Words by: Rosie Fea.
Despite our digital fixation, there is always a space for the tangible and tactile.
Independent publication subcultures are experiencing a resurgence of popularity among younger generations, who have paradoxically been raised in the digital age.
The fanzine, or zine, was born in the 1920’s within the spheres of science fiction lovers. Typically, small groups of affiliates would meet to produce their maverick self-published pages, dealing with various topics within the literary genre as it made its rise in popularity. From illustrated fictions and amateur discussions, the zines would pass from hand to hand around the circles of insiders.
THE COMET was one of the first fanzines in history. Since then, it has become the emblematic media of subcultures, particularly appreciated by those involved in protesting or controversial artistic movements, generally snubbed by mainstream broadcast channels. In some ways serving as the pre-Facebook culture’s solution to independent modes of sharing opinions and propagated news angles. This is how Dada artists and later, the great writers of the Beat Generation, became fond of this free and independent medium. It was what facilitated the publishing of poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous books of experimental poetry, Howl and Mind Breaths.
It was the perfect embodiment of the protest philosophy – rejecting any kind of establishment, be it political, cultural or institutional. Driven by the then thriving musical scene, the punks of the day denounced the lack of recognition given to them by popular music media. Immersed in a ‘Do It Yourself’ culture, musician and writer, Mark Perry, launched the publication Sniffin’ Glue in 1976. It went on to become one of the most famous zines of the genre, distributed widely, with several hundred copies left today as genuine collectors items. Around this time, the United States also latched on to the frenzy of the fanzine, adopting it as the most stylish and effective way to spread subversive ideas cross country, from New York to San Francisco. Most widely recognised was the musical and cultural publication, Search and Destroy.
In the early 1990s, the rise of the American feminist movement Riot Grrrl leveraged great waves of political and cultural demands, and out of it independent newspapers Jigsaw and Riot Grrrl were born. For the first time, publications were devoted to creating a place for women in Western Society, denouncing discrimination and violence. The fanzine has since become inseparable from the third wave of feminism, and has enabled space for thousands of women worldwide to voice subjects that were rarely discussed at the time, such as racism, rape or domestic violence. From there the concept of the zine made even more of a way, progressing into even the most popular cultural spheres like the fashion world. In the early 2000’s, British stylists Bay Garnett and Kira Joliffe launched Cheap Date, a publication well-known for its appropriation of the advertising campaigns of luxury brands.
Even with the explosion of the internet and social networks relegating the paper press in the 2000’s, the fanzine held fast and is far from having disappeared from cultural view.
The millennial generation is often labelled as a conglomerate of image obsessed tech addicts, thanks to the ever present nature of digital culture. However with that being said, an attitude of innovation and a need to fight for justice is perhaps one beneficial characteristic that has been nurtured by screens. Allowing the youth of today to break knowledge barriers, rise above oblivion, and contribute their voice on widespread platforms spreading information across the globe.
The fanzine could be defined as the great ancestor of the blog, and nevertheless offers greater freedom of creation, both in terms of format and content. This is why this mode of independent historical media is now enjoying a resurgence, with publications like Polyester, founded by young English girl Lona Gamble, exploring alternative visions of fashion and feminism. Other powerful zines of today include OOMK, which deals with ethnic diversity, and issues of faith and identity, and Fear Brown Queers, which questions the place of the LGBT community in the world of art.
English artist Lu Williams has launched the Grrrl Zine Fair in London, a name which is an emulation of Riot Grrrls. The Fair invites zine publishers from around the country to meet for panel discussions, DIY workshops, concerts and to enjoy ephemeral bookshops. For her, the fanzine still has its place today, serving as a response to the way social networks have insidiously skewed the principles of independent publication. “There is something quite solitary in the digital world,” she explains. Of course, it is very practical for us to make the content of zines even more accessible, which was not possible before, but it does not detract from the desire to create tangible objects and artefacts. People will always choose to go to concerts even though music is available for download, because it’s just not the same experience. For her, the zine is also the guarantee of spreading one’s ideas away from the arbitrary selection of social network algorithms. It also offers the possibility of developing a concrete cultural and professional network. Through the Zine Fair, new communities of creative and intellectual youth are forming, which gather around very free expression grounds, both in terms of support and content.
As was the original case with the arrival of blogs in the early 2000s, many soon became marketing objects, monetised by multiple collaborations between brands and bloggers. It is no longer a matter of broadcasting opinions, but of selling products, an image, or a certain way of life. At a time where Facebook is tacitly deciding the content we should be exposed to, the zine resists, and retains its historical role as a channel for disseminating ideas and opening fresh pages for individuals to indulge in honest connections with kindred spirits. Free from censorship and any marketing target, it remains in the shadows, guaranteeing complete freedom of expression and a welcomed respite from our culture of consumerism.
The Angry Penguins.
In 1943 Australia, an avant-garde movement emerged alongside the first publication of the Angry Penguins – a literary anthology devoted to modernist writing, poetry and art. The journal was devised by poet Max Harris when he was just 18 years old, and published in partnership with publishers John and Sunday Reed. The group of creatives included highly esteemed members of the Melbourne art scene such as John Perceval, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Danila Vassilieff, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester. Though it was short lived, the intention of the Angry Penguins was to spur Australians into a thinking that was more innovative and international, and the members chose to do this by publishing content heavily entered on surrealist painting. It has been recognised as one of the most significant literary journals in Australian culture, as it’s progressive content shed new light on the arts, music, cinema, society and politics of the decade.
The public can visit the famous home of Angry Penguins publishers John and Sunday Reed in Melbourne, now named Heidelberg Galley, or Heide.
New Zealand also has it’s very own hero zine. Stone Soup, is an independent syndicate made up of foodies and creatives wanting to forge a new paradigm for food publications. The zine stands on the ethos of free street-press publishing, and an equally as informative digital platform, with a non-conformist view of sharing cuisine. Origins of the old saying ‘stone soup’ are founded upon a folk story that sees hungry strangers unite together in the endeavour to contribute and collaborate what food they can to make a meal for everyone. Appropriately so, Stone Soup magazine can be seen as a collection of individual thoughts and ideas, brought together to produce something of substance that is nourishing and filling for us all.