zine scene

So last week while landisdad and I were on vacation, we got a babysitter one night and went out to dinner. We had a few minutes to spare before our reservation (how did that happen?), so we wandered in to our local hippie store to browse. I can’t remember what landisdad bought, because I was hypnotized by the magazine rack full of zines on one wall.

I first experienced zines in the early ’90s, when I moved to the Bay Area. I hung out with a fairly alternative crowd, although not strictly a punk one, and we frequented a lot of both new and used independent bookstores. It was at those bookstores–Moe’s, Cody’s & Black Oaks Books in Berkeley, Diesel & Walden Pond in Oakland, City Lights, Modern Times, & Green Apple Books in San Francisco–we wasted time in all of them, sometimes for hours. We were nearly always broke, and used bookstores were by far the way to go, since their prices were so much lower than the new bookstores. And zines were great, since they were given away, or they cost a buck or two. Picking them out was a total crapshoot–you might find some brilliant, savagely funny writing, or you might find total garbage–just some guy writing about how he loved to get drunk.

The beauty of the zines, though, was their sheer amateurishness. The do-it-yourself quality. People clearly spent hours, days assembling their zines and then distributing them, and for what? I doubt that more than a handful of zines ever made back the small amount of money it cost to produce them, and yet people kept churning them out. I loved that about them–the fact that they were so clearly a labor of love. They were the product of people with something to say, and even if I didn’t find what they had to say particularly interesting at times, I still had to give them credit for putting in the work.

Jumping back to 2005, I ended up buying four new zines that night that landisdad and I were out. I’ve finished all but one of them now, and of the four, there was one that I’d pick up again, if I saw it somewhere. Since it cost me $8 to buy all four, I think that’s a pretty good investment.

Reading through them, I’ve been thinking, why would anyone keep making zines, when self-publishing on the web has gotten so much easier? Although I guess that you could say that about any kind of writing–why write for a magazine, when you can just blog, why send letters to the editor of your local newspaper, when you can post your opinions to the world wide web?

I started to call this post “are blogs the grown-up version of zines,” but I decided that framed it in a way I didn’t want to go. Obviously, zines and blogs can live in the same universe. And it’s pretty pedestrian of me to want to delegate zines to a lower level of the literary chain, just because I happened to encounter them in my youth and blogs in my middle age–I’m sure there are many fine zines being produced by people in their thirties and forties, just as they are probably many inane blogs being produced by people in their teens and twenties (I don’t visit that corner of the blogosphere much).


August 13, 2005. books for grown-ups. 6 comments.