Zine-ing On

The Factsheet Five Zine ReaderEdited by R. Seth FriedmanThree Rivers Press, $14A Girls Guide to Taking Over the World:Writings From the Girl Zine RevolutionEdited by Karen Green and Tristan Taormino St. Martins Press, $14.95Since Time met Warner, since Disney swallowed ABC, since Rupert Murdoch bought everything else, culture in America has been sliding towards homogenization. Every sitcom is copying the boring sitcom that came before. Every news show is identical. The biggest books are usually by or about TV characters. Most magazines seem to be written by and about their advertisers. We can have 500 cable channels and the same pap is on every single one of them. We are inexorably being molded into creatures of some marketing manager's fantasies. In this cultural wasteland a subversive underground movement coalesced, grew, fed on opposition to the media behemoths, and has given us some rare and beautiful reading material: zines. Once you taste of them, you will never be the same.It's funny that zines proliferated in the last decade just before the internet came along and swamped them as a means of many-to-many communication. Like the bicycle, which saw its heyday as a means of travel just a few years before the automobile was invented and quickly mass-produced, zines might have become a dominant cultural currency.These little Xeroxed publications, ranging from a few pages to a hundred, are the ur-alternative to mass media: hip, outrageous, unfiltered expressions of individuals calling out to kindred spirits, rejecting the constant feed from the networks and the entertainment corporations (and from the parents and whatever other smothering societal institutions happened to be around). They are sent to anyone who asks for a copy and sends a stamp or a few dollars, and the community of readers grows by word-of-mouth.Zines really took off with the advent of desktop publishing, though many never used it anyway. Xerography is the only technology on which they are dependent. Real cut-and-paste offered innumerable exuberant possibilities in design long before Quark came along. But it may be computers that bring the end of zines as we know them.While zines continue to flourish and even get coverage in the mainstream media (and now, books about them!), the advent of software like FrontPage, which makes authoring a multimedia web page about as easy as jotting a grocery list, makes one wonder about their future. Their corporeal, words-on-paper future, that is: their anarchic, soul-baring spirit will live on just fine in chat rooms and listservs and newsgroups and webzines. But it's with a certain wistfulness for an era passing that one reads at these new books on zines. Factsheet Five was the great organizer. For over five years it has catalogued and reviewed and cross-pollinated zines of all sorts.The Factsheet Five Zine Reader is a best-of collection from the fifty thousand zines that have crossed Seth Friedman's desk in that time. Reading these excerpts you feel immense gratitude for people unafraid to say who they are, for all the friends you never met and despaired might not exist, for an esthetic that says anything looked at closely enough and with enough love can be fascinating. And gratitude that you didn't have to read all fifty thousand of these things; quality is a bit erratic.This overview of the zine world seems both vast and yet ultimately too constrained, to get a taste of such excerpts as "The Great Radio Swindle" or "How We Got All These Fucking Commercials," "I Am Hobart: Dishwasher as Man and Machine," "The Bad Boys of the Vatican," "Toast Modernism," "My So-Called Sex Life," "I Was a Manic-Depressive, Dope-Shooting Suicidal Homosexual Teenager," and "Transgressive Hair: The Last Frontier," and then be denied more. These unabashed creative wunderkind are voicing the things everyone else has been repressing and recirculating deep in their subcortical regions. You also know after reading this book that reading only The New York Times and watching network news will surely kill you.The range of zine sources for Factsheet Five Zine Reader is broad, but hints at the vast number of zines not included. "Temp Slave" offers tales of office oppression and office rebellion. "Pills-a-Go-Go" is one man's meticulous diary of psychotropic experimentation. Backwash discourses on cartoons and the lives of cartoon characters, including Wayland Smithers and Montgomery Burns. "It's a Wonderful Lifestyle" chronicles and glorifies all things from the 1970s. "Hip Mama" is a parenting zine for anyone who wants to raise a kid well without losing all semblance of personality. "The Freakie Magnet" covers cereal-box collecting. Holy "Titclamps" explores what it's like to be punk, politically active, and gay. "Theoryslut" is a hip riff on self-important academic blather. Friedman opens the book with an introduction giving the history of zines, how they evolved from the sci-fi fanzines of the 30s, through Crawdaddys offbeat music criticism in the 60s, to punks Sniffin Glue in the 70s. Best of all is his tribute to Chester Carlson, inventor of the Xerox machine. The main body of the book is then broken into chapters full of excerpted pieces on pop culture, sex, music, politics, Riot Grrrls, travel, work, food, and miscellaneous. Friedman also offers personable and concise introductions to each zine and usually some biographical detail about the zine's author/editor. Finally, he gives a list of addresses (and e-mail addresses) for all the zines mentioned in the book, and subscription information.A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World is similarly an anthology of excerpts from zines, but a much more earnest and political one. The voices are fresh, unbridled, and unapologetic, full of the independence that you hope one day all women and girls will find. The subtitles of the chapters form a nearly comprehensive list of life: friends secrets sex; body image health; parents siblings family; personal stories; music stars idols; gossip letters technology; politics anger power. But most of the books contents wont be found in the newspaper or even in girls or women's magazines.Consider, for instance, the account of one girl's accidental acid trip at age two. Or Julene Snyder's "Jesus Kick," about her childhood lusting after God's only Son: "He's hot. And, God forgive me, I want Him. He's hanging up there on the cross, anguished and bleeding, just a winding scrap of loin-cloth that clings, hinting at coy shadows beneath. He's been through so much and now I'm here to ease His pain. Clearly, He wants me, too. He wants me bad." The guilt and attempt at absolution that follows are equally strange and funny. Or Lotta Gal's "The Electra Company:" "My father ruined me. No -- not that way. It's just that, well, he's such a great guy, and, much to my dismay, far greater than most of the men I've dated. This is a problem. It's becoming more and more of a problem. I'm not Daddy's Little Girl. He supports me. Not with credit cards. With respect. Through all the jobs, all the careers, all the schmucks who were Doing His Daughter, he has supported me." Most of the pieces are less exotic than father-worship or deity-lust, covering topics such as relationships, bulimia, menstruation, masturbation, Barbie, weight, pregnancy, guns and drugs. This book is like listening in on a hundred intimate conversations, or reading a hundred honest diaries. This is a glimpse of pure human heart.The editors have provided a listing of zines at the back of the book, and the titles alone bespeak the unfettered energy and humanity of the zine world: "Action Girl Newsletter," "The Adventures of Baby Dyke," "Angry Young Woman," "The Bad Girl Club," "Boredom Sucks," "Crush, I'm So Fuckin' Beautiful," "Imaginary Friend," "Lezzie Smut," "Madwoman," "My Life and Sex Thrive in the J. Crew Catalog," and "You Might As Well Live," to name a few.Some useful addresses that are gateways to most of the good zines out in cyberspace: www.zine.net www.factsheet5.com www.hermit.org/Blakes7/AtoZ.html Or do a search for "zines" with any search engine and plunge in to the 20,000 results. You can't miss them.Garth Battista is the publisher of Breakaway Books. He lives in New York. This piece originally published in the LS Quarterly Literary Supplement of the Advocate Weekly Newspapers.

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