Zine and Amateur Press Collections at the University of Iowa

Individual Collections:

The World of Zines

The term “zine” (derived from the word “fanzine”) refers generally to an small, informal, non-professionally produced publication. By their very nature zines are hard to define exactly, but distinguishing common characteristics of zines include a small circulation (sometimes via subscription but often distributed informally among interested parties) and a raison d’etre that stresses free expression over profit.

Zines are graphic expressions of their authors’ social, cultural, and political interests and concerns. They are creative outlets devoted to individual and idiosyncratic self-expression. A zine can be about pretty much anything: politics, music, sex, gender relations, sports, pop culture – the list is virtually endless. As Julie Bartel, author of From A to Zine (2004) , notes, “Zines are about diversity, creativity, innovation, and expression. As a group, zines deliberately lack cohesion of form or function, representing as they do individual visions and ideals rather than professional or corporate objectives. With zines, anything goes. Anything. They can be about toasters, food, a favorite television show, thrift stores, anarchism, candy, bunnies, sexual abuse, architecture, war, gingerbread men, activism, retirement homes, comics, eating disorders, Barbie dolls – you name it.”

Zines began to flower with the late 19th-century development of the “amateur press association” movement, in which groups of amateur printers obtained their own personal printing presses and created small magazines as products of their hobby. Special Collections has several collections devoted to this particular movement, including the Guy Miller Collection and the Papers of Burton Jay Smith and Willametta Turnepseed.

Zines first really entered the cultural milieu as a specific and noticeable phenomenon in the 1930s, when the emerging science fiction fan community started creating “fanzines” as forums for their own stories and opinions on published and broadcast SF works. Fanzines became popular tools used by geographically disparate fans to communicate with one another before the emergence of the Internet in the 1990s. Zines are still primarily associated with science fiction fandom today because of their immense and ongoing popularity among fans. Special Collections has a number of collections consisting of fanzines and works of fan fiction from a number of different media properties.

The zine was taken up in the 1970s by the burgeoning punk music movement as a method of expressing its disdain for the mainstream music and social scenes. The punk movement favored a strong anti-establishment, anti-corporate music way of life, and members created zines devoted to bands and artists who shared their worldview and were overlooked by standard publications and media outlets. Zines became an additional way for punk music fans and artists to circumvent “the system”. The popularity of zines was helped along during this decade by the advent of  the increasing availability of cheap photocopying (and, starting in the 1980s, the personal computer).

Following in the footsteps of punk, members of the emerging 1990s “riot grrrl” underground feminist movement – an amorphous melding of female-driven music, concern with the complexities of female identity, and a new consciousness of institutional, social and cultural sexism – adopted zines as forums for their own forms of self-expression. Riot grrrl zines often moved beyond the music itself and concerned themselves with feminist political and social issues such as discrimination, sexual abuse, eating disorders, and concerns over body image. Many zines are marked by stories of intensely personal experiences relating to these issues, which reinforce the traditional concept of the zine as a uniquely individual creation, a truly DIY (Do-It-Yourself) product born directly out of the author’s personal vision and unmarked by editors, publishers, reviewers or any outside parties.

Zines, although to some degree superceded by the arrival of blogs, continue to thrive today as methods of personal expression in print, and as places for exploration of new social issues, including environmentalism, consumerism, and globalization. Many, however, continue to devote themselves to more “traditional” subject matter – i.e. underground music, radical politics, or science fiction and fantasy fandom.

Zines are available for sale through a number of different outlets – zine symposiums, publishing fairs, music stores, bookstores, at concerts, independent media outlets, and via mail order. They are also sold online either via websites or social networking profiles. Many zines are distributed for free, whether either traded directly between zinesters or given away at the outlets mentioned above. “Webzines” can be found at many sites on the Internet. Although more zines these days are born electronically and live on the Web, most still continue to be printed and photocopied in the traditional paper format.

Special Collections at the University of Iowa is making a concerted effort to collect zines in all formats in order to preserve these materials and make them accessible to wider popular and research audiences. Zines are windows that provide glimpses into fascinating and often-under documented social worlds, worlds that we believe deserve to have their voices rescued from obscurity.

The Fan Culture Preservation Project:

Special Collections is currently involved in a major cooperative effort with the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) to preserve zines and other artifacts of fan culture. In partnership with OTW, an nonprofit fan-run organization, Special Collections will be receiving donations of materials from their creators and collators and making them available to future generations of researchers and other interested parties. Zines comprise signfificant portions of these collections and the FCPP will add immeasurably to the zine resources available from Special Collections.