The Counter Culture and
the Underground Press
by Stephen Perkins
The history of the underground press includes
some areas that I consider pertinent in relation to zines from
First of all the
underground press, was indeed just that, a press (albeit an alternative
one). Many of its publications utilized newsprint formats, and
offset printing techniques, with the printing runs measuring
in the thousands rather than in the hundreds. While much of the
work in putting together the papers could be done in peoples'
homes, studios and apartments, the final production invariably
involved being taken out of the living situation and out to the
The number of people
involved in gathering information, writing articles, and generally
coordinating the production of an issue was significantly more
than the equivalent number involved in artists' self-publishing.
The impetus and idealism that fueled the underground press was
the goal of providing another voice, one which was a partisan
viewpoint for the emerging counter culture, and its opposition
to the corporate and establishment media.
press was just one part of the matrix that constituted the so-called
counter culture. With its antecedents in the mid-50s it would
spring to full force by the early sixties, fanned by a generation
of youth not willing to accept the social, political and cultural
status quo. Drugs, rock music, the war in Vietnam, and racial
inequality were just part of the volatile mix that would alienate
many from the dominant 'establishment' culture, into the search
for and the construction of, a more authentic culture that reflected
the concerns of this generation in revolt.
press played an important part in speaking for and networking
these disparate groups across the country. The rapid increase
in the numbers of alternative newspapers (nationally and internationally),
as the decade wore on, provides clear evidence of the vital part
they played in disseminating information and ideas, and linking
communities who subscribed to common ideals.
Towards the end
of the '60s and into the early '70s as the counter culture loses
its earlier coherence, there's a noticeable move towards underground
newspapers concerning themselves with the issues of particular
communities, both geographically and interest wise. This had
happened before, but with the increased fragmentation of the
counter culture, local concerns took on a new importance.
In England this
can be seen more clearly with the rise of community presses,
as collectives formed within the cities and groups decamped into
the country. Community presses engaged and mobilized around issues
that affected their immediate community, within a broader web
of national and oppositional media.
The pertinent points
from the experiences of the underground press and the counter
culture in general and their relevance to zines in the 80's can
be stated by the following:
- In combination with the underground press the youth movement
had decisively carved out an arena of social space within the
larger culture that they could claim as their own, a counter
culture or a parallel culture that offered an alternative to
the dominant values of the establishment.
- Music played a vital part in delineating the territory of
the counter culture and indeed might be defined as one of the
rallying points of the broader cultural opposition.
- Drugs and their influence on the artistic output of this
period cannot be underestimated in delineating a break with previous
- Closely connected to the above is the renaissance of poster
art for music events (closely related to this would be designs
for LP covers), and coupled to these two vigorous emerging visual
forms are the political graphics and posters of this period.
- As in many areas of the counter culture, old conventions
were discarded as new solutions attempted, this is nowhere more
clearly seen in the layout, design and typographic experimentation
that took place within the pages of the underground press.
- And finally the importance of the underground press in helping
to create, by disseminating visual and written material that
helped foster, sustain and network an international movement,
and in some of its later manifestations to play an active and
participatory role within specific local communities.
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