"I myself create it, edit it, censor it, publish it, distribute it, and [may] get imprisoned for it."
Vladimir Bukovsky, on Samizdat
Vladimir Bukovsky, on Samizdat
This art zine, Paper Scissors Clocks, was published from 1996 to 2002. Created by Erik Farseth, it was published annually (with an average length of 136 pages), and was illustrated with collage art and woodcuts. Issue 1, pictured above, featured satirical fashion tips (“The Mysterious Allure of the Walrus Moustache”), a history of piracy, and several remarks on the evolution of breakdancing.
“Paper Scissors Clocks is definitely in the old school of zines, genuine fanzines about music, but it is typical of more recent stuff in that it is very DIY and non-linear,” said Paul Gehl, Custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing at the Newberry.
The Newberry has collected a wide array of Farseth’s works, including original woodcuts for the fanzine Wipe Away My Eyes. “We added these [woodcuts],” explained Gehl, “because of our commitment to documenting both the products and the processes of publishing. One of the neat things about zines is their personality: when you have one in your hand, you feel very close to the process and to the creator.”
Be sure to check out this Saturday’s “Outsiders: Zines, Samizdat, and Alternative Publishing.”
This past month, we’ve been gearing up for Saturday’s “Outsiders: Zines, Samizdat, and Alternative Publishing.” And in that time, we’ve shared a host of images—from the quirky texts of early modern broadsides to the vibrant paintings of World War II-era dissidents. We’ve left one thing unsaid: what is a zine?
By definition, a zine is a homemade publication, often with small print runs, photocopied images, and pages of original and/or appropriated text. This explanation may strike you as vague—and it is. Zines are riddled with built-in ambiguity because they—like their authors—are necessarily varied. They can be fiery manifestos or the heights of political bombast; an instructive guidebook for a hurried DIY-er; or a series of imaginative comics, peppered with superhero lore. A zine’s form and content relies on its creator, who commonly doubles as its sole writer and producer. And because they are born of singular, uncensored minds, zines tend to be controversial, prohibited, or unconventional.
The zine’s origin is a matter of opinion. Some cite Martin Luther and Thomas Paine, whose works were seminal instances of religio-political resistance. For the sake of brevity, let’s fast-forward to October of 1940, when Russ Chauvenet first coined “fanzine.” He regarded these self-published works as distinctly different from “prozines”—or professional magazines.
Into the 1950s, fanzines seemed restricted to science fiction. (The first was The Comet, published in 1930 by the Science Correspondence Club in Chicago). In the 60s and 70s, that would change—with the roaring, thunderous appearance of punk culture. Ignored by the musical mainstream, underground punk bands and punk enthusiasts would communicate through self-published literature. The punk emergence brought us a score of zine mainstays, including Sniffin’ Glue and Maximum Rock & Roll.
By the 80s, zines had attained meta-awareness; they’d become popular enough, and widespread enough, that zinesters formed a community. Factsheet Five, first published in 1982, was a fundamental cog in this community. It held comprehensive reviews of other zines, as well as the contact details of editors and publishers.
In the early 1990s, the Riot Grrrl scene (i.e., female-dominated punk rock, associated with third-wave feminism) gave rise to more explicit, political zines. They—coupled with then-burgeoning Queercore writings—addressed gender and sexual identity, rape, domestic abuse, racism, patriarchy, and female empowerment. The first to attain national recognition was Not Your Bitch, 1989-1992, printed in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Conventional media outlets would (finally) take note in the mid-90s. A number of zines were collected and published in book form, and libraries (the Newberry, among others) set upon collecting and organizing these works.
Excited for Chicago’s Zinefest? Or the Caxton Club’s “Outsiders: Zines, Samizdat, and Alternative Publishing”? This should tide you over: a World War II-era zine, Gesprek (“Conversation”), printed in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Above is its cover—a painting by Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman.
In May of 1940, Werkman, colluding with Friedrich Robert August Henkels, established a clandestine publishing house, De Blauwe Schuit (“The Blue Barge”). They produced 40-some publications, which called for spiritual resistance in the midst of Nazi cruelty.
In March of 1945, the Gestapo arrested Werkman, placing him and nine others before a firing squad. They died on the 10th of April, three days before Groningen was liberated.