Very little has managed to remain untouched by the impact of quarantine. As many writers know, the publishing industry along with the writing community as a whole have taken some severe blows as a result of the pandemic. However, amidst the chaos of change that we have all experienced at some point, one integral part of the writing world has managed to stay intact. In fact, it has even flourished during lockdown. Zine production amongst Gen Z creators blossomed during the early months of quarantine. And, unlike the many fleeting trends that surfaced in the past year, zines continue to grow in popularity.
A zine, also known as a fanzine or a webzine, is a form of self-publishing where an individual or group creates a magazine-structured work of art filled with whatever they desire. Though there are some disagreements about when this style of publication began, many point to the 1930s as the birth of zines as science fiction fanzines were popularized. From there, zines took on different forms and roles in subcultures. Some of the most notorious eras of zines stem from 1970s punk and 1990s riot grrrl movements. With many subcultures and scenes utilizing zines as a mode of creativity and expression, one thing has remained the same: that they are a staple for alternative communities.
In 2020, indie and ‘alt’ teens found their place within the internet, allowing them to quickly develop similar fashion styles, music tastes, and interests. They have created their own community connected by social sites. However, with the abundance of free time created by lockdown last spring, a few teens took on the task of self publishing. Slowly, promotional pages for indie zines started to pop up on the Instagram ‘explore page’ and Tik Tok’s ‘for you page’. And then, it caught traction. Just by liking one post from these accounts, you could find yourself falling down the rabbit hole of Gen Z zines. Hundreds of accounts with followers ranging from the hundreds to hundred thousands exist, and for the most part, all of them have open submissions. In the matter of a few months, alternative internet communities have managed to move beyond pixels. Using social media, they have gathered photography, articles, short stories, poems, fashion advice, short films, and practically any form of media you can create from people around the world and turned it into a tangible zine.
With this renewed interest in zines, Gen Z is also changing the production process. Prior to the internet, zines were more of a local venture. Often, someone would come up with an idea for a zine and create it themselves, sometimes as a solo mission, and other times with a team of close friends. These were the sole contributors. Distribution looked different as well. Zines were traded, sold, or simply given out at practically any and all places including book stores, record shops, zine fests, and concerts.
Rowan University professor and zine enthusiast, Jason Luther, recounts zine production when he first got involved in the culture during the mid-90s, “My parents had a basic DOS-based computer which had both pre-AOL internet service called Prodigy…. I basically remember writing terrible essays, record reviews, and type up interviews with bands I reached out to and then print them out on a dot-matrix printer.” As for the means of distribution, he comments, “I’d assemble these in my kitchen and mostly sell copies at shows by just going up to strangers (which I absolutely hated). Eventually I would drop some at local record stores in Buffalo”.
As for these new-age zines, things function a bit differently. Instead of having one or a few contributors, most of them utilize submissions from across the world. This allows them to have a more diverse outlook as they include many distinct voices. Still, they can face the issue of continuity. With so many contributors, it can be difficult to get a cohesive voice and tone across articles. Distribution is also extremely changed. Especially with social distancing mandates temporarily closing venues where zines were traditionally sold, publications are mostly reliant on online orders. Aside from that, zines are also slowly sneaking into the corporate world that they once rallied against. As Luther mentions, “They also circulate there [social media], blurring distinctions between print and digital, and are sold via places like Etsy and Urban Outfitters, which are corporately controlled spaces”.
While this change may not seem that substantial to people outside of the zine production, it means a lot to potential contributors and their submissions. Younger writers now have an entire different side of the publication world to explore. Most professors and writing mentors will suggest that newer writers focus on sending their work to literary magazines. Of course, there are many benefits to submitting to more traditional magazines, however, there is a certain freedom that only zines possess.
“Zines are raw,” remarks Luther. “Zines today are much more focused on identity…”. Zines offer contributors and readers alike a way to see a reflection of themselves in print where they otherwise wouldn’t within the confines of mainstream media. Which is why having a wide variety of voices in contemporary zines is so important. Without diverse perspectives and alternative outlooks, zines would not have the charm that has allowed them to maintain vital parts of subcultures for so long.
So, submit your work to a zine! Let your most honest and truthful writing be seen. “Submit to one, sure!” Luther suggests, “but also, make your own! That’s how communities develop and how you’ll create writing that is specific to your audience.” Creating zines is a great way to express yourself and highlight your interests without any limitations. There are no word counts, no prompts, and no rules.
If you attend Rowan and are fascinated by zines and the world surrounding them, make sure to check out Jason Luther’s course offered Spring 2021 semester, Self Publishing. Beyond learning the ins and outs of self publishing, students will also have the opportunity to create their own zines with guidance from Luther himself.