Publishing a Fanzine
by Mike Gunderloy
from "How to Publish a Fanzine"
Fanzines are, for
most of us, just a hobby. But somewhere in the back of our minds,
at least for those of us who occasionally give vent to mildly
"subversive" words, there's always one little worry:
what if THEY don't let me publish?
For most of us, human beings that we
are, the choice is inevitable: to submit to suppression in the
hope that things will shortly get better. After all, the government
knows what it's doing, right? But some few will find themselves
pushed to the edge by censorship and resolve to fight back. In
particular, during times of intense repression, whether by a
domestic government or a foreign occupying force, some individuals
will continue publishing, and form the REAL underground press.
The power of the press is multiplied
when the competition is lessened. Major H. von Dach Bern, author
of the guerilla-warfare guide Total Resistance, says,
"Keep in mind that a typewriter is often more important
than a pistol, a reproduction machine is worth as much as a light
machine gun. On the other hand, he also says, "If, during
a search of private homes, supplies or paper and repro duction
machines are found, the inhabitants will face imprisonment or
execution," so this is not a subject to approach lightly
by any means.
To a large extent it's arrogant of me
to try and discuss this real underground press, as I've never
had to be terribly clandestine about my activities. But on the
other hand, there are people publishing even today, even in the
United States, who need to make use of security measures in order
to get their words out. For example, zines devoted to pedophilia
are increasingly the target of police activity, often in blatant
violation of their civil rights. Anarchists preaching "direct
action" have had similar problems. If you're thinking about
publishing matter that could get you arrested, perhaps I can
pass along a few hints from others in similar circumstances.
There are two basic rules to remember.
The first is that you can't trust anyone. The second is that
you can't afford to leave any evidence behind you. These are
not graven in stone, and the first, especially, will have to
be violated by, say, a resistance movement in wartime. But I'm
not concerned with getting ten thousand copies of a leaflet scattered
across occupied territory as much as with putting out 100 copies
of something that personally and graphically insults El Presidente.
With this in mind, let's look at how the two basic rules affect
putting out a zine, from initial conception through final distribution.
Assuming that you can't trust anyone,
you'll end up writing the whole thing yourself. This shouldn't
be any problem, as no one is going to get into this situation
who doesn't feel he has a lot to say. Of course, you'll have
to do your own illustrations, if any, or do without. You never
know who that artist might be talking to in his spare time.
For getting final copy ready, typesetting
is of course out of the question. One is reduced to more primitive
methods. In our current society, it is difficult to imagine any
sort of effective control over typewriters and computers being
undertaken by any oppressor. But it could happen. If your typewriter
is registered with the local police, you can't use it for typing
subversive literature. There are two alternatives. One is to
go even more low tech, and handwrite everything this only requires
procuring paper or pens and pencils. The other is to find a typewriter,
perhaps in an office, to which you have access for other, more
legitimate reasons, and use it on the sly. In any case, as soon
as the copy goes from manuscript to typescript, the original
should be destroyed. This does not, of course, mean pitching
it in the garbage can for someone else to find. It means burning
it, and stirring the ashes thoroughly so that they cannot be
pieced back together into some bit of the original. Police procedures
get more inventive all the time, so destroy things as thoroughly
as you possibly can. (See the book by Background GMBH for more
information on the battle of evidence.)
Comes time to print this stuff, once
again you must remember that you can't trust anyone. This, at
once, rules out all methods of printing that require a printshop.
It probably also rules out home copiers, as someone is bound
to notice that you're buying toner and other chemicals in large
quantities. Ditto machines and mimeographs are the way to go,
and my preference would be for the former, as it is smaller and
requires less supplies to operate. A ditto machine can be run
on grain or wood alcohol if only you have had the foresight to
lay in a stock of master sheets before the crunch. A mimeo requires
ink, which is potentially subject to much tighter controls, although
making your own ink is possible. In either case, the master should
be destroyed as soon as the press run is finished. If you need
to reprint, you can always make another master. The destruction
must include the backing sheet of the mimeo stencil or the carbon
sheet of the ditto master, as either of these will easily reveal
what has been typed.
A problem with these machines is that
the kachunka-kachunka noises which they make are quite distinctive
and thus easily recognized by anyone who has heard them in the
past. If you are in close proximity to other people, some sort
of noise cover may be needed. Run your radio full blast in the
next room; arrange for a large truck idling in front of your
house; or get a confederate to do some noisy wood or metal work
as you print. The problem with these latter two methods is that
they bring other people into the big picture. An alternative,
if you have a closed vehicle such as a van available, is to drive
the press out to a remote area and print where you can't be overheard.
Of course, this again becomes very difficult if the machine you're
using requires electricity, or if gasoline is tightly rationed.
Mailing is right out under these circumstances
it's too dangerous for you and for the recipient. Some sort of
hand distribution system is essential. The basic method to use
is to pass the zine along to people you trust directly, while
intimating that you yourself got it from someone else. At the
end of the zine, there should be a request for the reader to
pass it on to someone else trusted this will maximize your circulation,
although it, of course, also increases the chance of a copy falling
into the wrong hands. But the latter outcome can scarcely be
avoided, which is why you must be very careful to be untraceable.
For wider, random distribution, several
subterfuges are available. The boldest move is to put on a postal
uniform and stuff copies in mailboxes as you go down the street.
Another possibility is to buy a newspaper from a vending machine
and leave fifty copies of your own paper behind in the box. A
third means of distribution is to leave a stack atop a tall building,
letting the wind distribute them as you leave.
Finally, if you're seriously thinking
of dangerous propaganda in an occupation situation, you should
consider posters instead of newspaper. Posters can be seen by
people who don't care to carry subversive literature, and thus
garner a wider audience. Perhaps the cleverest idea is to make
mini-posters modifying the official one. These can range from
a simple "ALL LIES" to long diatribes against the Glorious
Leader or whoever. Self-adhesive stock is readily available today,
and can be printed on by any of the methods we have discussed.
Failing this, there's always plain paper and flour paste. Just
make sure that you're not noticed as you sidle up to the Big
Brother poster with the sticker that says "Sisterhood is
Copyright 1988 Mike
Gunderloy. Posted with permission. To download "How to Publish
a Fanzine," click here.
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