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Zines: What are they and Where did they come from?

A form of self–publication, zines are amateur–produced, small–circulation magazines, typically created and distributed by one or two individuals.  Zines are created using cheap, readily–available materials such as staples, tape, and photocopies.  Zines often feature amateur artwork or a mash–up of images appropriated from popular culture.  While zines can focus upon any subject, they typically document favorite bands, funny stories, personal diaries, political commentary, comics, and various sub–cultures or populations within a sub–culture.  While some zines are still produced, they were most widely distributed from the 1970s through the late 1990s.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, zines were generally produced by groups with interests that were ignored by the mass media.  Thus they are often referred to as underground publications.  The earliest zines grew out of fan–produced magazines or “fanzines” created and distributed by and among science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts from the 1930s to the 1950s.  Fanzines were amateur–produced and featured stories, artwork, and commentary.  They were distributed by mail to other like–minded individuals.  Zines, which grew to be much more varied in scope than fanzines, evolved from this “Do–it–Yourself” (“DIY”) attitude and community–focus.  Zines arguably reached their high point in the 1980s and 1990s, fueled by new fan communities surrounding musical genres, and later, emerging political ideologies and social identities. 

Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson

Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?. Boston, Mass.: Graphia, 2006.

Zines were a hallmark of youth culture in the latter half of the 20th century, and thus were often created by teens. This book from the library’s Children’s Collection provides a concise history of zines, and offers practical advice regarding content, style, and how best to print, organize and distribute a zine.

Liz Farrelly (Ed.)

Zines. London: Booth–Clibborn, 2001.

The art, content, and overall style of zines is incredibly varied. This compilation of zine art offers a close–up look at zines from around the world. The book focuses on zines that were current at the time of publication, but examples of notable zines from different eras and subcultures are included.

Amy Spencer

DIY: The Rise of Lo–Fi Culture. London; New York: Marion Boyars, 2005.

This exploration of lo–fi and Do–It–Yourself culture explores zines in depth from their beginings in the 1930s as science fiction fanzines through today. Special consideration is given to Riot Grrrl, punk, and LGBT zines. It also explores the development of lo–fi music and the rise of indie rock in the age of the internet.

Stephen Duncombe

Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. London; New York: Verso, 1997.

This comprehensive study of zine publishing examines the importance of zines as a unique cultural and artistic medium. Duncombe examines zines within the social contexts of the later decades of the 20th century and offers a useful critique of the limitations of zines’ ability to affect real political change.

Fredric Wertham

The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.

This study provides an in–depth examination of early fanzines associated with science fiction and fantasy genres. Aspects of fanzines such as their content, production, and distribution networks are examined.

Amazing Stories. New York City: Experimenter Pub. Co., 1926–1958.

Amazing Stories was a professionally–produced science fiction magazine which began publication in 1926. Because each issue contained letters received by readers and included readers’ addresses, Amazing Stories was instrumental in launching the informal fan networks necessary for the creation of fanzines.

Rev. Phil Biel and Joe Biel (Directors)

One Hundred Dollars and a T–Shirt: A Documentary about Zines in the Northwest. Bloomington, IN: Microcosm Pub., 2007.

This documentary from the library’s Film and Video Collection department features interviews with those who produced zines in the Northwest during the 1990s and early 2000s. Zine creators discuss what zines are, how they evolved, and the significance and culture of zine making.

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