A story of zines | Book Riot


If you’ve ever been to an independent bookstore or been to a comic book convention, you’ve probably seen or leafed through a zine. Zines (pronounced ZEEN) have been around since the turn of the 20th century and have formed a huge part of clandestine and non-commercial publication. Zines are generally inexpensive to make, often photocopied, and have a distinctly “DIY” look. Often, they represent the voices of people on the fringes, and their content is hyper local.

When it comes to content, zines can feature poetry, art, collages, interviews, comics, etc. Your small local press can roll out zines covering topics ranging from anarchist rallies in your area, to comics about police brutality, to tutorials on how to build your own garden boxes. You can even find artistic zines online today, featuring artwork and artists from around the world.

Zines have come a long way to hit your shelf or your computer screen… so let’s take a look at where they’ve been!

The 30s and 40s

The very first zine dates from May 1930 in the USA. A small publication called the comet was first created by the Science Correspondence Club. The letters section of the zine was a big part, where fans discussed science as well as sci-fi.

At that time, photocopiers had not yet been invented. Enter the mimeograph, also known as a stencil duplicator. This machine was invented in the 1800s and remained in service until the 1960s and 1970s, when it was slowly replaced by the photocopier. It wasn’t ideal for large editions, but it was perfect for 40s-60s pulp fan magazines.

The 1940s saw a boom in science fiction zine culture. In October 1940, Russ Chauvenet invented the term fanzine in his science fiction publication Detours. A number of writers of the time created zines, including Ray Bradbury, Jack Williamson, and Robert A. Heinlein.

Plus, the 1940s saw the very first queer fanzine. A woman named Edythe Eyde (also known as Lisa Ben, an anagram for “lesbian”) typed the first copy of Vice versa in June 1947, creating a total of nine issues before completing it the following year. The post was free and Lisa Ben mailed them to friends and hand delivered them.

In 1949, Xerox Corporation introduced the first xerographic copier and “xeroxing” was officially born.

The 1950s and 1960s: Folk Zines, Comics, and Star Trek

Several popular fanzines centered on folk music culture emerged during the 1950s. Lee Hoffman was a prominent figure who published several science fiction zines as well as folk zines such as Bad day at Lime Rock, Caravan, and Survey.

Artists such as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman and Jay Lynch began to find their voices through fanzines, inspired by magazines such as Crazy and Rift. These artists went on to found the underground comic book movement that changed the face of the comic book industry.

While folk zines still existed in the 1960s, rock and roll zines also took center stage. Paul Williams’ fanzine Crawdaddy! was the most popular of them, but it quickly became popular enough to go legit and become a magazine in its own right.

Spockanalia was the first Star Trek fanzine in 1967, and it was very popular. The second issue featured letters from the cast, including Leonard Nimoy.

In 1968, Star Trek was to be canceled after two seasons, but thanks to fan lobbying (some of which was organized through fan zines), fans were able to put the show back on the air for another year.

The 70s and 80s: Punk Zines and the DIY movement

Copy stores were now widely available in the 1970s, forever changing zine production. Now, zinesters were able to make many copies quickly and inexpensively, and the appearance of zines changed with that.

The punk scene became the main center of zine culture in the 1970s. Zines took on a grungy, do-it-yourself style. Some of the most popular of these were Sniffin ‘Glue, 48 thrills, and Slavery. Most of the works come from New York, LA and London. Punk zines continued until the 1980s.

The 90s and 2000s: Riot Grrrl and Queercore

Riot Grrrl, an underground feminist punk movement, was born in the 1990s. With this movement came a huge sweep of political zines that spread the feminist manifesto.

Queercore (AKA homocore) is another offshoot of the anarcho-punk subculture, this one aimed at criticizing homophobia within the genre and within society as a whole. QZAP (Queer Zine Archives Project) was first launched in 2003 with the aim of preserving as many queer fanzines as possible.

2010s and beyond: what’s next?

Zines are always in fashion, both in digital physical and DIY form. There are now fanzine festivals, libraries collect fanzines and bookstores sell them. The POC Zine project was created in 2015 to archive zines written by people of color.

The zine is as popular today as it ever was. There remains a significant part of the subcultural movements and underground press for marginalized voices. Anyone Can Write a Zine… This is the Best Part!


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