Zines—pronounced “zeens”—are do-it-yourself publications that are usually photocopied in small batches. Some are newsletters or fanzines devoted exclusively to one topic, but most are eclectic mixes of personal stories, comics, interviews with favorite bands, fiction, collage art—anything at all.
Zines of the past were mostly noncommercial, and zinemakers' primary motivation was not about making back their money spent on photocopies and postage; it was about creating something unique. Many creators sent their publications to review magazines such as Factsheet Five, or swapped with other zines, to spread the word; others just gave them to friends without seeking any greater circulation.
With a long-arm stapler, a passion to create, and an all-night Kinko's, a zinemaker was all ready for another issue. The collection on display represents a fraction of the thousands of publications sent to Factsheet Five and offers a small window into the zine world of that era.
Zines from Michigan in the ’80s and ’90s included a wide variety of talented artists, writers, and activists, many of whom are still publishing today. While the bulk of zines came from the greater Detroit area and Ann Arbor, the democratizing effects of a photocopier made it just as easy to self-publish in towns like Comstock, Port Huron, and Muskegon.
Zines created outside the US often looked markedly different. While Canadian zines benefited from the same easy access to photocopiers that the US enjoyed, many zines from Europe like Helter Skelter, Tofu666, Happenstance, and Larsen opted for a more polished look with larger print runs. European zines also tended to be more narrowly focused on comics, politics, or music without the grab-bag table of contents so common to other publications.
Self-published comics of the era displayed imaginative storytelling and a rich variety of art styles. From the rascally long-nosed hero of Probosco to the illustrated dreams of Concave Up tothe retro-futuristic history of an imagined land in Whirligig, independent comics could be as different from each other as any text-based zines.
While most zines don’t last more than a handful of issues, the autobiographical King-Cat Comics, started in 1989, is still going strong.
From its inception in 1982, the magazine Factsheet Five was a central resource to connect with people in the zine world. By the time R. Seth Friedman became the editor, it included well over 1000 reviews with contact information in each issue. But it wasn’t the only source for zine information. Broken Pencil, Amusing Yourself to Death, Zine World, Zine Guide, Maximum Rocknroll, and most every other zine had addresses and reviews to connect with more creators.
APAs (amateur press associations) were a special form of zines that were more insular.
They had regular contributors who provided new material and also commented heavily on each other’s writing. APAs were particularly common in gaming, sci-fi, and fantasy fandom, including the long-running APA-Filk devoted to fantasy and sci-fi folk music. Each contributor sent their pages to a central mailer who collated the issues and sent them out to each writer.
ART & DESIGN
With almost all zines being exchanged by post, the mail art movement was a natural extension for many zine creators. Many decorated their envelopes with collage art and rubber-stamped images. Properly, mail art was more than just decoration, though, and involved art sent through the mail.
Ashley Parker Owens’s Global Mail was a crucial resource to learn about mail art shows and projects open to anyone around the world. Zines were far from just photocopied print on paper with staples in the middle. They arrived with plexiglass covers, yarn bindings, foldout pages like an unraveling knot of spaghetti, beautiful photocopy manipulations, letterpress printing, 3D inserts, almost any way to communicate using marks on paper or some other medium.
A History of Zines
Local writer Mark Maynard has spent years documenting the history of zines on his website MarkMaynard.com. His Untold History of Zines is "An attempt to better document the American underground press, or at least the sharp tiny sliver of it that corkscrewed its way into my heart bone 25 years or so ago..."
Maynard interviewed more than a dozen zine publishers, from Pathetic Life's Doug Holland to Giant Robot's Eric Nakamura. These interviews contain content that is not suitable for all ages.
Factsheets, Funny Folks & Freaks: an Essay
Exhibit curator and AADL library technician Christopher Becker published an essay on Pulp, AADL's arts and culture blog, about his days in the '80s and '90s zine scene and the current exhibit at the Downtown Library.
More About Zines with Christopher Becker