There are so many clichés that can and have been used to describe fanzines and the scenes around them that it’s near impossible to do justice to these thousands, if not millions of painstakingly hand-crafted publications that speak volumes about the fundamental ways in which people like to share and come together.
Love, music, sport, poetry, politics, identity, science, art, history… if you can think of a subject – no matter how obscure – someone, somewhere has committed it to ink and paper, often with nothing but the most basic of tools, a streak of creativity and the desire to speak out. “Zines let you express points of view without censorship, that won’t get coverage anywhere else,” explains Alex Zamora, who has been championing the zine scene since 2006 and travels widely to meet zinesters all over the world. He began chronicling the people, zines, events and publications through Facebook, Twitter, Patreon and Instagram four years later, to connect with different scenes around the world. “There are no rules because it’s not a commercial operation.”
He’s also currently compiling a list of every upcoming zine fest, zine fair and zine event in the world. If you’re looking for anyone in Europe who knows more about the fanzine scene than Alex, then you’d struggle to find them. “I’m just trying to illustrate that the zine world is global,” he says.
The first examples of this “global movement that never went away” came about in the thirties, forties and fifties, where sci-fi ‘nerds’ produced pamphlets of self-published short stories and comic strips. They became so popular that they inspired generations of writers, including the legendary horror and sci-fi author, Stephen King. In the 1960s, the zine became the format for worshipping rock and roll idols and America’s Crawdaddy! eventually grew into a fully-fledged and widely circulated magazine.
However, the most famous examples of fanzines are from the 1970s UK punk scene, where the handmade, ‘do it yourself’ attitude to music and fashion suited the format perfectly. It was a time of record unemployment and teens were angered by a society they felt didn’t represent them. The Sex Pistols were screaming “no future” in their punk anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ and fanzines like the haphazard ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ perfectly chronicled this sense of anger and urgency. But despite this being the most famous era of the fanzine, it’s far from representative of the movement as a whole. Today’s zines enjoy a global marketplace and have a collective status as an artform. “It’s quite joyous that you can now publish something that your friends, your local scene or someone in, say, Queensland [Australia] can also swap directly, or buy through the likes of Etsy,” says Alex.
Artist Deniz Beşer divides his time between Vienna and Istanbul, where he publishes the art zine ‘Heyt be! Fanzin’ and organises ‘FanzineIST’, an annual festival where you can buy fanzines from around Europe, take part in talks and workshops and meet other like-minded zinesters. He and his friends are passionate about the scene. “FanzineIST’s mission is to show the culture and accessibility of zine-making. We welcome artists and creators to share their stories, knowledge and love of zines.”
The first event was held in 2016 and participant numbers have substantially increased in subsequent years. “At our second event there was more than 135 participants from ten different countries. The festival was organised without any budget and that was a challenge. It is really hard to find a supporter and sponsorship in Istanbul, so we are open for collaborations and supporters for our future events.” Deniz and his friend, the curator Deniz Güvensoy are looking to bring the event to Vienna, where the thriving arts scene lends itself beautifully to the principles of FanzineIST.
In Brighton, Young Adult authors Eleanor Wood and Harriet Reuter Hapgood have embraced the zine as a nostalgic nod to the magazines of their teenage years. ‘I AM NOT ASHAMED’ is a joyful “lo-fi 90s-style zine” that celebrates all of their favourite things. “We both write novels for teens, which is how we met” says Eleanor. “But it’s more aimed at people our age who feel nostalgic for their teen years. We just made the kind of zine we want to read, although we are probably quite a niche audience.”
Each zine is unique – cut, pasted and photocopied, then individually customised. “We’ve done a super-limited run of fifty per issue and want it to be quite disposable, so when they’re gone, that’s it.”
Despite their intentions, and the limited run, Eleanor and Harriet’s zines are bought by their older readers and I AM NOT ASHAMED has seen them hold zine workshops and venture into the community beyond Eleanor’s famous kitchen table, as immortalised in Issue 2. “We’ve met/been in touch with a few other pals and writers who are doing similar things. We’ve also done a few zine swaps with people, which feels nice and community spirited.”
Each zine is unique – cut, pasted and photocopied
The obvious question at this stage is ‘why?’ After all, isn’t the Internet letting people publish their art, thoughts and opinions? And doesn’t social media create more global communities?
“For me, zines should be physical materials because I need to touch the paper, understand the characteristic features of printing, binding methods. Those kinds of details are so important,” says Deniz. “I may be a bit of a romantic person, who needs to follow old traditions, but I have a specific connection with and passion for printed materials. Furthermore, to keep going with analogue is our rebellion in this digital era.”
For Alex, the zine is both socially bonding and culturally significant. “A whole spectrum of subjects and extremes of opinion are available, but in my experience, the zine community and zine fests are really inclusive spaces.
It's important to remember that it's not owned by any culture in particular. Every inhabited continent has its own zine scene and zine history. Many countries do, too. Some are established and expansive. Others are ephemeral, small, or maybe isolated. They're all crucial to the development of popular culture in those places.
They capture a moment in time.”