Zines 101

PICTURED: “Oven is My Friend,” Cut Paper Collage by Erik Farseth (1995, 2015)


  • Zines are small self-published magazines produced as a labor of love, with no regard for profit.
  • Fanzines (short for “fan magazines”) were invented by science fiction fans during the Great Depression.
    • Superman made his first appearance in an amateur science fiction zine published by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933.
    • British author Michael Moorcock (creator of the Elric saga) wrote short stories for Tarzan fanzines.
  • Music zines (such as Crawdaddy) first appeared in the late-1960s.
  • In the 1970s, fans of the nascent punk scene began publishing their own music fanzines (among them: Slash, Bomp!, Sniffin’ Glue, Ripped and Torn, and Punk). In so doing, they helped to preserve and document a culture that would eventually take the music industry (and the fashion industry) by storm.
    • Punk zines can be seen as an example of parallel evolution.
  • From the mid-seventies onward, zines formed the backbone of the underground music scene, providing news reports, record reviews, and interviews with artists/writers/political activists.
    • Young people had created an alternate media landscape, an underground news network that provided in-depth coverage of subjects that the mainstream media routinely ignored.
Front cover of Maximumrocknroll #23
  • In 1980, Bruce Pavitt, then a student at Evergreen State University, began publishing Subterranean Pop fanzine. The name was later shortened to Sub Pop.
    • Inspired by the nationwide tape-trading community, Pavitt released a series of cassette-only zines which contained music by up-and-coming bands.
    • By 1987, Sub Pop had grown into a full-fledged record label.
      • Pavitt released the first recordings by Soundgarden and Nirvana.
      • Sub Pop Records still exists today, although Pavitt left the company in 1996.
  • In Minneapolis, Hüsker Dü guitarist Bob Mould co-founded Your Flesh with Ron Clark and Peter Davis in 1981.
    • Your Flesh was later published by Fantagraphics Books.
  • Inspired (in part) by the L.A. punk scene, cartoonists Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez self-published the first issue of Love and Rockets in 1981.
    • The Hernandez Bros. sent a copy of their zine to the Comics Journal, hoping to get it reviewed.
    • Instead of reviewing it, the editors of the Comics Journal decided to publish Love and Rockets under their own imprint.
  • Berkeley native Aaron Cometbus began publishing the long-running omni-zine Ride the Wohl Whip Cometbus in 1981. From travel stories, to tales of punk rock love, to the oral history of a worker-owned vegetarian cafe, Cometbus has had its finger on the pulse of the American underground for 37 years.
    • Portions of the zine were later republished in book form by Last Gasp Publishing: Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus (a 608 page collection of early material); Double Duce (a novel); and Add Toner.
    • Cometbus #58 was released in 2017.
  • In 1982, the creators of the Maximumrocknroll radio program began publishing a print zine in San Francisco. It quickly grew into a monthly magazine, with coverage of local punk scenes from around the world.
    • The first issue of Maximumrocknroll (MRR) was included as part of the compilation album Not So Quiet on the Western Front.
    • The magazine was published by a team of volunteers and “shitworkers,” many of whom lived in a collective house.
      • MRR coordinator Tim Yohannon (1945-1998), a remnant from the Sixties counterculture, presided over the magazine as “First Among Equals.”
    • Thirty six years later, Maximumrocknroll is still being published once per month. MRR #418 was released in March 2018.
  • 1982 was also the year that Mike Gunderloy published the first issue of Factsheet 5, a global review zine covering everything from anarchist politics to mail art.
    • Every issue of Factsheet 5 contained hundreds of capsule reviews, together with zine editors’ contact information.
    • This helped forge connections between thousands of disparate publications, blurring the lines between different subcultures.
    • Using Factsheet 5 as a guidebook, people began trading small press publications through the mail.
  • No longer mere “fan magazines,” zines had become a whole new literary genre (and a subculture) unto themselves.
  • In Toronto, Canada, musician G.B. Jones (Fifth Column) and the filmmaker Bruce LaBruce began publishing the pioneering the queer zine J.D.s in 1985.
    • J.D.s (short for Juvenile Delinquents) chronicled a gay and lesbian punk rock scene that didn’t really exist yet, as such. Ten years later, an actual queercore scene would develop in its wake.
      • The J.D.’s manifesto (“Don’t Be Gay”) was later republished in Maximumrocknroll.
      • The zine is credited with coining the term “Homocore” to describe the movement, a name that would later be taken up by activists in Chicago who put on a series of Homocore concerts.
  • In 1990, the performance artist Lisa Crystal Carver (aka “Lisa Suckdog”) began publishing Rollerderby, a zine known for its controversial artwork and often taboo subject matter.
    • The ur-zine of perzines (short for “personal zines”), Rollerderby became a forum for Lisa and her friends to discuss topics such as sex (and sex work), cats, Fabio, “female masturbation fantasies,” music, reading other people’s mail, circumcision, cable access television personalities, and self-affirmation (e.g., “you don’t have to be beautiful to be naked”).
  • The first major queer zine convention (“Spew: The Homographic Convergence”) took place in Chicago in 1991.
  • That same year, the Riot Grrrl movement was launched by zinesters living in Evergreen, WA and Washington D.C. (including members of the feminist punk bands Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens To Betsy, and –later– Sleater-Kinney).
  • The Year Zines Broke:  In 1992, the mainstream media seized upon the idea of zines as “an emerging trend.”
    • Feature articles about zines and zine culture began to appear in major media outlets such as Newsweek, The New York Times, Details, etc.
    • Sassy, a teen fashion magazine, ran a regular feature called “Zine-of-the-Month,” which brought zines to the attention of teenage girls.
    • Hoping to seize on a new trend, professional graphic designers consulted with high school students on how to achieve the “distressed look” of “found photographs” and hand drawn lettering pasted-together using rubber cement. Zinesters were nonplussed.
      • Taco Bell even tried to get in on the action: The nationwide fast food chain printed an “A-Z of Alternative Culture” that ended with “Z for zines.”
    • In 1992, R. Seth Friedman took over the publication of Factsheet 5. Circulation of the zine increased to 16,000 copies per issue.
  • By 1994, at the height of their popularity, there were an estimated 10,000 zines being published at any given time, ranging from tiny niche publications such as The Journal of Ride Theory (a zine about carnival rides)… to underground comix… feminist publications… music zines… travel zines… queer zines… true crime… punk zines… film zines… poetry zines… and pop culture zines (some of which evolved into glossy mainstream magazines).
    • Zines were now being sold at major newsstands, and even Barnes and Noble bookstores.
  • Angered by ongoing music censorship and the gerontocracy that controlled Maximumrocknroll, fans of punk and emo created an upstart magazine to compete directly with MRR. The first issue of the Chicago-based Punk Planet was published 1994.
    • Originally an MRR clone, Punk Planet quickly distinguished itself with better production values (including perfect binding and full color covers), a strong graphic design sensibility, and in-depth coverage of art and politics (“more than music”).
      • Some of this material was later republished in the book We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet, the Collected Interviews (2001).
  • The Nineties “zine revolution” peaked in 1997, the same year that more than a dozen zine books were published by major publishing houses.
    • By this time, many of the larger zines were distributing 10-15,000 copies of every issue. That was good news for independent publishers.
    • But the rising cost of paper, and the ease of Web publishing had made zine-making far less affordable.
  • Zines went into a 10-year decline as blogs and websites became the new face of self-publishing.
  • As formerly obscure subcultures took root on the internet –bringing alternative culture to the masses– zines experienced something of an identity crisis; they became much more personal as a result.
    • Thirty years ago, if you wanted to learn about D.C. hardcore (for example), or the history of Japanese manga, fanzines were the primary (and frequently the only) source of information on those topics. Today, there is a wealth of information readily available on the internet.
      • As a result of this sea change, mini-comics, personal-political zines, and diary zines (or “perzines”) have largely supplanted traditional fan magazines and underground newspapers.
        • Zines are evolving to reflect the needs of different audiences.
  • Punk Planet ceased publication in 2008: For the second time in less than a decade, Punk Planet’s distributor had filed for bankruptcy.
    • The final issue was Punk Planet #80.
  • Not getting paid by the distributor for thousands of magazines that have already been sold is a financial hardship that most small publishers cannot afford.
    • NOTE: This is not just a problem for tiny niche publications. Over the last ten years, many major news organizations have been forced to downsize (or have been shut down entirely) by larger media conglomerates.
  • Today, the xeroxed fanzine –copied, folded in half, and stapled in the middle– is making a comeback.
    • The current zine revival has been underway since (roughly) 2005.
    • Zines have found new adherents among a younger generation that grew up on the internet, for whom print publications are a genuine alternative.
      • As digital technology continues to intrude upon every aspect of our lives, zines offer a handcrafted alternative to Twitter, one that is tactile, and decidedly low-tech.
  • In 2017, the Chicago Zine Fest drew more than 230 exhibitors and independent publishers.
PICTURED: “Fast Connection” zine (United Kingdom), Cover art by Rachel Holboro


  • For centuries, freedom of the press had been limited to those who owned one. Self-service copy shops changed all of that.
    • Suddenly, anyone with access to a photocopier could create their own publication, overnight.
  • Zines give artists and writers a means to circumvent the cultural gatekeepers, and get their work directly into the hands of potential readers.
  • Zines predated (and prefigured) online social networking and the advent of the World Wide Web.
  • Zines are democratic: These are not precious art objects, to be displayed under glass. Zines are interactive: they are meant to be handled (and traded); to be read on the bus, or folded-up and carried around in your back pocket.


Do-It-Yourself Culture is a form of cultural output (and a political movement) that seeks to break down the barriers between producers and consumers, blurring the lines between leaders and followers, artists and non-artists, musicians and fans. It is an ideology of personal empowerment, born of out of necessity and simple practicality.

DIY means making do with whatever resources you have at your disposal, regardless of “talent.” It is learning by doing (creating new forms of art in the process). Zines are one example of this. Subway graffiti (or aerosol art) is another.