What are zines? Believe it or not, zines have been around since the 1920s. Coming from the word “magazines”, zines are do-it-yourself booklets that have given voice to many throughout history. They are uncensored and easy to produce, meant for a larger audience beyond the convention. Zines are considered cultural artifacts as they have been tools of activism, free expression, and an alternative to traditional media. With their unique approach and format, these booklets have altered the way of approaching mainstream design.
Roots in mainstream design – A Historical Account
The invention of zines finds its way rooted in the invention of the printing press. With the Amateur Press Movement between the 19th and 20th centuries, people used zines to voice their unorthodox thoughts. Farther from the stringent constraints of newspapers and magazines, zines proposed freedom of expression. Many believe that the first zine is known as FIRE!! The creators Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Aaron Douglas, Richard Bruce Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett, and John P. Davis captured Black artists’ uncensored perspectives during the Harlem Renaissance. It gave people hope that they can also talk about things that question the norms of society.
Soon, a shift anyone with access to a photocopier could make zines. All you needed was some motivation and some papers. These little magazines would often be distributed in schools, at revolutions, or through guerrilla marketing campaigns. With zines, you did not have to wait for the approval of the media or follow strict guidelines and fonts. It can be simply anything you want, like a piece of art.
Fanzines and Fanfiction
These days, we have Wattpad, Twitter, and multiple media platforms to discuss what happened on our favorite shows and see what we want to happen. This wasn’t common back in the 1960s, when Spockanalia came out, the first Star Trek Fanzine. The fanzine was a word used for a fan’s interpretation of a TV show or a movie, commonly known today as fanfiction. This fanzine saved the show when it was canceled, just after two seasons in 1969.
Fans protested in the form of zines, eventually catching the attention of the creator of Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry. It was so influential that Rodenberry encouraged the show writer to include zine references in the actual show. We even see this effect today, with shows and even musical artists paying tribute to what goes viral in the digital world.
Around the 90s, zines were a way to keep up with punk and hardcore. They contained record reviews, artist interviews, opinion columns, letter pages, and Flexi discs! These Flexi discs included exclusive song releases! To catch up with pop culture, zines were the way to go!
As time progressed mainstream design shifted yet again, we then saw blogs, video reviews, and even small poster-like images showing what people desire. What started as a pamphlet of sorts turned into a whole communal archive.
Zines in the Digital Age
Zines not only differed from traditional media in terms of format, but also by way of distribution. Previously, zines were limited to the number of individuals marketing. Now, zines are distributed anywhere due to the internet. Even important zines like FIRE!! have been documented and can be accessed today. Digital archiving has played a leading role in preserving these booklets. One such archive is Sherwood Forest Zine Library, where you can easily find free zines for every topic, new and old. They even allow the sharing of zines and have become a hub for such information.
Zines’ infusion into mainstream design can even be seen in the form of memes today. Memes have no particular format, yet they pick something and become instantly famous, and everyone shares their own set of ideas from that format. Interestingly, memes have also influenced many TV shows and even been a part of movements. What makes these so popular is the ease of creating them. Before, where one had to find stationary, images, and sketch out ideas, now one can use software like photoshop, illustrator, or even canva to showcase their ideas in the form of a booklet.
Zines are finding their way back into mainstream design, even through Tik Toks. The hashtag #ZineTok has over 74.9 M views today! These scrapbooking-like creative outlets are infusing themselves back into the world of literature and art. Zines have also proved to be an efficient way of learning in schools, where students are encouraged to talk openly about their opinions.
Due to their versatile format and lack of rules, zines find themselves branching out to poetry zines, personal zines, science-fiction zines even art zines! There are websites dedicated to zine-making, such as unicornycopia, flipzine, and indiecane. Zines are also reminiscent of webtoons and comics but with a more personal touch. So, hop on a website today or grab a pen and paper to make your zine!
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unicornycopia (2023) Electric Zine Maker. Available at: http://unicornycopia.com/ezm/ (Accessed: January 17, 2023).