Zines: An Anti-History
By Christina Vines
What is a zine? Merriman-Webster defines a zine as, “a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.” Wikipedia claims a zine is, “a small circulation self-published work of original and/or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier.” A zine can be all of these things, but it is also be so much more than what these brief definitions imply. A zine is one of the most ambiguous forms of media that exists. A zine is a forum for its creators to write, illustrate, compile, or imply whatever they feel like sharing with their audience. It can be an entertaining comic book or a fiery political manifesto. It can be a manual for do-it-yourself bike repair, or a cookbook featuring 50 different ways to prepare carrots. A zine is whatever the creator wants it to be, and that is why zines are so great.
The “history” of zines is almost as ambiguous as zines themselves. Because zines are a form of underground and alternative media, it is impossible to trace and relate them accurately within mainstream history. Zines are usually traced back to the fanzine, a specific genre of zines created by fans of cultural phenomena and aimed at readers with similar interests. Due to this fact, early self-published political publications are sometimes overlooked, despite the fact that a significant portion of the current “zine scene” is dedicated to discussion of political topics. For example, when outlining zine history, it has been suggested that science fiction fanzines were the early form of zines which maintained popularity from the late 1930’s through the 1960’s, followed by punk fanzines in the 1970’s. The fact that sci-fi or punk fanzines were popular during the proposed time periods doesn’t necessarily mean that they were the only significant zines circulating at the time. At the very least, certainly there must have been a sizable amount of self-published pamphlets and booklets during the 1960’s Vietnam War protests which were just as much “zines” as any fanzine.
What we CAN definitively say about zines is that they are growing and changing every day. There are now zines for almost any topic you can think of. If you can’t find one about something that interests you, you can just make one yourself because they are incredibly easy to make and cheap to produce. Zines come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and mediums. Though still predominantly fabricated on photocopiers, many zines now feature more complex techniques such as letterpress and screen printing. Zines are handed out to small groups of friends and featured at local infoshops, but are also available for purchase on the internet and are catalogued in zine libraries. While they are still undoubtedly a do-it-yourself underground media medium, zines are now more accessible than ever.
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