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Guest Post: A Farewell to ‘Zines


NBCC member Tim W. Brown offers this wrapup of ‘zine culture, which by the early twenty-first century has given way to the blogosphere.

The immediate predecessors to zines were punk rock fanzines that first appeared in the 1970s. During the zine heyday, roughly 1982 to 1996, thousands of zine titles were published, disseminating information to a host of subcultures. I staked out my little corner of the zine world as publisher of a poetry zine.

Several nonfiction books eventually were published about the scene, notably “’Zine” by Pagan Kennedy and “The Book of Zines” by Chip Rowe. I was aware of exactly one novel containing a major character who published a zine, “Flying Saucers Over Hennepin” by Peter Gelman, but I knew of none that made zines the central topic of a novel, as entwined in a character’s existence as zines were in real-life zinesters’ lives.

To fill this hole I wrote “Walking Man,” a biography of a fictional character, Brian Walker, who rises from humble origins to become the most famous zine publisher in America. This format allowed me to combine novelistic elements with those of nonfiction, particularly quotes from Brian’s zine “Walking Man,” excerpts from reviewers’ works, and statements from ancillary characters who went on the record for his “biographer.”

NBCC members may be interested to know that a critical establishment grew up around zines. Factsheet 5 and a few lesser known review zines praised or condemned how zines lived up to the DIY (do-it-yourself) ideal. Much like today’s blog culture—one of whose antecedents is the zine scene—lively and sometimes rancorous debate occurred.

Indeed, the Internet has altogether replaced zines as a forum where young people may vent about (or flaunt) their alienation from mainstream society. Once a source of tremendous energy, zines are now ancient history, much like big hair and dollar gas.
Tim Brown