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From Fandom to Feminism, cont'd

The punk press demonstrates that not only clothes and music can be produced cheaply and immediately from limited resources and experience. Punk zines have influenced much of the modern zine press, and their characteristics carry almost across the board. Edited by an individual or a group, punk and other types of zines contain reviews, editorials and interviews with prominent figures in the subject covered, are produced on a small scale as cheaply as possible, are stapled together and distributed either through retailers, mail order or a widespread trading economy. [Hebdige]
With the advent of desktop publishing and photocopying technology, much of the original flavor of punk zines has been lost (i.e. the typing errors, grammatical mistakes, misspellings and jumbled pagination). The original science fiction zines were most often typed and printed on lithograph machines, but most zines today are produced on a computer, a typewriter or by hand and then photocopied. Nevertheless, the widespread nature of modern zines, including the music zines, arguably the most numerous type of zine, can be credited to the do-it-yourself spirit that pervades punk and other alternative styles of music, as well as the deep human need for self-expression. [Gunderloy, 1992]
This brings us to the modern zine press. Most modern zines, devoted to various aspects of fringe culture such as cyberpunk, the Church of the Subgenius, sex and leftist politics, are greatly influenced by punk's subversive qualities. But over the past few years, zines have received a lot of mainstream press coverage, not all of it totally accurate. In a brief column that ran in Newsweek, zines were colored as overly ephemeral and focusing solely on obscure pop culture. Six zines about television and music from the 1960s, '70s and '90s were featured with the following lead: "Johnny can read—and publish. A growing youth print culture is churning out 'zines': brash, fun, cheaply made (many are photocopied) mags for fans of underground trends, sold in alternative music and book stores." [Newsweek, Jan. 18, 1993]
While one cannot contest that zines are decidedly ephemeral, many have achieved bimonthly and even monthly publication schedules and are reaching a continuously growing audience through retailers such as Barnes & Noble that employ magazine distributors including Desert Moon Periodicals, Fine Print distributors, Flatland and See Hear. As a zine editor myself, I view this exposure as healthy and good, but some zine insiders fear that the public's increasing awareness results in co-optation of the zine press by the mainstream. [Cometbus]

Of course, many zines are devoted solely to pop culture and cover such topics as Pez dispensers and bowling, but there are others that are quite issue-driven in nature. The upswelling of feminist zines within the riot grrl movement is a prime example of zines with more serious intentions. The riot grrl movement is a support group for young activist women who network through punk bands, weekly discussion groups, pen-pal friendships and more than 50 zines. [Chideya]
Most of the riot grrl zines attempt to expand the boundaries of feminist conversation through discussion of the editors' sexual exploits, the ins and outs of menstruation and feminine hygiene, and the danger of silverfish. Like punk zines, riot grrl zines exhibit the aesthetic of rough-edged, hand-written text, doodles in the margins and third-generation photocopied photographs. "The more urgent the message, the more chaotic the design." Editors of feminist zines even concede that they started their respective publications to provide an alternative to mainstream magazines. [Austin]
Other zines cover subjects that blur the lines between pop culture and political issues. A couple of zine sprouted up around the cyberpunk movement, a rough mix of the punk mentality, psychoactive drug experimentation and science fiction as expressed in the novels of William Gibson. Mondo 2000, an absolutely beautiful glossy magazine, has made the quantum leap from zinedom into being a full-fledged magazine despite the fringe nature of its editorial content. bOING bOING, another cyberpunk zine, had more underground-based material and, understandably enough, has a smaller circulation. Coverage of political and personal issues, and popular culture aside, there are zines covering absolutely everything. If a person is interested in something, there is a good chance there is a zine addressing that subject. But if people don't know about the zines, no one can get ahold of them.

The inherent underground nature of zines was reaffirmed when Factsheet Five floundered in the midst of two different publisher changes. Zine editors feared that their readership would decine without the clearing house Factsheet Five provided. Many zines expanded their individual zine review sections to fill the gap, and editors now try to be less dependent on just one publication for their networking. [Knight]
There are enough zines that contain review sections that a network will continue to exist even if the main clearing house publication ceases to print, but without Factsheet Five and other review zines like it, thousands of quality, independent magazines would go largely unnoticed, and the pool of information and opinion would dry up considerably. Zines, acting as forums for discussion and analysis, provide a brilliant alternative to mainstream periodicals while providing a valuable service to the subcultures and movements addressed in zines.
Whether they cover an aspect of pop culture or a political ideology, zines are the direct result of the drive to write and publish. Throughout the latter portion of American history, zines have continued to fill an important, if not overly visible, position in the history of periodicals. As long as there are readers and writers, people will publish. As long as manuscripts are refused by mainstream press outlets and publishers, people will publish their work themselves. Those vital, personal publications will be called zines.

Works cited

  • Austin, Bryn, "The Irreverent (Under)World of Zines," Ms., Vol. 3, No. 4, January-February 1993, p. 68.
  • Blowdryer, Jennifer, "Modern English: A Trendy Slang Dictionary," Last Gasp, San Francisco, 1985.
  • Chideya, Farai, Melissa Rossi and Dogen Hannah, "Revolution, Girl Style," Newsweek, Vol. 120, No. 21, Nov. 23, 1992, p. 84-86.
  • Cometbus, Aaron, "On 'Zines,'" Cometbus No. 29, Winter 1992-93.
  • Friedman, Seth, "Editorial," Factsheet Five No. 46.
  • Gelb, Jeff, and Bill Schelly, "Fandom's Founders: Biljo White," Comics Buyer's Guide, Vo. 23, No. 2, Jan. 8, 1993, p. 80-81.
  • Gunderloy, Mike, letter, Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, No. 77, October 1989.
  • Gunderloy, Mike, and Cari Goldberg Janice, "The World of Zines: A Guide to the Independent Magazine Revolution," Penguin Books, New York, 1992.
  • Hebdige, Dick, "Subculture: The Meaning of Style," Routledge, London, 1988.
  • Henry, Tricia, "Break All Rules!: Punk Rock and the Making of a Style," UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, 1989.
  • Knight, Les U., letter, Slam No. 3, February-March 1993, p. 4.
  • Shiach, Morag, "Discourse on Popular Culture," Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1989.
  • Shires, Ian, "Driving Force," Self-Publisher! No. 19, July 1992, p. 2.
  • Wertham, Fredric, "The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication," Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 1973.

    Reprinted from Media Diet, Spring 1997. Copyright 1997 Heath Row. Posted with permission.

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