The zine scene: Underground world of self-publishing
Self-publishing has been synonymous with anarchy and rebellion for as long as printing has been around.
Whether handing out self-written religious pamphlets, distributing anti-regime propaganda, or selling books that no mainstream publisher would dare take on, the desire to communicate ideas outside of anyone else's demands has always been attractive.
These days, the blogosphere challenges traditional news sources, YouTube gives an alternative to mass media exposure, while musicians and other creative types get their wares out through everything from Bandcamp to Etsy.
Having the option to self-publish brings control back to the individuals, while taking it out of the hands of an overarching minority.
Stepping slightly away from rebellion and anarchy, zines are self-published works filled with creative texts and images, both original and appropriated, and often distributed through fairs -- a throwback to the traditional trading of yesteryear.
A networked community, most zines are traded at fairs, which keep the ethos of self-publishing around.
Animation artist Bryn Desmond-Jones works within a collective to create the Beef Knuckles zine -- filled with a hearty mix of comics, illustrations, stories, and jokes -- as well as The Ball Street Journal, drawn from characters in 'the loop.'
“I think people like zines because of the personal aspect they have,” says Desmond-Jones. “There's a real sense of the author, from the content to how the zine was made."
"More often zines are a short idea, something that wouldn't get made if it were a book or a TV show.”
It’s that "sense of the author", so unique to self-publishing, that creates an engagement with the reader, and emphasizes the personal aspect.
“I think they offer something niche and exclusive, something that not everyone is reading, which is becoming harder and harder to find in the ubiquitous world of Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook,” he says.
“They offer the escape of a great book, but on a smaller scale, and they certainly make riding the bus more enjoyable.”
Advising anyone who’s interested in the zine scene to give in a go, Desmond-Jones says, “If you've got an idea, make it. I guarantee someone will pick it up and want to read it."
"More than likely, they'll look a bit like you. Zines often attract a much more specific reader, usually a lot like the zine's author.”
Lee Tran has been making the Speakeasy zine for 12 years, and sees the support of the zine community as integral to its appeal.
”Because it's such a DIY, low-budget activity, people are making zines for the love of it,” she says. “There's a sense of community, looking out for others, and tipping off other people when there's an upcoming zine fair on.
"There's no money or prestige in it, so people are making zines just for the fun and joy of it.”
Despite the rise of blog culture, the space occupied by zines doesn’t appear to have been compromised.
“Zines are so different to blogs in that anyone can start a blog -- there are so many ways to instantly create one: just add water,” says Tran. “Making a zine is a grueling, time-consuming affair, where lots of things go wrong -- they can be bound the wrong way, with pages not matching up, but still 100 zines to fold in (a manic) four hours."
“There’s also the physical and handmade appeal. There are things in my zines -- pictures that flip up, hand-taped photographs, individually stamped illustrations, eccentric Post-it notes -- that you can't reproduce in a blog with the same effect."
"Zines have a one-of-a-kind magic.”
The only limitation on a zine’s design is the artist’s imagination.
Fayroze Lutta makes zines out of a range of materials, including fabric. “I have never seen a fabric zine other than my own, but I decided fabric would have an interesting textural quality, harping back to childhood memories of cloth books,” she says.
“I also print on semi-transparent materials and put a white sheet of paper underneath to give another quality. I have added gocco covers to zines and put coloured plastic covers on a paper ones."
"Coming from a fine arts background, the idea of pushing a medium appeals to me.”
The fairest of the fairs
The majority of zines are traded at fairs, within a niche audience of readers, writers and creative types, embracing their quirky nature, and distinctive takes on the world.
The fact that anything goes is certainly part of the appeal, allowing the artists a freedom not to conform to any set style, and meaning that each new fair can bring surprises for both collectors and producers.
In May every year the Museum of Contemporary Art holds a massive zine fair as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival. The biggest zine fair in the southern hemisphere attracts audiences far outside of the cosy zine scene, and helps spread the world about this fantastic underground culture.
In the meantime there are plenty of smaller fairs for anyone who wants to sample what the scene has to offer.
The "This Is Not Art" festival in Newcastle will include a zine fair on October 2 in the King Street car park, www.thisisnotart.org
Down south, in Melbourne, the zine scene is taking off as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Upcoming zine fairs in Melbourne
Art: Noise, Wednesday September 21, The Blue Tile Lounge, 95 Smith St., Fitzroy, www.facebook.com/pages/ArtNoise-collective
Vandals or Vanguards? Monday September 26, noon-1 p.m., RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston St., Melbourne, www.rmit.edu.au
Impact 7 Sticky Mini Zine Fair, Friday September 30, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monash Museum of Art (MUMA), Monash University, Caulfield, www.monash.edu.au/news/events/show/sticky-zine-fair
Ten years of 'You' Zine Fair, Friday September 30, 3 p.m.-5 p.m., at Sticky, www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/ten-years-of-you-zine
I Heart Tintin, Tuesday October 4, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., The Castle Window, 681 Sydney Road, Brunswick,www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/i-heart-tintin