Reading Zines

Me Reading Proof I Exist

Me Reading Proof I Exist

When I visited my friend Billy from high school while driving through Chicago in June, he gave me some copies of his recent zines (and by recent, I mean within the last few years ago). Billy first introduced me to zines (independently produced magazines) in high school, when we’d read stuff by other high school and college kids throughout the Midwest. He even produced his own, which I contributed to. I’ve loved zines for their amateur style, their tone, their personal nature, and the way that zinesters network for years. But I don’t read them as much as I’d like to. I’m hoping to return to some of that soon.

It was good to read Billy’s zine, Proof I Exist — this issue a series of letters he had written friends after pulling himself out of a funk. I rather like his title, because it seems to be representational of the recurrent exigence of zines: the “recurrent need for cultivation and validation of the self,” as Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd put it in regards to blogs. As I argued in my master’s thesis, zines can be understood as an genealogical ancestor to blogs, and it was the shared personal nature of writing for a public that led me to be interested in the links between the two genres/forms (understanding that genre is not solely form, but I’m not sure I’d call either blogs or zines quite a genre).

Anyway, I recently read Stephen Duncombe’s Notes from the Underground cover to cover:

Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative CultureNotes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture by Stephen Duncombe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read parts of this book for my master’s thesis three years ago, and I was wanting to return to it and read the whole thing for a while. This book thoroughly discusses various aspects of zines and zine culture, including the sincere nature of zines, the anti-authority, and the independent, anti-corporate attitude of many zines. Duncombe is himself a zinester, and so is quite knowledge. He avoids being too academic, while drawing on academic discussions and theory in accessible, interesting ways. I appreciate his own investment in zines as well: he has a stake, and he’s quite explicit about his own viewpoints in aspects of zine culture (for instance, his argument that the self ghetto-ization of anti-conformists can lead to de-politization and that zinesters need to be actively engaged with others and not just “write to the choir”). Very comprehensive and engaging read.

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