The fanzine is dead: long live the fanzine.
As a former fanzine editor I find it almost eerie that the self-produced, stapled-together publication, written with more love than skill, is largely passing into the anals of history, a footnote in the history of the counter-culture.
You can blame the electronic era, but, actually, we need to celebrate it because it’s the saviour of anyone with a few words to say.
From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, I was avidly collecting zines, which would vary from 12-page dedications to Aztec Camera, to bulky, generic zines on indie music, most of them coming in the handy A5 format. The fun was in discovering these gems in the classified ad sections of the music mags, or in other zines. I would write a cheque (or postal order), enclose a stamped addressed envelope and about six weeks later it would pop through the letterbox.
There weren’t all good but most zines were written with enthusiasm, a knowledge of the subject and delivered in a readable manner. I still have several copies of a wonderful publication called Pure Joy, a paen to Julian Cope that had incisive and well-researched articles, good quality photographs and was brilliantly laid out. I also recall being impressed by a ska zine called Zoot; Shy Like Me, the only issue of which I ever saw contained THREE flexi-disks, and a wonderful zine all about fey English pop with with every page in flourescent green and oranges (I forget the title).
There was also a proliferation of football fanzines, established by diehard fans fed up with the club’s official mouthpieces and the media in general and sold outside the ground on match days. There are too many fantastic examples of club zines, but I have to single out a Celtic FC rag called Not The View, born out of the frustration of fans towards the awful pro-board mag The Celtic View, also known as Pravda. It’s still going (issue 177 just out) and looks as good as it ever did, though I don’t know what sales would be in comparison to its heyday.
These were labour of loves, cheap gifts (often the postage was more than the publication) from dedicated writers with more enthusiasm than sense.
I was one of them, producing from 1995 to 1998 five rags and contributing to a few others. One had Kenny Dalglish on the cover but had nothing to do with football; another was about a band called The House of Love, and the other two, Words Fail Me and Monkey With A Typewriter, included interviews with the likes of Travis (one of their first) and the Wedding Present, and went off on tangents about Scottish third division football and an American street novelist called Iceberg Slim. It took forever to arrange and conduct interviews, write the articles, sub it, lay out the pages, take it to the printer then try to sell the thing, which by that stage you just wanted to stick in a bin. Essentially, they were fun.
Every town in Tory Britain had at least one zine written on a typewriter or a second-hand PC, featuring bands who may well have split up by the time of publication.
I came across a great wee zine recently, called Ice Cream For Quo, free if postage included, which has pieces headlined Some fanzines I’ve written for, Some famous people I’ve seen and The Day I Met Kylie Minogue.
In New Zealand, where I now live, I found in a internet/ anarchist bookshop, now gone sadly, a zine devoted to the Auckland punk scene called Panik! that came out in 2005 and had some great pics and articles on North Island punk bands. That, alas, was the only issue but it showed that the art of the zine isn’t dead (unlike punk). The shop also had a mag about Christian Anarchism (surely an oxymoron) and a vegan zine featuring Maria Sharapova on the cover.
But the art of the printed publication is largely dying, as the numbers of printed zines have fallen considerably over the past decade or so and the outlets have narrowed.
The reason for this is the electronic age, which reduces costs and the laborious task of distributing the hard copy.
However, the fanzine is enjoying a revival; it’s had to change format. The internet has created an army of people with a lot to get off their chest. Once there was a handful of printed zines dedicated to Morrissey, now he’s got hundreds of webzines singing his praises. Picture quality has improved, the material can be issued immediately and feedback can be left on forums. This is indeed a golden age for people with something to say. And, of course, I have my own cyber space. What you are reading now is basically a fanzine. Without the staples.
My city centre library has a small section dedicated to printed fanzines, and the wonderful staff there categorise each one as per their objective – music, personal, comics, art, general etc. Clearly, there’s an interest in zines, or at the very least the library feels a duty to stock examples of them.
On the right of this page are links to various websites and blogs and within these are links to hundreds, if not thousands more. That shows people still want to write about things they love.
If anyone is producing a printed zine, please send to PO Box 10904, The Terrace, Wellington 6143, NZ and I will review it. All links to webzines are also gratefully received.