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Life is a joke

What is a zine?

Well, the working definition of a zine is an independently produced magazine that tends to deal with cultural issues, usually in a new, radical, or obscure way. Or at least, this is what I think a good zine should be. But really, what is a zine? What differentiates it from other mediums?

Well for one, zines have relatively no rules. They're basically anything the zinemaker wants it to be. A good way to describe a zine is a collection of ideas and images that say something -- not necessarily convey a message -- but say something, or give something without pretense and let the reader take what (s)he wants from it. But couldn't that describe all literature? In fact, couldn't that describe all art?

So this is more difficult than I thought. Okay, okay... what makes a zine a zine is that it's independently produced; meaning it's not compromised, not watered down, and (though this is rapidly changing) not poisoned with advertisements. There we go ... I like that.

But, why make them?

At the risk of sounding trite: We live in a world of media bombardment. What with television, the internet, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, sandwich signs, blimps and the mind control drugs in fast food (okay, so I made that last one up) we intake literally thousands of images, messages, and ideas everyday, whether we are conscious of it or not.

The problem is despite the incredible quantity of media out there, there is not too much in the way of quality media, relatively speaking. Or to be more precise, not every voice is heard and not every face is seen. There are tons of cultures and subcultures that are rarely seen (if not completely ignored) in most media. Zines are do-it-yourself (or DIY) media. The zinemaker can fill the media gap with what (s)he feels isn't being seen.

I'm not saying everyone who makes a zine has this agenda -- at least not consciously. But whether conscious of the impact and power of zines or not, the zinemaker tends to create something that is profoundly different from most media. It's just something that's real ... that's the best word I can think of to describe it.

How did you get into zines, Victor?

I guess you could say I've been into zines before I even knew what they were. I've been writing since I could write and drawing since I could draw. It was a pretty natural transition into DIY publishing. I was about 14 when I figured out I could photocopy things I'd written and drawn and get people to look at them and sometimes actually even pay me for them.
"There are tons of cultures and subcultures that are rarely seen (if not completely ignored) in most media. Zines are do-it-yourself (or DIY) media. The zinemaker can fill the media gap with what (s)he feels isn't being seen. "

My first zine was called Funny HaHa. It was usually just a few comic strips stapled together, occasionally with contributions from my friends. It ran ten issues in various sizes and formats including a one pager called "Space Efficient HaHa," an eighth of a page sized one called "Tiny HaHa", and "Color HaHa: A Funny HaHa Coloring Book." Aside from comics, I published a collection of poems and various booklets containing short random writings.

As I got into zines, I began to see a whole community of likeminded zinesters. I hadn't even considered that reading good zines are just as rewarding as making them.

Okay, so who's zines should I check out?

This question is subjective. It all depends on what you want in a zine. I have made a really brief list of the handful that are considered "classics" and another list of other zines that are more of my personal favorites. A lot of those ones are from the San Francisco Bay Area and are put out in pretty small numbers. Some are one shots that just happened to fall into my hands by fluke.

Where are zines headed?

What with the Internet and all of that newfangled technology, the new wave of zinesters can be found on the web. This phenomenon is called the "e-zine". If you're not sure what that is, check yourself, because you're reading one right now. Whoa ... crazy, isn't it? E-zines are becoming increasingly popular because they involve so much less effort than paper zines, they cost relatively nothing and they reach an international audience. What is to become of the paper zine? Will it be the vinyl of the e-zine's compact disc? Life is a joke Call me a luddite, but I believe there will always be a space for the paper zine. You see, despite many advantages of the e-zine, there are tons of aspects of the paper zine that are truly one of a kind.

For one, paper zines are just so dang personal. Nothing beats actually holding someone's creation in your hand, flipping through it, becoming a part of it. Aside from the content being real, the physical shell is real as well. It is just this completely real thing.

Not only that, but zines are such a communal thing. They are passed around and traded as if they were some funky grandchild of the chain letter and the pen-pal system. They are these living, moving, breathing voices of entire subcultures.
Some say zines are just a stepping-stone to magazines. They are all just waiting to become larger magazines like "Vice" and "Giant Robot." I disagree. Zines aren't just a means; they can be an end as well.

In addition to making and reading zines, Victor Vazquez, 18, contibutes to WireTapMag.org and Youth Radio. The "Paranoid Bear" image above is from one of his zines.

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