Saturday, September 22, 2001

What is a Zine? Some Historical Natter...
(c) 2001 Ruth Temple

Zines, amateur publishing associations, mutual arts-and-letters swaps, and their unique vocabulary have grown out of science fiction fandom over the last 60-plus years. There are prozines, semi-pro zines, fanzines (focusing on a genre theme) and 'perzines' or personal zines that are writings of personal interest to &/or by the author. Zines are usually produced as a solo work but as often including letters of comment (LOC's), articles, stories, thoughtful essays and artwork from full-page wonders of fine-art on down through the simplest of scrawled "illos" - B&W spot illustrations from friends of the editor and subscribers.

Prozines would include your glossy, slick professional magazines that pay for writing and artwork, semi-pro zines would include industry review magazines, or zines that have gained huge followings such as Locus or File 770; and amateur, as the French use the word (done for the love of it), which encompass the perzine, which became shortened to 'zine. It's the latter that has leapt forward, still before email blossomed, with the alternative and punk scenes - as a way to self-publish a burgeoning social movement.

The Beats of the 50s did a lot of self-publishing, the civil rights movement of the 60s and various social justice movements following (gay rights, women's rights, disability rights) have all documented themselves with the written word - and there has been some small crossover with the folks using 'zine' vocabulary for what they were doing, but the crossover of language from SF fandom to the larger community/ies really took off with the early Usenet groups/BBS's of the late 70s early 80s - the abbreviative jargon that was so useful when one was typing ditto masters on a manual typewriter (imho, LOL, VBG) carried over and has been taken up by most all of us (not many here don't yet know those mean: "in my humble opinion", "laughing out loud" and "very big grin").

The concept of zines has been beautifully adopted by artists, journalists, poets, and niche-hobbyists of all kinds. I believe the reason that this genre of fan publishing spread from SF fandom to the larger community is that folks who read speculative fiction are, on the whole, interested in the whole world around them - which is why one finds singing groups and art happening among the readings, costuming events, parties and literary panel discussions at SF conventions!

One of the pieces of fannish zinedom that I'm not seeing as much in the art-zine world is the letter of comment. ::waving her finger querulously in the air:: "Back in my day" - and well before the phenomenon of email and its instantaneous communication connection, the LOC on one another's writing and thinking was the ultimate form of pen-pals - you could count on getting feedback for that short story you printed last time, hear someone else's wry pun on your comment on someone else's writing - an APA group essentially becomes a fertile discussion ground – where you check in with one another once every week or month or two.

It's even slower than writing morning pages - but the continuity is there. In these days of immediate correspondence via email, I keep an APA membership or two, just because that slow growing groundswell of ongoing conversation feeds something critical to my soul.

There are zines that have been continuously published for over 60 years. This is better than the run of several professional print magazines we all know of...

APA or Amateur Press Alliance or Amateur Publishing Association, or any combination of the above, are set up to swap a certain number of copies for a collated "disty" or distribution of those from everyone playing, with a central editor/swap mama/OE who acts as sorting and mailing agent and in many cases puts a cover and what-the-ground-rules-are intro section on the collation.

What may be true of zines:
• they have irregular publishing cycles
• one finds widely varying production quality (those slubs are MEANT to be charming!)
• they include personal writings, stories, essays, editorial rants,
• reviews, letters of comment
• they include artwork, illustrations, figures, drawings, cartoons...
• they may or may not include any (paid) advertising
• they may or may not pay for writing or art submissions
• they may be long-running publications or one-offs
• they may be general or theme oriented
• zines are a great form of self-expression

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