Rita Flórez on the unique appeal of D.I.Y. publications in the age of blogs.
I've never made a zine. In fact, I only started paying attention to them about a year and a half ago when I went to an Atlanta record shop that happened to have an impressive, crowded magazine rack. I know zines were huge in the D.I.Y. 1990s, but I couldn't believe that people were still taking the time and spending the money to publish their thoughts on paper for no other reward than being heard. Isn't that why we have blogs? It occurred to me, though, that zines have the potential to be more substantial, and that the people who drive these publications are our modern-day pamphleteers: people willing to risk time and money to float their ideas wherever people will distribute them. When people decide to make zines, they aren't doing it to become famous or get rich. They're doing it for themselves, and if other people like it, great.Of course, a lot of them are total garbage. Chip Rowe, creator of Chip's Closet Cleaner and editor of The Book of Zines, says he used to spend about $100 a month looking for good ones. "I have to read 20 zines to find the one I'm going to save. But it's worth it." It hasn't always been a gamble, though. In their heyday, zines had Factsheet 5-a zine of zines that reviewed the newest editions-to help separate the wheat from the chaff. But that publication went under sometime around the end of grunge, leaving collectors no choice but to spend their cash on what might be an inferior product. Now, though, since fewer people still make zines, the ones that have lasted tend to be the more impressive ones. "Before the internet, there were [a lot of] crappy-looking zines with really bad writing," says Gavin Frederick, a distributor from Atlanta. "Now all those people have blogs, because it's cheaper. Ten years ago, print media was the only way to go about it because there was nothing else."To Pagan Kennedy, creator of Pagan's Head and author of 'Zine, blogs and sites like MySpace are just the natural extension of zine culture. "In many ways, the zine world is very much like the internet," she says. "It's just that zines happened through the mail, so it happened slowly. Even the conventions of the zine world-the personal zine, where you tell your life story-are very much like blogs and MySpace."Still, for avid zine readers like Rowe and Frederick, there's a distinction between blogs and zines. "I don't think MySpace has the zine spirit," says Rowe. "The motivation behind a zine is [personal], but you don't care about getting noticed. Print gives you many more options. If you publish it online, it's limited by the coding."And, unlike the majority of blogs, the better zines reflect something more than the ins and outs of someone's personal life. Some of them explore a topic, dissect it, and give their readers something that they can't get anywhere else. Chainbreaker, for example, is a great zine devoted to every aspect of bike culture, and On Subbing is a personal zine about the experiences of an education assistant for special-education classes in the Portland Educational System. "A lot of people are into topics that aren't covered in the mainstream," says Rowe, "and zines are just a way to get more on that subject."There's also the "Can I read it on the toilet?" factor, which print lovers argue is irreplaceable. "If it's really good artwork, there's only so much you can get out of looking at a computer screen," says Frederick. "You'd rather own a nice book or a nice bound zine rather than a stack of printouts."Rowe agrees: "There's something about being able to hand somebody a copy of your zine. There's more of a personal interaction. When I ask people what they love about reading zines, they mention that it's not just getting the zine, it's getting this note from the person who made the zine. It became a personal correspondence." Think people will be saying that about a MySpace profile 10 years from now?
Books on zines:
The Book of Zinesby Chip Rowe (Owl Books)A great primer on zines, with an emphasis on the good ones. Plus, you can see what ur-blog Boing Boing looked like as a zine, before it found a home on the internet. Stolen Sharpie Revolutionby Alex Wrekk (Microcosm)A D.I.Y. zine resource, this book explains everything from what a zine is to how to make one, and the ins and outs of distribution. Then it charges the reader to arm himself or herself with a glue stick, scissors, and a copy machine. Whatcha Mean, What's a Zine?by Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd (Graphia)Some of the bigger names in the business came together for this indie publishing how-to, with instructions on silk-screening, beating writer's block, and the best supplies.