views. They're obviously not Shock Jock product, although I guess there might be some Shock-Review zines out there, I just haven't seen any. Personally, I lump these in with the Writers, because they do fill each issue with their own material. Possibly they deserve their own separate category, but as I am sure the international zine community is not waiting breathlessly for this article in order to make its recommendations to the U.N., I'll table that for a later page-eating filler article. Muhahahaha!
So now that I've wasted our time with my own pet theory about zinesters, what was the point again? Mainly, I was musing about how often zines simply disappear, and this three-category theory evolved from there. Let's face it, almost as soon as a pasty middlebrow white boy like me hears about a famous, wickedly incisive zine, it's ceased publication, and its wunderkind author is 34 and working full time for Comedy Central, or something. Sure, some zines go on forever, but they are definitely the exceptions. Most zines flash into existence, burn brightly (or not-so-brightly, but I'm not naming names; I've got enough flame wars going on right now. I don't need one more) and then disappear, often before the third issue. Hell, often before the second issue.
Of course, some of the reasons for this are easy: a lot of zinesters are teenagers, or college students, and their zines are products of that particular period in their lives: the angst, the drugs, the free time. Especially the free time. Times change, they move on to other things, and lots of factors conspire to strangle a zine: their co-conspirators are no longer down the block or down the hall, their mission in life changes (you can't really do a zine about how badly Harrison High School sucks when you're twenty-two years old and working full time at the Piggly Wiggly, after all), they very simply don't have as much time to sit around their room smoking pot and writing about how badly it all hurts.
Sometimes, believe it or not, zines actually go big-time. Wired, after all, was once considered a zine. Arguments continue about Bust and a selection of other titles that now get as much magazine rack space as Playboy and accept advertising from Budweiser. I guess when you've got a circulation of 25,000 and you have to actually hire people to help you, it just ain't a zine any more. And, of course, some people do their zine just to get some attention, and the moment that Associate Editor position at Putnam opens up, they shut down the web site.
Success kills zines so often, it almost makes you want to be a Movementeer. However, I believe that some of it simply has to do with the why - which brings us back to our three categories, believe it or not. The motivation behind a zine can be elusive, ephemeral. It's a lot of work to put out something that half the people will be bored by and the other half largely scornful of, and holding onto your motivation can be difficult. The Shock Jocks lose a lot of steam, I think, when they realize that every dirty joke and inflammable statement they make has been made before, and everyone hits an age when being outrageous starts to lose its appeal, and being taken seriously starts to look good. Or so I've been told. The Movementeers get just as easily disillusioned when they discover that so few people want to hear their spiel. Besides, their scorn for 95 percent of us usually means they don't try very hard to gain us as audience members, and we should probably be thankful for that.
The Writers, of course, usually get some mainstream attention and start getting paid for their writing, which makes it hard to keep putting out a zine. One, zines are largely non-profit deals. Two, zines are largely small-scale affairs. If Viking is going to publish your first novel and print a first run of two million copies, the zine just starts to look like a waste of time. Now, of course there are exceptions to these assumptions. Some Shock Jocks never grow up, or evolve into Writers and just keep going. Some Movementeers don't discourage easily, or don't see any reason to be discouraged, and fight on. And some Writers like the total freedom of zines, and keep plugging them out while they work at their day jobs shilling for major magazines. But I think that every zine that fades away does so because of one of the above reasons. And pretty much all you get in this zine is what I think, so there.
Now, this is where I speculate on my own future. While I doubt that I am the Faulkner of my generation and am destined for greatness, or even income, as a writer, I do hope to be widely published and reprinted. Why? Certainly not so I can be a Media Whore like Tom Wolfe in his disturbingly white Pimp Wardrobe. Mainly because the more widely my works are distributed, the better my chances of being remembered after I die. It's that simple. I love to write, too, and if I had an income from writing and could quit my day job, I'd be able to do more writing, yippee! So I do strive for commercial publishing success.
What happens if it comes? I've been publishing The Inner Swine for more than five years now, and this is issue number 20. If I have a bestseller that gets made into a box office smash, will I stop publishing my zine? Honestly, I don't think so. I enjoy the freedom too much, I enjoy the ego-stroking. I enjoy forcing myself to come up with these sloppy little articles that are more fun than accurate or well-reasoned. And my Ego will never be satisfied with mere fame and fortune. Where else can I refer to myself as His Royal Highness Jeff Somers? That's right, nowhere.

Copyright 2000 Jeff Somers. This column originally appeared in the Inner Swine. Posted with permission.

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