A Brief History of Zines

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via Mental Floss

BY Chloe Arnold

Zines have now become so mainstream that even Kanye West has one. In February 2016, the hip-hop artist tweeted: “Season 2 Zine pronounced Zeen short for magazine. A lot of people pronounce it wrong.” The tweet included a picture of the publication Kanye had made to accompany his second line of footwear for his brand, Yeezy. After decades of existence, zines are no longer strictly counter-culture, but they originated as small-scale DIY efforts—many with an anti-authoritarian message.

Most definitions of zines include the fact that they are small-circulation, self-published, and often inexpensive or free. That’s generally true, although these are more guidelines than hard-and-fast rules. The most important aspect of a zine is generally that the publication identifies as one. Many zine-makers will say zines are as much about the community as the product, and that identifying as a zine is what separates these publications from comics, literary journals, websites, and other types of independent publications.

The first zine is often traced back to a 1930s effort by the Science Correspondence Club in Chicago. It was called The Comet, and it started a long-lasting trend of sci-fi related zines. The important sci-fi zine Fantasy Commentator began in 1943, and ran in various iterations (though not continuously) until 2004. One of the pieces serialized in Fantasy Commentator eventually became Sam Moskowitz’s book on the history of sci-fi fandom, The Immortal Storm. The interconnectedness of zines and sci-fi is reflected in the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) Hugo award for Best Fanzine, first given out in 1955 and still awarded today. (As the name of that award shows, zines were originally called fanzines, alluding to the fans who made them. Eventually, fanzine was just shortened to zine, and the range of topics widened to include practically anything.)

The relationship between zines and sci-fi deepened after 1967, when the first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia, was produced. It gained plenty of attention, and the second issue included letters by members of the show, including writer D.C. Fontana and actors James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy. (The actors all wrote their letters in character.) In 1968, Star Trek was reportedly going to be canceled after two seasons, but a letter-writing campaign—partly organized through fanzines—that generated over 160,000 missives was able to help get the show back on the air for another year.

The technological innovations of the ‘70s made zines easier to create than ever. In particular, the rise of copy shops allowed zine-makers to produce their work cheaply and quickly. (Previously, zines had been produced using mimeographs, which push ink through a stencil to make multiple prints, but the process was impractical for large-scale production.) Steve Samiof, one of the people behind the popular punk zine Slash, told Dazed in an interview earlier this year that the copy shops of the ’70s were “extremely inexpensive—you could pay under $800 for 5000 copies and that would be the actual printing cost.”

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