Zines are self-published texts made by an individual or a collective using a photocopier. They are generally produced in low print runs, with the creators undertaking all aspects of production and distribution. The size and length of a zine can vary from a single A4 page folded into six A7 sized pages to an A5 booklet of up to 50 or more pages. The production values found in zines are diverse, from orderly and professional typesetting and layout to handwritten text accompanied by poorly copied images. Black and white photocopying is still the most common technology used for zine production.
Zines are found in a range of different communities, where they are used for communication, artistic experimentation, personal expression and information sharing. The science fiction fan community in Australia (as well as other countries) has used zines—also known in this context as fanzines or newsletters—since the 1950s to publish reviews, news, letters, interviews, original short stories, fan fiction and art. In this context, fanzines are often circulated through the mail to subscribers who may also be members of a fan club or association. One example is The Captain’s Log, the regular newsletter of AUSTREK, the Star Trek fan club based in Melbourne. There have also been numerous zines dedicated to the local music scenes in major cities since the 1970s, some of which (for example, Cyclic Defrost) have become professionally produced magazines.
At the other end of the zines spectrum sits the project YOU, a free anonymous letter handwritten and photocopied on a single A4 sheet of paper that is left in public spaces around the world. Each week a new letter appears, sealed in a hand-decorated paper bag and stamped with the word ‘YOU’. This project has been running for 10 years; it is published in Melbourne and circulates through the international zine culture network. Here, the zine form is used for a kind of autobiographical art performance, with the zine’s creator, Luke You, documenting the birth of his two children, attendance at local gigs and everyday life.
Between these two points of the spectrum are publications that cover topics such as history, radical politics, cycling, cooking, op-shop reviews, popular culture, sexuality, working low-paid jobs and travel. Political commentary and social satire are common subjects, found in long-running zines such as Web: New Reality. Comic artists and poets also use the zine form to present and circulate their work.
Since the mid-1990s, zines have circulated in established distribution sites that constitute ‘zine culture’ in Australia, and that exist outside fan communities. These include mail-order distributors, zine fairs and the Sticky Institute in Melbourne (est. 2001), an artist-run space that exhibits and sells zines in a small shop in a city subway. It is the first permanent physical space dedicated to the circulation of zines in Australia, and has been supported by arts funding.
Mail-order distributors operate out of the houses of individual zine makers. Since 2000, zine fairs have gained popularity and are now held regularly by the Sticky Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney), the National Young Writers’ Festival (Newcastle) and the Format Festival (Adelaide). One-off fairs are also organised by local councils, zine makers and writers’ festivals. Zines are also stocked in sympathetic independent bookstores, community spaces and artist-run galleries.
Zines are increasingly collected by libraries as an important part of Australia’s media culture. The National Library of Australia holds zines as well as the Susan Smith-Clarke Fanzine Collection dedicated to science fiction fan publications. Murdoch University also holds a collection of fan publications in its Speculative Fiction Collections. The State Library of Victoria has been actively collecting zines since 1999. The Octapod organisation in Newcastle holds a large collection that began with the publication of the New Pollution zine anthology in 1998. Given the ephemeral nature of zines, their highly personal production and underground distribution, these collections cannot aim to be exhaustive, but they provide a useful insight into the diversity and energy of Australia’s zine culture.
REFs: L.M. Ihlein, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About the “the Underground”’, Artlink 30(2) (2010); A. Poletti (ed.), ‘A People’s History of Australian Zines’, HEAT: Sheltered Lives, 11 (2006).