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Zines: A History of Creative Resistance

Updated on April 22, 2019

Zines are usually handmade, self-published pieces of publication, often created by an individual or a small group of collaborators and are usually reproduced in small batches with a photocopier. They are often free, very cheap or can be bartered for. The word “zine” comes from fanzines, short for “fan magazine,” which originated in science fiction fandoms of the 1930s. The popular graphic-style associated with zines was influenced artistically and politically by the subcultures of Dada, Fluxus, Surrealism and Situationism.1 Zines, like other forms of independent publishing, allow individuals a voice outside the scope and restrictions of mainstream media.

The rise of copy shops, and the spread of cheap photocopying, in the 70s allowed zines to be produced quickly and cheaply. With the emergence of the punk scene of the 70s and 80s, zines became a staple form of punk culture’s DIY ethos. Punk culture and music is very much rooted in anti-establishment ideals and zines were radical, uncensored ways to collaborate and share what punk music was already doing. Slash, Punk, Sniffin’ Glue, and later, MaximumRocknRoll, were all popular punk zines. In the mid 1980s the zine J.D’s helped launch the Queercore movement. Queercore used the same punk DIY style to challenge the respectability politics and stereotypes surrounding LGBTQ+ individuals. The movement explored gender, sexual identity, and individual rights, and critiqued the dominance of the white cis-normativity in the punk scene.

In the early 90s zines flourished again within the Riot Grrrl movement2 which was influenced by Queercore and emerged from the punk scene as an underground feminist movement that combined third-wave feminist consciousness with punk style and politics. Riot Grrrl music was often aggressive punk rock with a pronounced feminist agenda. Zines played a natural role connecting the intimate world of women in punk. Although stylistically similar to punk zines, Riot Grrrl zines were a unique medium for feminist punks to criticize both punk and mainstream culture, and to discuss, examine, and resist the cultural devaluation of women with each other in a safe space. Zines like Bikini Kill, Jigsaw, Girl Germs and Riot Grrrl were instrumental in establishing the Riot Grrrl movement. In addition to discussing music and culture, their zines focused on issues central to Riot Grrrl such as rape, domestic abuse, women’s health, sexuality, and female empowerment. The Riot Grrrl movement directly challenged the physical marginalization of women in the punk community and larger society. Max Kessler wrote in Paper, “Whatever riot grrrl became—a political movement, an avant-garde, or an ethos—it began as a zine.”

Zines continued to grow and expand beyond punk movements. The creation and distribution of zines played a significant role in ushering in an era of feminist activism that began in the early 1990s and continues to do so to the present day, many in the form of e-zines. Zines continue to function as radical forms of self-expression to share ideas, art, and political actions. Because zines often grant contributors a certain level of anonymity, zine makers are free share personal stories of sex, identity, harassment, mental health, self-harm, and disability with each other. Not only does this encourage individuals to form connections with each other and feel less isolated, zines also give a voice to individuals who struggle to participate in other ways. Zines are empowering because they give the zinemaker full creative control and offer the opportunity to create something new rather than constant consumption. Zines can be raw and ragged, or they can be polished and neat. They can be full of original work, completely repurposed, or a mixture of the two. Although the styles of zines vary widely, zine authors often use cut and paste techniques which emphasize that their zines are a labor of love—requiring time, serious effort and thought. Zines are often deeply personal, raw manifestos which speak to one person or a group of people’s experiences.

With the increased presence of online zines and archives like QZAP, the Solidarity! Revolutionary Center and Radical Library, Digital Transgender Archive, Grrrl Zines Network, and Cline Library zines are easier to access than ever before. In this post-internet era modern day zinemakers continue to create zines as important works of resistance. Although zines have become practically mainstream, their DIY aesthetic and niche content still remains incredibly relevant to subcultures and social movements that engage in activism around gender, immigration, prison reform, racism, bodily autonomy, and other related areas. Additionally, zine culture has evolved to become more broad and inclusive of all identities. Daikon* is a zine and online platform for underrepresented Asian womxn, trans, and non-binary voices;, Shotgun Seamstress is a zine created by and for Black punks, and Write or Die is a mostly handwritten zine and podcast coming out of San Quentin Prison in California.

In a world where mainstream media continues to be dominated by the white, privileged, and cisgendered, zines and other forms of independent publishing are a form of resistance in that they provide a platform for those who are underrepresented and undervalued in mainstream political and feminist discourse. Zines are a medium which simultaneously connects, critiques, and challenges social movements. Rather than creating a distance between author and content, zines bridge the gap between like-minded individuals. They are can be made by anyone and consumed by anyone, regardless of education or artistic ability. Zine culture continues to thrive even in a media saturated digital age. This speaks to the importance and necessity of independent, authentic, and diverse voices.

1. Triggs, Teal. "Scissors And Glue: Punk Fanzines And The Creation Of A DIY Aesthetic". Journal Of Design History, vol 19, no. 1, 2006, pp. 73,74. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1093/jdh/epk006.

2. Dunn, Kevin C. “Pussy Rioting.” International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 16, no. 2, June 2014, pp. 317–334. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14616742.2014.919103.

© 2019 mybluebicycle


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