Zines: Scrambled documents for a choatic age?

Here’s a blog post I wrote a few years ago for Grassroots Feminism that I thought I’d repost here:

Zines are a particularly favourite form of media for me. I think it has something to do with the immediacy of the format: that you can literally scribble onto a sheet of paper, photocopy it, fold it up, add a ribbon or an ink stamp or some cut and paste, and wham bam, you’ve become a publisher. Zines hold the promise of a more democratic, innovative, fun form of print media, which you can put in your pocket, send to sweethearts, trade for other DIY creations, and learn a hell of a lot from. I would say a lot of my thoughts about things, especially about activism, are shaped through zines and the personal experiences and reflections of the amazing folk who make them.

So, zines. They can be on any topic, in any format, and with any style. That’s a beautiful concept to behold. There’s also the inherent tendency within zines to also run the risk of being mundane and self-absorbed. But sometimes its horses for courses, and what might leave you cold, might bust someone else into a smile, or a common moment of recognition, or even a motivating ‘I can do better than this rubbish!’ which keeps people making as much as inspiration and creative cravings seem to do.

I’m also interested in zines as a historical curiousity. Sure, we’ve had self-publishing as long as we’ve had technology – or the impetus to express something through print in the public domain – but zines are also mutated documents which have developed their own idiosnycracies, and have shifted alongside the technology that makes more and more DIY communication possible (for example, mimeographs, typewriters, off-print litho, PDFS, Photoshop, Quark, Biro Pens, Photocopiers, Ink Stamp Alphabets, Transfers etc).

I see zines as postmodern publications- with their cut and paste rejuvunation in punk rock scenes (but then this is well documented, I know less, for example, about rap and hip hop zines and what aesthetics fuelled these publications around a similar time…). Zines become scrambled documents, which mess with linearity and (off-)grid layouts, and embrace the art of the doodle, the crossing out, the mistake, and the accidental.

Maybe in my head postmodern is also equivicated with informal, multiple, chaotic, decentred- and all these other kind of buzz words. Zines sometimes offer a glimpse of the unruly and where psychic power meets social convention (or not). I am a sucker for per-zines, those zines which take critical introspection, musing on experience and its connection to the broader system of things. Especially per-zines which focus on trauma in some way: survivor stories of sexual abuse, of mental health, or self-harm, or any of the myriad strong, complicated stories we tell, both to make sense of our lives and to connect with others. The role of the confessional within zines cannot be disputed – and this has become more and more embraced within late capitalism, even exalted in pop culture (alongside reality tv, etc).

But, anyways, with ZineFest, it was important to me to organize something which fused practical skill-share sessions, with beautiful displays of comic art, with discussions about zine themes (such as queer), with connections to radical women of the second wave and beyond who also claimed their place in self-publishing. Because zines are also more than just ego and triviality, they are also incredibly powerful documents and a strong form of social movement media.

much love and pritt stick, a self-confirmed zine fanatic xx

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One Response to Zines: Scrambled documents for a choatic age?

  1. Will says:

    I’m a bit confused by postmodernism, probably because my only connections with it have given me the impression that it is proud of its own inauthenticity. While zines have an element of self-creation to them (what do we put in, and what do we leave out? How do we want people to see us?) the ones I’ve read have all been very open about their rawness and lack of polish without becoming self-congratulatory about it. Political zines in particular seem about as far from postmodernism as you can get. Many of them have ideas to share, but their authors are stymied by a lack of internet access or other means to convey their message. (In the case of some of the more extreme zines, it’s not even a lack of internet access, but the fact zines are harder to trace and harder to link to people than an IP address when discussing potentially illegal activity. This in turn may be my own misconception based on a poor understanding of the internet… but then we come back to zines as a means of communication for those without privilege, as those in power are both less likely to hold extreme views and more likely to have been given a full technological education.)

    This was a very interesting essay and has given me lots to think about in the lead up to the Women’s Library Zine Fest.

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