Text from the zine the MCA commissioned me to make for the Zine Fair, 2008.
What is a Zine?
A zine (an abbreviation of the word magazine; pronounced “zeen”) is most commonly a small circulation, non-commercial publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest.
A popular definition includes that circulation must be 5,000 or less and the intention of the publication is not primarily to raise a profit.
Zines are written in a variety of formats, from computer-printed text to comics to handwritten text. Print remains the most popular zine format, usually photo-copied with a small circulation. Topics covered are broad, including fanfiction, politics, art and design, ephemera, personal journals, social theory, single topic obsession, or sexual content far enough outside of the mainstream to be prohibitive of inclusion in more traditional media. The time and materials necessary to create a zine are seldom matched by revenue from sale of zines. Small circulation zines are often not explicitly copyrighted and there is a strong belief among many zine creators that the material within should be freely distributed. In recent years a number of photocopied zines have risen to professional status and have found wide bookstore distribution. Highly notable among these are Giant Robot, Bust, and Maximum RocknRoll.
A Little History...
Since the invention of the printing press (if not before), dissidents and marginalized citizens have published their own opinions in leaflet and pamphlet form. Thomas Paine published an exceptionally popular pamphlet titled “Common Sense” that led to insurrectionary revolution. Paine is considered to be a significant early independent publisher and a zinester in his own right, but then, the mass media as we now know it did not exist. A countless number of obscure and famous literary figures would self-publish at some time or another, sometimes as children (often writing out copies by hand), sometimes as adults.
The exact origins of the name “zine” and the moment when the word was first used are controversial. In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin also started a literary magazine for psychiatric patients at a Pennsylvania hospital, which was distributed amongst the patients and hospital staff. This could be considered the first zine, since it captures the essence of the philosophy and meaning of zines. The concept of zines clearly had an ancestor in the amateur press movement (a major preoccupation of H. P. Lovecraft), which would in its turn cross-pollinate with the subculture of science fiction fandom in the 1930s.
During and after the depression, editors of “pulps” became increasingly frustrated with letters detailing the impossibility of their science fiction story. Over time they began to publish these overly-scrutinizing letters, complete with return addresses. This caused these fans to begin writing to each other, now complete with a mailing list for their own science fiction fanzines.
Fanzines enabled fans to write not only about science fiction but about fandom itself and, in soi dissant perzine (i.e. personal zine), about themselves. As the Damien Broderick novel Transmitters (1984) shows, unlike other, isolated, self-publishers, the more “fannish” (fandom-oriented) fanzine publishers had a shared sensibility and at least as much interest in their relationships between fans as in the literature that inspired it.
The punk zines that emerged as part of the punk movement in the late 1970s. These started in the UK and the U.S.A. and by March 1977 had spread to other countries such as Ireland. Such punk zines changed the face of zine-making. Created almost entirely by people who had never heard of fandom, they owed nothing to their predecessors. Simultaneously, cheap photocopying had made it easier than ever for anyone who could make a band flyer to make a zine.
During the 1980s and onwards, Factsheet Five (the name came from a short story by John Brunner), originally published by Mike Gunderloy and now defunct, catalogued and reviewed any zine or small press creation sent to it, along with their mailing addresses. In doing so, it formed a networking point for zine creators and readers (usually the same people). The concept of zine as an art form distinct from fanzine and of the “zinesters” as member of their own subculture, had emerged. Zines of this era ranged from perzines of all varieties to those which covered an assortment of different and obscure topics which web sites (such as Wikipedia) might cover today but for which no large audience existed in the pre-internet era.
The early 1990s riot grrrl scene encouraged an explosion of zines of a more raw and explicit, more confrontational and definitely more gender-balanced (until this time, males tended to make up the majority of zinesters) nature. Following this, zines enjoyed a brief period of attention from conventional media and a number of zines were collected and published in book form.
Zines faded from public awareness in the late 1990’s. It can be argued that this was the natural course of a declining fad, though it can also be stated with some justification that the sudden growth of the internet, and the ability of private web-pages to fulfill much the same role of personal expression, was a stronger contributor to their pop culture expiration. Indeed, many zines were transformed into websites, such as Boingboing.
After 1997, now out of the limelight, zines have been adopted by those particularly attached to the print medium; for artistic expressions not replicable on a computer, functional purposes (a zine is innately more portable than a computer), or for subcultural reasons.
Zines continue to be popular. Currently “zines” are important to the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement. Recently galvanizing social issues such as globalization, environmentalism, media conglomeration, American imperialism and consumerism have been addressed within the pages of zines. Not all zines endorse any particular ideology. Current trends are easing back towards obsessive fan culture about a specific topic as the personal zines are starting to dwindle in numbers, replaced primarily by blogging.DistrosZines are often distributed through secondary circuits, such as: trade, zine symposia, record stores, concerts, independent media outlets, mailings, or zine “distros.” Many zines are distributed for free or cost less than $1.00 and rarely more than $5.00. Webzines are to be found in many places on the Internet.Zines are most often obtained through mailorder distributors. There are many cataloged and online based mailorder distros for zines. Some of the longer running and more stable operations include Last Gasp in San Francisco, Parcell Press in Richmond, VA, Microcosm Publishing in Bloomington, IN, Loop Distro in Chicago, Great Worm Express Distribution in Toronto, and in the UK All That Glitters in Nottingham, and CornDog Publishing in Ipswich. Zine distros often have websites which you can place orders on. Because these are small scale DIY projects run by an individual or small group, they often close after only a short time of operation. Those that have been around the longest are often the most dependable. Several bookstores stock zines. Notable examples include Pulp Books King Street, Sydney; Reading Frenzy in Portland; Needles and Pens in San Francisco; Quimby’s in Chicago; Mac’s Backs Paperbacks in Cleveland, OH; Arise Books in Minneapolis; Boxcar Books in Bloomington, IN; Wooden Shoe Books in Philadelphia; Civic Media Center in Gainesville, FL; Bluestockings in NYC; Five in Charleston, SC; Brian MacKenzie Infoshop in Washington, DC; and Book Beat & Co. in Oklahoma City, OK.
For a pretty comprehensive list of North America specific zine distros and stockists visit: http://www.undergroundpress.org/distros.htmlAussie Distros
Breakdown Press, Melbourne: http://www.breakdownpress.org/
Flock Books, Sydney: http://www.arc.unsw.edu.au/cofa/artStore.aspx
Polyester Book Store, Melbourne
Paint it Black Record Store, Sydney http://www.paintitblackrecords.com/
In Melbourne they are really, really lucky to have the Sticky Institute!
This amazing place stocks zines from all over the country and overseas. If you like zines then this place is for you! -Next time you’re in Melbourne make sure you visit this magical place- it’s in the Degraves Subway, right next to Flinders Street Station.
www.stickyinstitute.comLibrariesMany major libraries carry zines and other small press publications, usually ones that are relevant to a local or special interest section.
In Australia there are:
• National Library of Australia, Canberra (www.nla.gov.au) zine collection has a fairly extensive collection of zines, the majority of which have been received on legal deposit. The strength of the library’s zine collection is in the area of Australian science fiction fanzines, particularly those from the 1970s to the 1980s, although dating back to the 1950s; in this area the Library’s collection benefited significantly from the donation of the Susan Smith-Clarke Fanzine Collection.
o ‘Fanzines in the National Library’ (www.nla.gov.au/pub/gateways/archive/33/33.html#fanzines)
o Susan Smith-Clarke Fanzine Collection (www.nla.gov.au/collect/s-clarke.html)
• State Library of Victoria, Melbourne (www.slv.vic.gov.au)
o An extensive zine collection with a particular focus on post-2000 zines, with additional coverage of zines from the 1990s through the Eloise Peace zine collection
• Copy and Destroy Zine Library, Visible Ink, Fortitute Valley, Brisbane (www.visible-ink.org/)
• Octopod Zine Library, Newcastle (http://www.octapod.org/) holds the largest community-owned zine in Australia, ~2-3000
Three major US examples are the Salt Lake City Public Library, Multnomah County Library in Portland, and the San Francisco Public Library. There is also a moderate sized collection at the Ypsilanti District Library in Michigan. Furthermore, zine collections may be housed within a university library, usually in the Special Collections Department.
There also exist libraries devoted entirely to zine production and/or archiving. Examples in the United States are:
the ABC No Rio Zine Library in NYC
the Chicago Underground Library
the Denver Zine Library
the Zine Archive and Publishing Project in Seattle, Washington
the Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts
the Independent Publishing Resource Center, a Portland, Oregon zine library and resource for writing and distributing zines. CanadaIn Canada, there are:
Bibliograph/e in Montréal
the Toronto Zine Library
the Welland Zine Library (11 Ascot Ct., Welland Ontario, Canada, L3C 6K7) the Anchor Archive Zine Library-
I visited this place when I was in Canada last year and it is incredible and run by the nicest sorts. It’s worth a pilgrimage there!
(5684 Roberts Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada) the Hamilton Zine Library (27 King William St Hamilton Ontario)
Mobil Livre [Book Mobile]- This is an old air stream trailer, fitted out with shelves and many, many zines!- Its beautiful. They travel around North America gathering zines and acting as a mobile zine library! I managed to catch them in Philadelphia outside a venue one night. They are based in Montreal, Canada- hence the Francophone name.
http://www.mobilivre.org/Zine FairsThe Emerging Writers’ Festival’s annual Independent Press and Zine Fair held each May in Melbourne, which is an offshoot of Express Media’s Make It Up zine fair.
The National Young Writers’ Festival’s annual Sunday Artists’ Market & Zine Fair, which is held as a major part of the world-renowned This is Not Art festival in Newcastle, NSW.
Lately there have been a chunk of zine fairs happening around such places as: The Pine Street Community Centre in Chippendale, Jura Anarchist Bookshop, Parramatta Road, Penrith Regional Gallery and also weekly DIY market at Club Consolador de dos Caras @ La Campana in the Spanish quarter- Every Wednesday night from 8pm.
In the United States:
24 Hour Zine Thing
Philly Zine Fest
San Francisco Zine Festival
Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco, California.
Portland Zine Symposium in Portland, Oregon.
Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Boston Zine Fair, formerly known as Beantown Zinetown.
Madison Zine Fest in Madison, Wisconsin.
Ephemera Festival in Chicago Ephemera Festival
In Canada, the largest annual event is Canzine in Toronto and Vancouver, organized by the publishers of Broken Pencil. Expozine is also held annually in Montréal- this is a 2-day zine fair with over 150 stallholders- it’s HUGE!!! I was there last year and met a bunch of fantastic zine makers!
North of Nowhere (NoN) Expo is held in Edmonton.
In the United Kingdom, there are:
London Zine Symposium, which in 2006 was held in an autonomous social centre.
Manchester Zine Fest.
In Europe there is the Zinefest Mülheim in Mülheim an der Ruhr, GermanyZines in MoviesThe main character of a Canadian television show produced by the CBC called Our Hero, Kale Stiglic (Cara Pifko) created her own zine.
Damien Broderick’s novel Transmitters follows a small group of Australian science fiction fans through their lives over several decades. Pastiches of fanzine writing (from fictitious fanzines) form some of the text of the novel.
In the novel Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, the main character John begins writing a zine called Bananafish after reading other people’s zines he found at Tower Records. One of these zines is written by a girl named Marisol who writes a zine called Escape Velocity. After reading her zine, John decides to meet her and their friendship grows from there.
Lunch Money, a children’s book by Andrew Clements, has sixth-grader Greg Kenton creating and selling mini comic books, as a way to make money, which leads to one of his classmates making her own publication.
In the Nickelodeon cartoon show Rocket Power, one of main cast characters, Reggie, publishes her own zine, which she uses to expose embarrassing dirt on her brother, Otto and friend, Twister. In this way she is able to get back at them for mercilessly teasing her.
Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing is a semi-fictional depiction of the anarcho-punk and riot grrrl scene in early 90s Washington, DC
Zines in Books