Zines define a subculture that strongly identifies as DIY.
You can trace zine publishing pretty far back. The term “sine” popped up in the 1930s, when science fiction readers began publishing their own “fanzines.” Zines really took off in the 1970s, when both the punk movement and the copy machine were gaining steam.
R. Seth Friedman knows a lot about zines, mainly because of the zine he used to publish called Factsheet Five.
“I published it in 1992, when I took over from Hudson Luce, and published it until 1998,” says Friedman.
Fact Sheet Five was a zinester’s zine. Each issue included articles about culture and self-publishing tips. It was a kind of clearinghouse of information about zines: what was good, who was publishing and how to get in touch with them to order their zines.
Chloe Eudaly, the owner of the independent bookstore Reading Frenzy, first picked up a copy of Factsheet Five back in 1988. Eudaly’s Portland store sells zines and other small-press publications. She says that if it hadn’t been for Factsheet Five, she might never have opened Reading Frenzy in the first place.
“Factsheet Five was like this portal to another universe that really kind of blew my mind,” Eudaly explains. “Factsheet Five provided a kind of paper Internet before there was an Internet. Or before the Internet was accessible to the average user.”
“I really can’t imagine if it hadn’t had existed how I would have discovered zines or really gotten a grasp of the phenomenon as a whole,” she continues.
Factsheet Five changed Friedman’s life, too.
The amount of mail that I got every day was phenomenal,” Friedman says.
His main job, as he saw it, was to encourage people to self-publish. Of course, that also involved offering some constructive criticism. Explains Friedman, “I would say, ‘This sine is good, but this person needs to work on their stapling or their Xeroxing skills.’”
The unstoppable influx of mail, coupled with a small trickle of money, led to an unsustainable situation. And then there was that whole Internet thing.
“The growth of the Internet really meant the death, not of zines per se, but for independent magazines,” says Friedman.
Still, zine culture is alive and well. It persists even with all the options for self-expression that the Internet provides, even without a resource like Factsheet Five.
I recently attended an event at Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center. While I was there, I spoke to a lot of younger zinesters who had never even heard of Factsheet Five. They told me they find out about new zines online through Facebook or Tumblr, their favorite zine distributors or just through word of mouth. So I guess you could argue that the Internet has made zines more widely available.
“But zine publishers are all about paper, and the intimacy of the exchange of paper through the mail is very different from the Internet,” says Friedman.
Handmade physical zines are still a mainstay of DIY culture. Hundreds of zines trade hands at events like the annual Portland Zine Symposium. And in some places, you can even find them at your local library.