The World of the Zine
What is a Zine?
A zine, shortened from “magazine,” is basically that—a collection of work in a physical or digital format. They can contain anything the creator wants, whether it be writing, art, photography, or something else. Zines allow for complete creative freedom!
They’re actually very similar to literary magazines and chapbooks. There are only two major differences between them: the size and construction. Compared to lit mags, zines are usually more limited in the number of copies produced. While chapbooks are usually 40 pages or fewer, zines easily and often make it into the 100s. Creators might have very limited budgets and access to printing equipment if they have any at all. They may outsource the printing or handmake everything themselves.
The term zine (pronounced zy-ne or zeen depending on the person) was coined in 1940 thanks to the sci-fi community. It was Star Trek fans who really popularized the modern art, but zines still existed long before that. In fact, zines have a significant historical influence in the publishing industry since they provided underrepresented and socially marginalized groups with a means of getting their skills and information out, including the most popular feminist zine, Riot Grrrl. Finding new ways to share and publish work allowed creators created and readers a unique way to communicate with each other.
Traditional Zines and Fanzines
Nowadays, zines can be categorized into two major types: traditional zines and fanzines.
The old, early zines are what you could consider traditional zines. They’re born out of a passion project, a unique skillset someone wants to showcase, or as a means of communicating and informing. While they can include any kind of material, traditional zines usually showcase writing—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—and art from creators whose work isn’t yet professionally published. They are usually only handmade by one or two people and are sold by the author for profit, in a way that’s similar to self-publishing.
Fanzines, on the other hand, are born out of groups of fans, or “fandoms.” They’re usually zines made from a TV show, a video game, a music group, or anything else that might gain a following. Fanzines contain the standard writing and art that traditional zines do, but they also take it a step further and include cosplay, merchandise, voiceovers, and other forms of media. Since fanzines are usually made by large groups of people, they have more leeway when contributing to these projects. However, depending on a company’s fanwork policy, fanzine creators often can’t receive monetary compensation for their product, so they work around this by selling at the cheaper production price or donating their extra funds to charity.
Since about 2010, zines have started to come back to the main scene once more. With social media booming and becoming one of the best methods of online communication, people can reach larger social groups to participate in and sell their zines. There are multiple communities built entirely around sharing zines with others, with entire websites even dedicated to zines, so it’s easy for people to share these ideas and get involved.
Libraries and archives even store small prints and zines. The Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, MA stores over 15,000 zines and independent forms of media. Additionally, Harvard has their own zine collection with hundreds of zines that can be browsed from their online database. There are several more around the country, and new ones continue to pop up as these collections grow larger. Some even provide resources for free to allow creators to publish their work themselves directly into the library.
And let’s not forget zine workshops and conferences. Run like normal conventions, zine workshops and conferences are places where large gatherings of people can congregate and share their work, share tips and tricks of the trade, and engage with the community. The San Francisco Zine Fest, founded in 2001, is one of the most popular zine festivals and continues to see great success every year.
Thanks to the modern age of technology, it is easier than ever before to produce a zine, whether traditional or fan related. The availability of publishing has grown, but zines have grown right along with it, giving creators all sorts of freedom to create.