With all the buzz about print slipping into murkier and murkier waters with the onset of Google Books and the decline of newspapers and magazines, I am left wondering what’s going to happen to the underground publishing world. More specifically, I’m talking about zines.
I discovered zines as a teenager, and have been hooked ever since, though I’ll admit, I’ve never spoken about them to any other writers. They’ve always been my own little secret, a guilty pleasure if you will. I discovered zine distros (distributors) from a website I’d stumbled over on a late night web-surfing session. I clicked through pages and pages of links to zine distros and discovered a world where people, just like me, could write something and share it with real people without having to go through an inch of red tape.
There is something to be said about a publication being produced by the writer herself, having done the layout, photo-copying, cutting and stapling all on her own. There’s no editor or agents or anything like that involved. It’s just you, your writing and the reader. You print however many you want to print, and you can send them to distros if you like, such as Stranger Danger, for distribution (some are online, some have actual catalogs handed out at music shows and record stores). Some zinesters sell or distribute their zines on their own, whether it be through Etsy.com or at festivals, fairs and music venues (some are even free!).
Zines are typically sold for a few dollars or less — not much to really capitalize on, and nothing like the price of the literature collections you’d find at your Borders or Barns & Noble stores. There’s a kind of closeness the reader has to the writer that doesn’t exist with The Paris Review. Zine writers get no acclaim outside the underground zine community, although many deserve it. The reader is actually reading the poems, stories, etc., straight off the pages the writer bound together. You are reading, seeing, and touching (sometimes zines are made of more than just paper) precisely what the writer intended, how he intended. He had no team of editors or a publisher pushing him to change anything. It is as organic and pure as it can be without being inside the writer’s head.
Angry Black-White Girl was the last zine I ordered (I paid $1.25 through the mail), and I must say, it changed me. Nia, the author, has had enough and wants to set the record straight, describing her experiences as a young bi-racial woman and her anger and feelings towards her black father who struggled with his own identity. It’s funny how something so hap-hazard looking (the layout really is cut and paste and photocopy, of course).
Since I first discovered zines for myself, I wanted to make my own. I have started the process on several occasions but never followed through. And now, here I am, a twenty-one year old senior in college — a time in my life when I need to be looking at jobs in writing, applying to MFA programs, and sending out my stories, essays and other work to magazines, journals and periodicals.
Yet, something still attracts me to the zine. There’s no money to be made, just the idea of writing purely for the love of it, not for money, fame, or awards; you’re just making something that a reader will enjoy, or connect to in some way. If I make my own zine, I can put anything I want into it (anything within the realm of copyright and all that). If I want to include my photography as an accompaniment for a story, I can do that. If I want to include a friend’s painting, I can do that. If I want to clip out notes from loved ones or friends and paste them in, I can do that. I could have an entire page of ampersands if I really wanted. There is a feeling of power that comes from this kind of publication, despite the lack of authority — there are no Oxford Press zines and never can be.
Like a chapbook where anything’s game, I see zines as a valuable outlet for writers. With so many young writers out there today, I am anxious to see if the zine catches on.