Factsheet Five

zine [zeen] (short for magazine or fanzine) is a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via a copy machine. A fanzine (blend of fan and magazine) is a non-professional and non-official publication produced by enthusiasts of a particular cultural phenomenon (such as a literary or musical genre) for the pleasure of others who share their interest.

The term ‘zine’ was coined in an 1940 science fiction fanzine by Russ Chauvenet and popularized within science fiction fandom, entering the Oxford English Dictionary in 1949. Zines have served as a medium for various subcultures, and frequently draw inspiration from a DIY ethos that disregards traditional publishing conventions.

Popularly defined within a circulation of 1,000 or fewer copies, in practice many zines are produced in editions of fewer than 100. Handwritten zines, or carbon zines, are individually made, emphasizing a personal connection between creator and reader, turning imagined communities into embodied ones. Zines have cultural and academic value as tangible evidence of marginal communities, many of which are otherwise little-documented. This has been reflected in the creation of zine archives and related programming in such mainstream institutions as the Tate museum and the British Library.

Written in a variety of formats from desktop-published text to comics, collages and stories, zines cover broad topics including fanfiction, politics, poetry, art and design, ephemera, personal journals, social theory, intersectional feminism, single-topic obsession, or sexual content far outside the mainstream enough to be prohibitive of inclusion in more traditional media. (An example of the latter is Boyd McDonald’s ‘Straight to Hell,’ which reached a circulation of 20,000.)

Dissidents and members of socially marginalized groups have published their own opinions in leaflet and pamphlet form for as long as such technology has been available. The concept of zines had an ancestor in the amateur press movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, which would in its turn cross-pollinate with the subculture of science fiction fandom in the 1930s. The popular graphic-style associated with zines is influenced artistically and politically by the subcultures of Dada, Fluxus, Surrealism, and Situationism.

Many trace zines’ lineage from as far back as Thomas Paine’s exceptionally popular 1775 pamphlet ‘Common Sense,’ Benjamin Franklin’s literary magazine for psychiatric patients at a Pennsylvania hospital, and ‘The Dial’ (1840–44) by Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

During and after the Great Depression, editors of ‘pulp’ science fiction magazines became increasingly frustrated with letters detailing the impossibilities of their science fiction stories. Over time they began to publish these overly-scrutinizing letters, complete with their return addresses. Hugo Gernsback published the first science fiction magazine, ‘Amazing Stories’ in 1926, and allowed for a large letter column which printed reader’s addresses. By 1927 readers, often young adults, would write to each other, bypassing the magazine.

Zinesters like Lisa Ben and Jim Kepner honed their talents in the science fiction fandom before tackling gay rights, creating zines such as ‘Vice Versa’ and ‘ONE’ that drew networking and distribution ideas from their SF roots. A number of leading science fiction and fantasy authors rose through the ranks of fandom, creating ‘pro-zines’ such as Frederik Pohl and Isaac Asimov. The first science fiction fanzine, ‘The Comet,’ was published in 1930 by the Science Correspondence Club in Chicago and edited by Raymond A. Palmer and Walter Dennis. The first version of Superman (a bald-headed villain) appeared in the third issue of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s 1933 fanzine ‘Science Fiction.’

The first media fanzine was a ‘Star Trek’ fan publication called ‘Spockanalia,’ published in 1967. Some of the earliest examples of academic fandom were written on Star Trek zines, specifically K/S (Kirk/Spock) slash zines, which featured a gay relationship between the two. Author Joanna Russ wrote in her 1985 analysis of K/S zines that slash fandom at the time consisted of around 500 core fans and was 100% female. Russ observed that while SF fans looked down on ‘Star Trek’ fans, ‘Star Trek’ fans looked down on K/S writers. Kirk/Spock zines contained fanfiction, artwork, and poetry created by fans. Zines were then sent to fans on a mailing list or sold at conventions. Many had high production values and some were sold at convention auctions for hundreds of dollars.

Several fans active in science fiction and comics fandom recognized a shared interest in rock music, and the rock fanzine was born. Paul Williams and Greg Shaw were two such SF-fans turned rock zine editors. Williams’ ‘Crawdaddy!’ (1966) and Shaw’s two California-based zines, ‘Mojo Navigator Rock’ and ‘Roll News’ (1966) and ‘Who Put the Bomp’ (1970), are among the most popular early rock fanzines.

‘Crawdaddy!’ quickly moved from its fanzine roots to become one of the first rock music ‘prozines’ with paid advertisers and newsstand distribution. ‘Bomp’ remained a fanzine, featuring many writers who would later become prominent music journalists, including Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Ken Barnes, Ed Ward, Dave Marsh, Mike Saunders, and R. Meltzer as well as cover art by Jay Kinney and Bill Rotsler (both veterans of SF and Comics fandom).

Punk zines emerged as part of the punk subculture in the late 1970s, along with the increasing accessibility to copy machines, publishing software, and home printing technologies. Punk became a genre for the working class because of the economic necessity to use creative DIY methods, echoed in both zine and Punk music creation.

The punk subculture in the United Kingdom spearheaded a surge of interest in fanzines as a countercultural alternative to established print media.mThe first and still best known UK ‘punk zine’ was ‘Sniffin’ Glue,’ produced by Deptford punk fan Mark Perry which ran for 12 photocopied issues; the first issue produced by Perry immediately following (and in response to) the London debut of The Ramones the fourth of July 1976.

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 (personal zines, a proto blog) of all varieties to those that covered an assortment of different and obscure topics. Genres reviewed by Factsheet Five included quirky, medley, fringe, music, punk, grrrlz, personal, science fiction, food, humour, spirituality, politics, queer, arts & letters, comix.

The riot grrrl movement emerged from the DIY Punk subculture in tandem with the American era of third-wave feminism, and used the consciousness-raising method of organizing and communication. As feminist documents, they follow a longer legacy of feminist and women’s self-publication that includes scrapbooking, periodicals and health publications, allowing women to circulate ideas that would not otherwise be published.

The American publication ‘Bikini Kill’ (1990) introduced the ‘Riot Grrrl Manifesto’ in their second issue as a way of establishing space. Zinesters Erika Reinstein and May Summer founded the Riot Grrrl Press to serve as a zine distribution network that would allow riot grrrls to ‘express themselves and reach large audiences without having to rely on the mainstream press.’ Girls use this grassroots medium to discuss their personal lived experiences, and themes including body image, sexuality, gender norms, and violence to express anger, and reclaim/refigure femininity.

With the rise of the Internet in the mid-1990s, zines initially faded from public awareness possibly due to the ability of private web-pages to fulfill much the same role of personal expression. Indeed, many zines were transformed into Webzines, such as Boing Boing or monochrom. The metadata standard for cataloging zines is xZineCorex, which maps to Dublin Core. E-zine creators were originally referred to as ‘adopters’ because of their use of pre-made type and layouts, making the process less ambiguous. Since, social media, blogging and vlogging have adopted a similar do-it-yourself publication model.

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