Some thoughts on the evolution of zines from the 1980s till now

gunder1I’ve recently read How to publish a fanzine by Mike Gunderloy (from 1988!). This book is no longer in print, but I stumbled upon a second-hand copy at the Alternatieve Boekenbeurs and you can read it online here. Mike Gunderloy used to edit Factsheet Five, a review zine* that was widely distributed in diverse zine scenes (from punk zines to sci-fi zines, he covered them all). The book is an interesting view from someone who was active in the self-publishing and zine world, and by writing about it, encouraged others to make zines too.


Reading How to publish a fanzine, I realise how much has changed in the zine world the past decades. 1988 is when yours truly was just in primary school and when the first computers had phone numbers you had to dial to get in touch (so the book told me), so it’s obvious that zines have evolved too in the past decades.

Firstly, the general name for zines was “fanzines” in the 80s, which is now mostly used for a certain type of zine. As far as I know, “fanzine” was the commonly-used term in the 90s too, but somewhere in the 2000s this changed to “zines”.

I’m sort of familiar with zines from the 1990s and have been active in the zine scene since around 2000 but the 1980s are so much more different than I could imagine (I can’t even begin to wonder what it was like in the 70s or before… now I want to read the book Smoking Typewriters about underground publications in the late 1960s / early 1970s). You can see the evolutions for example in printing and layouting techniques: computers with word processor software existed but weren’t commonly used yet, there’s a whole section about the variety of typemachines, it sounds as if glue sticks weren’t widely available or prefectioned yet (the alternatives sound messy and annoying to use!), the quality of copymachines varied and other duplication methods like mimeograph, ditto machines and letter press were still considered an option for zine makers (and not just the arty experimental ones)… Such brave souls making and publishing zines those days! We’re lucky to have so many more and easier options now.

Genres and types of zines

Another evolution in the zine world is the types of zines that are made. Zine genres, styles, types and themes evolved and keep evolving. Some are still common such as punk zines, perzines (personal diary/letter-like zines), poetry zines and political pamphlet-style zines. But has any of you ever heard of APA zines? And I assume conservatives no longer make use of the zine-medium nowadays? I also wonder if sci-fi (fan)zines are still as common, or if those writers all moved to the world wide web?

If you take a look at the websites and catalogs of zine libraries you can see which types of zines exist today. For example on the website of the Barnard Zine Libary we find: 24-hour-zines, art zines, compilation zines, diy zines, fanzines, literary zines, mamazines, metazines, mini-zines, one-page-folding zines, personal zines, political zines, program zines, school zines, split zines. Most of these genres are explained with some examples. I only don’t know what they mean by program zines and I assume school zines are made at school and/or are about education.

Nowadays I notice certain genres and themes are more common: art zines dominate a lot of zine festivals and subjects like mental health are relatively new (came up since the 90s says my friend Brob Tilt who’s an expert in zine history) and covered in a lot of zines. The zine scene is no longer dominated by music zines. I hardly see them anywhere anyway. Feminist zines and zines made by women became a (r)evolution since the early/mid 1990s (see Sarah Dyer’s story) and are still very present.

My own zine collection

My own zine collection is largely dominated by feminist zines and zines by women/queers/transpeople because those are the zines I’m mainly interested in. I have several zines from the 1990s (mostly copies of copies), maybe a lost one from the 1980s, and some 70s feminist pamphlets and mimeographed magazines (not really zines actually), but the large bulk is more recent. Another difference I notice, just by looking at my own zine collection: a lot of the 90s zines I have are A4 format, while the later zines are often A5 format (but other sizes exist too – I even have one triangle-shaped zine!).

I’d love to do some more indept research on zine content, style, motivation and herstory some day. A few years ago I sent out a questionaire for zine writers, but I didn’t follow that up yet. Thank you and sorry to those who responded so enthusiastically.

Zine distribution and events

Zine distribution has changed too. There are still distros (small mail-order distribution projects) around, but their number has shrunken a bit I think. I really appreciate people who run distros. It seems like such a hard job. I would too chaotic to keep a project like that running well, but I like to support those who do. In the 1980s and 1990s, zine review zines such as Factsheet Five were really necessary to know about zines that were being published and to create a network. Now the internet has largely taken over that role. But zine makers and readers also meet each other in real life on zine fests.

Brob Tilt told me that zine events like zine fests are something quite new. Zinesters used to just trade zines and write letters and occassionally meet up while visiting each other’s home towns. That’s interesting because we often hear that zines and paper media in general are dead, but in the last few years I’ve seen so many (new) zine projects, including zine fests! The zine scene is more alive then ever. People will always enjoy making paper media, even when we have access to a variety of online and digital media.

Some things stay the same

One thing that seems to have remained the same is the price of zines: in 1988 the average price was 1-3 dollars which is about the same today (if you don’t count expensive art”zines”) but I wonder if zines in the 80s might have had more pages compared to todays zines. Still, the printing costs in the copyshops I visited from early 2000s till now have remained surprisingly similar. Probably the only thing that hasn’t become way more expensive over the last few years in western societies… But that’s cool because it makes printing zines and buying them still as accessible, which is very important to their DIY ethic. Yay for zines!

* What are zines? The definition of Barnard Zine Library, compares them to blogs and points to their differences

About rebelsister

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