Rummaging through my sizeable stack of zines, some appear to be intricate, onerous pieces of artwork, stitched together with diligence and craftsmanship. Yet, other issues appear to be slapped together spontaneously with quick indecipherable words and hastily cut imagery. I wondered about the vast variety and why some artists felt the need to use such a spry style while others stuck with the traditional methods of book binding.
Image Caption/Credit: “Inking up the metal type on an old press.” Photo by Jessica Meoni
If you are unfamiliar with zines and its cult-classic following, zines are a type of handmade magazine, where the artist is the publisher. They are made in small numbers at a time, distributed locally (unless they have a large mailing list) and are usually of minority interest. There have been popular festivals dedicated to this specific literary creation: The Portland Zine Symposium, NYC Feminist Zine Fest, East Bay Alternative Press Book Fair, Chicago Zine Fest, Scranton Zine Fest and so many more.
Lately, there has been resurgence in letterpress within the confines of the zine world. Letterpress is a traditional printing method where blocks of individual wood or metal type are placed together to form whole words. Water or oil based inks are rolled on the letters and paper is physically pressed into the inked type by the rollers on the printing press. There are numerous other methods of printing but letterpress seems to have the biggest following when it comes to combining methods with zine creation.
Image Caption/Credit: “A poster created with letterpress techniques.” Photo by Jessica Meoni
Although the word zine dates back to 1965, you can almost attribute the first zine to Thomas Paine’s pamphlet entitled Common Sense, published in 1776 with the aid of the printing press. This literary publication sparked media attention to American’s rights as a separate entity from British rule during the American Revolution.
The power of Thomas Paine’s words and success at self-publishing embodies the idea of being a true zinester. His traditional methods of printing have also sparked interests within the community of zinesters all around the world.
During the end of the 19th century, The Amateur Press Association was founded. This organization was based mostly on those who wished to review and exchange ideas about pulp and science fiction. This idea eventually opened the doors to fanzines, which expresses a publication in which the reviewer is a fan of something and wants to share that interest with others. The staple of fanzines became prominent in various subjects and carried through many decades.
Fanzines also gave way for a more indicative approach — the perzine. Perzines (personal zines) became rampantly popular during the late 1960s (to the present) and expresses the ins and outs of one’s own life, showcasing what the zinester is personally going through in an attempt to either document or reach out to others. Additionally during this time, the commonly referred punk zines started coming out with a following of music, art, and activism on numerous bands and artists.
Image Caption/Credit: “Common Sense, written by Thomas Paine.” Photo Credit: Indiana.edu
In the 1980s through the mid 1990s, an important zine called Factsheet Five came out, claiming title to creating one of the first zine networking systems by establishing a mailing list where like-minded people could trade zines or enter in their own reviews. Before the widespread application of email and the Internet in general, this networking system proved to be an increasingly important tool for people to establish a sense of identity and community.
Image Caption/Credit: “Fact Sheet Five Zine.” Photo Credit: FeeJeePress.com
When Riot Grrrl, an underground feminist punk movement started in Olympia, Washington, the production of zines exploded. The content of zines was filled with raw, in-your-face attitudes about life, sexuality, gender and other controversial topics. The entire scene of Riot Grrrl pushed forward with aggression and passion and still continues today. In connection with letterpress, the content of these zines could become more tactile than ever before.
With zines such as Ker-bloom by Artnoose or Solid Silver by Matt Runkle, it is clear to see letterpress is a distinctive practice for those wishing to achieve a unique look. The act of the ink compressing the paper, imprinting and marking it up stresses the idea of tangibility in a mouse-and-screen world.
It is very possible that this resurgence is a rebellion against modern graphic design today. With an eye for design and access to Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, graphic design has become somewhat of a fast forwarded process, incorporated with easy undo options. Even those you cannot as easily fix a printmaking mishap, the whole process is meant to embrace quality versus quantity. It might not be the quickest, most efficient way to make a zine, but you can bet your bottom dollar that’s going to be one swanky branding tool.
Image Caption/Credit: “Girl Germs Zine.” Photo Credit: AfterEllen.com
Image Caption/Credit: “Ker-Bloom Zine.” Photo Credit: Drexel.edu