General Excellence: zines

By Staff

Hands-on Publishing: The web didn’t kill zines —
it only made them stronger

Danielle Maestretti
, Utne Reader

Zines are still cool. Like ’em or not, zines have held fast to
their place in the far-underground depths of the independent press,
which helps keep their hip credentials intact. This makes sense
when you consider their origins: Zines as we know them were shaped
by punk-rock fans in the 1970s and 1980s. Frustrated with
mainstream music magazines’ inattention to punk music and culture,
they created their own ‘fanzines’ to cover the scene.

The zine 28 Pages Lovingly Bound with Twine is cool
partly because it does not aspire to coolness. In fact, it’s
downright dorky at times. There’s no particular mission or subject
area, so content varies and randomness abounds. Christoph Meyer,
the man behind the twine, admits he ‘stumbled across a nice title’
that hasn’t confined him to any particular realm of discussion. ‘As
long as I feel like self-publishing,’ he says, ‘I can put whatever
the hell I want in it-fiction, everyday stories, visual stuff,
comics, whatever.’

The flexibility allowed by self-publishing makes for some
amazing zines; it also means this category is particularly tough to
judge because it’s difficult to pit zines against one another. Just
as they have largely fended off commercialization, zines have also
managed to resist definition. There is wide variation among them in
every aspect imaginable: subject area (or lack thereof), publishing
frequency, size, appearance. Many zinesters and librarians cite
some basic criteria-small print run, handmade and self-distributed,
low-tech, produced as a form of expression rather than a source of
profit-but these vary depending on who is making the list.

‘I think overall, the rule for zines is that there aren’t any
rules, and that most structures or formulas are meant to be
broken,’ says Alycia Sellie, newspapers and periodicals assistant
at the Wisconsin Historical Society and founder of the Madison Zine
Fest. ‘And while zines may be unconventional and ephemeral, that
doesn’t necessarily make their content so.’

This is certainly true of Meyer’s efforts, which are much more
accessible than they are zany. He began tying twine five years ago,
around the time his son Herbie (a budding zinester himself) was
born. Since then, he has cranked out 13 issues, logging a
finger-cramping ‘knot count’ of 29,566. For #9, the ‘Dental Issue,’
Meyer made the whimsical yet logical decision to bind his zine with
floss, leaving some ‘long and untrimmed so that you may actually
use this very fanzine to floss your teeth.’

Twine rises above many other zines because, in addition
to its energetic craftiness, the writing is excellent and the
stories are engaging. Short as they may be, some zines can be
difficult to read cover to cover because stories can easily fall
into the rambling-about-myself trap. An added bonus is that Meyer
copyedits his work-typographical and spelling errors are few and
far between.

Surprisingly, the rise of blogs and social networking sites
doesn’t seem to have cut deeply into the world of zines. It’s
natural for those who aren’t familiar with the medium to compare it
to blogging, since they share a commitment to self-expression. In
fact, part of what is so intriguing about contemporary zines is
that people continue to make them even though blogging, arguably,
is much less labor intensive.

Of course, that’s why people make zines: They truly are
labors of love. Barnard College zine librarian Jenna Freedman
addresses this question in the Summer 2005 issue of
Counterpoise with ‘Zines Are Not Blogs: A Not Unbiased
Analysis.’ Her discussion suggests that zinesters prefer their
medium for many reasons, not least because they are not accountable
to anyone (whereas bloggers ultimately rely on Internet service
providers) and because zines embody the do-it-yourself spirit.

‘You know when you hold a zine that someone else slaved over
that object in your hand, even if it was just at the photocopier or
with a long-arm stapler,’ Sellie notes. ‘Usually you can sense a
lot more than that.’

Meyer considers e-mail ‘a passing fad’ and does not own a
computer. ‘And anyway,’ he says, ‘I like handing zines to
people-they are little works of art. I couldn’t put silk screens,
stickers, and stamps on a blog.’

Subscriptions: $9/3 issues or $15/6 issues; Christoph Meyer,
Box 106, Danville, OH 43014.

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