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The evolution of zines

writer’s block

Our area had one of the largest East Coast hardcore/punk scenes next to New York City in the ’90s. “Back in the day,” the mall is where most of us underagers hung out if there wasn’t a show happening at Sea Seas or Café Metropolis. I mention this memory because the other day I was handing out homemade flyers for my zine-writing workshop at the Wyoming Valley Mall, and some teen stopped me with the flyer in his hand and asked, “So, what’s a zine?”

Because they had been such a popular form of creative expression in the ’90s, I never thought to mention it on the flyer. I had misinterpreted something that to me had been obvious. And after giving a quick definition to which he left interested, I found myself trying to redefine this genre through its history.

What better way for zines earliest beginnings than to attribute them to Thomas Paine’s anonymously published monograph pamphlet “Common Sense,” which lead to America’s 1776 independence from Great Britain. But, the more well-known definition for the term zine, which refers to a self-made publication focused on the music underground, really started in the ’70s punk rock movement and helped indie bands get out show flyers. This trend still continues today, but nowadays fanzines best describe a handmade niche topic publication that doesn’t always reference music.

In fact, during the last surge of zines in the ’90s, there were a handful of great local zines shouting opinions on themes that magazines would never touch. Ed Geida was the drummer for Bedford while working on his zine, Refuge. Geida reflects on the days when he plugged away at his zine. He says, “I’ve always felt that the photocopied 8.5 x 11, carefully constructed cut-and-paste format best lent itself for personal expression. Mass producing your thoughts on paper is just so liberating.” Scissors, (usually) white paper, handwritten or typewritten content, homemade images, black-and-white Xerox machines and strong beliefs, opinions, or obsessions are truly the keys to a creating the DIY publication.

“ph00dz” adds this on a discussion board: “For me, the interesting thing is if it’s about stuff you’re obsessed with; interviews are good too — particularly if they’re involved in the thing you’re obsessed in, so you can ask all those really geeky questions. The stuff that’s like ‘How come you change the lyrics to this obscure B-side from the original widely circulated bootleg of the demo?’ The stuff that you would never see in a normal magazine.”

Today, if we were to take a look at a zines’ innovative modern relative, we would most likely compare it to the blog (Webzines also exist today, which look and function more like online magazines). A zine has all the structural elements of a blog: images, a column-based format, interviews and first-person-experience articles about obscure topics. But what the zine is known for is offering the use of snail mail as its means of circulation, giving it characteristically small circulation number.

Katherine Flannery wrote a local Riot Grrl zine, Sneer, which landed her a gig for Seventeen Magazine and an interview on Montel Williams. She writes, “I think zines may be making a comeback in this impersonal and intangible Internet age.”

Kate’s right — zines are making a comeback.

A local zine that has gained recognition recently is Brian Fanelli’s local Web-based zine called Unbound Culture, which highlights punk bands and focuses on one band per issue. It has grown to add a variety of columnists writing about everything from DIY fashion to the national political scene. In the May/June issue at www.unboundculture.com, you can read a local column called “Savage Politics” on the parking in downtown Scranton or read Fanelli’s article on Chris Wollard’s (from Hot Water Music) new music project called The Ship Thieves.

“Zines should expose people to new music and also support the local music scene,” Fanelli writes.

Marywood University student Jessica Meoni, does just that. She began Ruthless in 2008, which is free at local businesses in Scranton.

“People say that there is nothing to do here,” she says. “I find a million things to do. And I felt the need for open, uncensored opinions of youth in Scranton to be heard. We go out as a group and experience things here in the city and write about it.”

She is taking Scranton by storm and is determined to make good things happen locally with her group of writers.

If zines have really taught writers anything, they show us the importance of a local scene and community. And to really voice your opinions in that community, the toughest part is putting pen to paper and cutting and pasting.


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