Finding Freedom with Zines by Olivia Vittitow

What void do rebellious zines fill in the modern world of publishing?

When exploring the nature of publishing, there are many different types of print publications to consider. One that holds extreme interest to me as a current producer and consumer is the zine. In this blog post I am striving to answer one overarching question: what void do zines fill in the contemporary world of publishing? Considering that there are so many different types of publications, what are zines, how did they come to be, and what role do they take on in our society? I will be focusing on the print zines that generally fall into the art or literary categories. While typically considered a relatively new feat in the publishing world, zines are actually quite historic—one of the first being Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses,” infamously nailed to a church door in 1517.

The history of the zine makes perfect sense in relation to its unwaveringly brave and forward-thinking nature. Zines and creators of zines have placed themselves among some of the most heroic and monumental publishing figures both in history and in the modern world. But why are they so attractive to potential zine publishers? They are a (predominantly) free way to make your point of view public without the limitations that traditional publishing provides.

This being said, the nature of zines has proved in some aspects of history to be a revolt or rebel against modern beliefs or customs. Some of the zines that I am looking at for the purpose of this blog post cover topics such as feminism, religion, sex, gender, politics and other taboo topics that corporate publications often avoid for fear of controversy. Zines are the perfect example of self-publication, which is also often seen as a way to “express resistance” to a larger majority of people, and in print (obviously), so it’s sure to stick around and make a point.

So what exactly is a zine? Zines, short for magazines, are “self-publications, motivated by a desire for self-expression, not for profit,” according to the Barnard College Zine Library. Zines can also come in the form or at the least, include: journals, leaflets, mail-art, collages, bricolages (multi-dimensional collages), and detournment (incorporating present or past symbols in art). Many of these aspects, and the way that we think about the zine today was brought about by the artists of the 20th century including, Dadaist, Surrealist, Fluxus and Situationist art movements.

So why did these 20th century artists start making zines? Many movements in the 20th century were based on those important topics of controversy that I mentioned earlier, particularly the feminist movement. In the 70s, zines released by punk bands became popular. The creators of these zines stressed the importance of Do-It-Yourself culture and created the small magazines as a way to distribute their views amongst their followers. This trend exploded in the 1990s with the Riot Grrrl Movement when American Punk Bands started producing extremely feminist zines that dealt with all kinds of taboo topics. Bikini Kill and many other punk bands across the United States were coming out with manifestos encouraging their followers to create their own zines and live lives based on empowerment and strength. The culture of the 90s feminist movements never died in the zine world. In fact, these movements have shaped the definition of what constitutes as a zine today. Because of their rich feminist history, zines are predominately seen as DIY, self-published, art and poetry incorporated magazines that share a personal message or belief of its creator. There are still many people who consider themselves part of the Riot Grrrl Movement and publish zines under that persona.

What was the first real zine, and why was it made? Among the first official publication and recognized version of what we know today as the zine, was a science fiction magazine. It originated in the early 1930s and included science fiction that would then be shared and traded. Because of the trading quality, these publications were originally called “fan magazines,” then evolved into “fanzine,” but eventually the title was just shortened to “zine.”

            What does the life of the zine look like? For the most part, zines are temporary in nature, and do not tend to last beyond the first few issues, according to the Zine and E-Zine Resource Guide. Zine creators are oftentimes indecisive about subject matter, frequency of publication, and titles, which makes them hard to study and track. Zines are highly unprofessional, usually fall into a small line of circulation and are pretty much always published and distributed by their editors. Zines are often DIY creations, do not require specialized information or knowledge, are portable, low-budget, not for profit, and usually cater to a certain sub-culture or group.

If you are thinking, well this just sounds like a blog…you’re wrong, and here’s why: Blogs and zines have many of the same qualities, but are not to be mistaken for each other. Think about it, what does one need to start a blog? Usually it involves some sort of online platform to host the content. You need nothing but paper to print a zine, and if it’s an e-zine it usually comes in the form of PDF or homemade website. You are certainly not going to find zines hosted by popular blogging sites such as WordPress or Blogger. Zines are often also seen as portable, budget-able, and not instant. Blogs are exactly the opposite, you cannot take a blog wherever you want, it’s bound to the internet. Blogs are also low to no budget, whereas it takes money for paper, ink, art, etc. to print a zine. Also, blogs are based entirely around the premise that readers can access its content immediately, whereas zines take time to produce and distribute to readers.

Finally, one major difference between the two publications is that blogs are in the hands of the blogger forever and therefore can be changed whenever the blogger likes. Zines are true physical publications in the way that once they are printed and distributed, the creator cannot change its content.

So finally, what void do zines fill in the publishing market today? Zines encourage a certain amount of rebellion and exist today only because of the rich history of predecessors that created these gems of art before us. The zine is based upon a community of rebels that carve their way against the traditional publishing climate to produce a product that contains their ideas, clean of any voice from corporations that may tell them to sensor themselves. This is unlike any other publication that exists on the market. Whether it’s art, poetry, literature, comics, or politics, the messages that zine creators convey to their niche audiences are often deliberate, crisp, and un-ignorable. Zines are about getting your voice out there to a specific community, and creating something that is entirely your own. Though sometimes seen as miniscule, the zine community is full of people who are unapologetically exclaiming their beliefs to excited listeners. Jenny San Diego, creator of zine Not Sorry, says, “Now I know that this zine will not go much beyond the zine reading community, but this is where I have chosen to start and it’s something which is always better than nothing.”


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