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A Brief History of Zines

Zines (pronounced ZEENS) are tangible self published love in the form of little handmade books, often used to educate or for self expression, to exchange ideas and skills, and are often pocket sized. Though folks have been self publishing their ideas since they were physically able (samizdat, protest pamphlets, Poor Richard’s Almanac, etc), the term “zine” originated in the 1930s as part of science fiction fandom. Short for “fan magazine,” these ‘fanzines’ were collections of fan submitted art, articles, and letters.

In the late 1940s, the zine Vice Versa was produced out of Southern California and was North America’s first Lesbian publication. The author, Lisa Ben, created this to counter disparaging ideas found in the media at that time about Gay and Lesbian people.

The 1950s saw beat poet chapbooks, lots more Science Fiction fanzines, and zines about other sorts of literature. During the 1950s, people started making zines about folk music as well.

In the 1960s, Science Fiction found a good home on television, and zines followed suit – many zines surrounding the Star Trek fandom led the charge and soon people were making zines about other TV shows as well. Rock and Roll and Horror Movie zines also popped up during the sixties as popular genres of the medium.

In the late 1970s, Punk really embraced the form of the zine, writing about punk rock music, DIY, anarchism and other facets of punk culture. Out of punk grew Queercore in the 80s, following in the footsteps of Vice Versa, Queercore was a social movement criticizing society’s disapproval of LGBT folks. The 80s also brought Factsheet Five, Mike Gunderloy’s zine review periodical which also served to catalogue zines and provide information on where zines could be ordered. This publication was pivotal in connecting zine readers and zine makers at the time and is attributed for the so-called “zine boom” of the 80s and early 90s. The 90s saw rise of another zine filled subculture and music genre inspired by punk, Riot Grrl, which critiqued sexism.

Some assumed that the rise of the internet in the late 90s ,would be the death of zines, but zine makers made use of the internet to connect and communicate. A popular forum was the usenet group alt.zines. Around this time, zine-centric events started to pop up around North America, with CanZine in Toronto starting in 1995 and the San Francisco Zine Fest in 2001. These events took the form of craft fairs or small comic conventions where zine makers and readers could buy, sell, and trade zines and attend panels and workshops. Around the same time, many distros or zine distributors (mostly in the form of mail order catalogues) appeared.

Though Factsheet Five ceased publication in 1998, folks who are interested in getting their hands on some zines can still do so through distros, zine fests, zine libraries, independent book and gift shops, and in certain online locations.

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