Independent Publishing Series
PT 1: Andy Simons, British Library
As an introduction to our upcoming series that provides an in-depth overview of independent publishing featuring interviews with inspiring publishers from around the world, we've paid a visit to the British Library to talk to Andy Simons about the mysterious world of zines.
Andy Simons, who started at the British Library's sound archive in 1994, is responsible for filling the gaps in the libraries' holdings and oversees the area of zines. According to the legal deposit law, it's a requirement that a copy of everything published in the UK has to be sent to the British Library. In recent decades when printing got cheaper, zines and pamphlets were often produced at home and not widely distributed and available. For his quest to go hunting for printed matter of limited runs that are difficult to get hold of, he has to rely on booksellers who specialize in zines and get them from all over the place. He is aware that there are so many zines not even experts are aware of but explains "they're a challenge and I like a challenge".
Andy Simons kindly took the time to talk us through the history, origins and different types of zines. If what you read gets you excited, visit the British Library to get a glimpse into the rare selection of zines that Andy was able to get hold of.
To cover what's going on nowadays in the exciting area of DIY zines and independent books we caught up with several publishers to gain insight into their work.
The British Library
"The British Library embraces every kind of publication - or at least we try to. The main reason for such publications is the non-editorial subject matter and full editorial control. That means that the shackles of market forces or censorship don't come into it. The media is elusive but the British Library still needs to document it. Independent voices can be racist, they can be anti-immigrant people, they can be unconcerned with thoughts or more civilised language that the mainstream parties embrace."
Origins of Zines
"Most people have a perception of printed publications as being regular and enjoying mainstream circulation and display whether that's in shops or on Amazon or whatever it might be. But there is another school of printed matter that have come to prominence in our lifetime and that usually merges text with uncredited graphic illustration.
Back during the Cold War in Russia, they had political zines called Samizdat - they were merely politically incorrect, that's the best they could do. But in the freer western developed world much of our underground literature dealt with sex because you could say anything politically, that was fine, but what you couldn't say was things about sex and the subject probably led the pack in pre-fanzine publications.
So there were lots of naughty books. There's one from 1905 that I found that we have in our collection called 'Margot the Birching Beauty - Her Whipping Adventures' and I found one from the Second World War, 'Alice and Eva - The Land Girls', and it was done on a typewriter, soft bound and there's another one I found from the late 1930's called 'Further Tuition', the sequel to 'Sex Tuition', as an illustration it had watercolour pasted in. So indeed sex and the employment of sexual references and the use of sexual metaphors in non-sexual situations is one thing common in the canon of underground publications.
Now the boom in fanzine publications saw the medium as a battleground not only in sexual politics but also alternative politics - challenging the mainstream politics in other words. Now academics have debated whether the alternative press represses political anger or encourages it. I don't know - but there is often an anger to alternative publications that they're anti-establishment. They have that angle to it and that's part of why it exists."
Renaissance in the 70's
"The real renaissance in zines happened in 1978. That's about the year when photocopy machines were on the highstreet - there were shops that just had photocopy machines - 'copy shops'.
You had commercial printers before but that was more expensive. Prior to the late 70's, if you wanted to do a zine about some obscure music act or a local football team, you would stay behind at work after everybody had left and use their photocopier to do it on the sly. But from 1978 all of a sudden there were shops that just had photocopy machines and you go in and do it yourself."
Making of zines
"Prior to computers the only way you could do a zine if you wanted text on it was to type it out on a typewriter. You might then reduce the type or enlarge it on the photocopier but if you wanted something unusual in terms of a font you would go to an art shop and get these A4 clear plastic sheets that had black letters in whichever font you wanted, and you'd have to rub them from the top and they would stick to the paper - you would have to press every letter evenly. Now people tried to get them as evenly as they could but you could tell that it hadn't been done by a commercial printer or on a computer today. What the punk thing did was make people want to make them wonky on purpose so letraset was an important aspect of the people that wanted to look professional and those that didn't want to look professional on purpose."
"In terms of distribution the music and punk scene was the other leg of the zine boom in the late 70's and they were distributed because you had indie labels then who had their own distribution on a smaller scale. They weren't major record labels so would sell direct to record shops and the zines then also got distributed in the record shops. Some distributors of records would also distribute zines so that's how they got about and then in the early 80's when the Indie thing got absorbed by the mainstream music media we had the renaissance of more specialised zines so it was no longer just punk it might have been a sub sub sub genre of music.
Now zines are different as I say. They don't want to be in WHSmiths or Waterstones - most of them. So they don't have ISSN numbers, every magazine has an ISSN number and in some cases they're not even consistent in the number of their issues. You'll have no number on an issue at all or on one issue you'll have a two digit number and the next issue it'll be a three digit number - just to mess you about.
Frequency of issue that's not a concern, copyright that's not a concern, you can take a very famous image that's owned, you can use it, you can manipulate it - so it's full editorial control."
"1978 is also an important year because the punk movement was happening with the Sex Pistols and as you know the Sex Pistols logo was done by cutting random letters that didn't go together in any font to spell out whatever they wanted. The person who did these sex pistol logos was Jamie Reid, a famous graphic artist. I think we have an early 70's publication that he did for I think it's Southwark Council, that wasn't done in the punk style but you can see the influence.
Malcolm McLaren, their manager, came up with this graphic representation of the DIY nature of punk so cutting and pasting everything rather than drawing anything became the norm. The photocopier was perfect for that, you didn't need to be an illustrator anymore, prior to the punk boom if you wanted to do a zine it was either poorly produced photographs because photocopy doesn't do photographic prints very well, or it was just text or if you were really good and an illustrator you did underground comics like Robert Crumb and all of that. But with the photocopy machine it meant that you didn't need to be able to illustrate to have illustrations anymore, you could just cut anything."
New vein of zines
"There are some nowadays and you wonder are they zines at all because they are glossy art magazines basically, they don't even have any text, they are just a visual treat.
In recent years, there's been a new strand of zines. Whether they're done as a DIY or whether they are intentionally well produced in terms of commercial quality and they don't have much text. They are done by art students mainly, they could be done by fashion designers, they could be done by architects. Fortunately university classes encourage this, so their students are given a general theme and they can interpret it whatever way they like and the results may not have any text or just very little text, they are not meant to be read, they're art objects. But I wouldn't say that's the trend of zines. There are all kind of zines. I wouldn't say that zines are now art books, they haven't morphed to that, it's just that the field has expanded to include them as art books, which I think is wonderful."
Literature about zines
"Here's a book by Roger Dabem and Teal Triggs who both teach at different universities in London and they are experts on fanzines and alternative comics. This book came out around five years ago - it's called 'Below Critical Radar: Fanzines and Alternative comics from 1976-now'. The title is very telling because it really is below critical radar, the academics weren't paying attention to this which is why these academics made a book about it. But a lot is below the radar of corporations and their lawyers, you can say whatever you want in zines and it's totally free."
Interview by Lilli Heinemann
Photography by Ben Benoliel
Thanks to Andy Simons and the British Library
FANZINES by Teal Triggs
Thames & Hudson, 2010, Softcover, 256 pages, 34cm x 24cm
For more than 60 years, fanzines have been one of the most significant forms of self-expression. Often handmade and disseminated through underground networks, the fanzine is credited as being both the original medium for many of todays mainstream publications and the predecessor to the blogging craze. This highly visual compendium showcases the best, most thought provoking, and downright weirdest fanzines ever produced. With topics ranging from punk to personal politics, Fanzines includes both widely known fanzines as well as rare publications culled from passionate collectors. Spanning the history of the fanzine from the early experimentation with underground presses to contemporary and electronic fanzines, this is a comprehensive and unprecedented look at a fascinating phenomenon.
IN NUMBERS: SERIAL PUBLICATIONS BY ARTISTS SINCE 1955
JRP Ringier, 2009, Hardcover, 440 pages, 31cm x 22cm
In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955 is a survey of serial publications, dating from 1955 to the present day, that have been produced by artists from around the world. Amid historical groundswells like the rise of the little press in the 1960's, the correspondence art movement of the early 1970's, and the DIY culture of zines in the 1980's and early 1990's, professional artists have seized on the format of magazines and postcards as sites for a new kind of art production. These are not publications that feature news items, criticism, manifestos, or reproductions of artworks, but are themselves artworks, often collaborative and idiosyncratic. In large part they are produced by younger artists operating at the peripheries of mainstream art cultures, or by established artists looking for an alternative to the marketplace. "In Numbers" is the first volume to define an overlooked art form that is neither artists' book nor ephemera, but entirely its own unique object.
BEHIND THE ZINES: SELF-PUBLISHING CULTURE
Gestalten Verlag, 2011, Softcover, 240 pages, 28cm x 24cm
Behind the Zines introduces a cutting-edge selection of international zines and examines their role as a catalyst in the evolution of media and graphic design today. The book presents the broad range of existing zines that combine thought-provoking content with compelling design: from project-oriented portfolios and (pseudo) scientific treatises to playrooms where creatives can run riot and publications in which the printing process significantly influences aesthetics. It not only describes the key factors that distinguish various zines, but -through interviews with people involved in their production and distribution - also sheds light on various strategies for this evolving media form.
100 FANZINES / 10 YEARS OF BRITISH PUNK 1976-1985
PPP Editions, 2011
This publication reproduces covers of 100 British punk fanzines from the Mott Collection and features two essays "Glue Was All Over My Fingers" by Toby Mott and "We Are the Writing on the Wall" by Victor Brand.
The zine is mass-produced graffiti, a love letter to an anonymous public, a black-and-white shout into the wilderness. As a product, it goes hand-in-hand so perfectly with the autochthonous priorities of the punk movement that it seems in retrospect almost inevitable. The youth of the United Kingdom - under- and unemployed, adrift and disillusioned in the aftermath of 60's utopianism - were the writing on the wall in the mid-1970's. The kids of punk weren't all right: Punk was the return of the repressed. Even if they were only talking to themselves, they could express themselves without censorship through music and grainy, handwritten pamphlets.
200 TRIPS FROM THE COUNTERCULTURE: GRAPHICS AND STORIES FROM THE UNDERGROUND PRESS SYNDICATE by Jean-Francois Bizot
Thames & Hudson, 2006, Softcover, 256 pages, 34cm x 23cm
Taking its inspiration from the Beatniks and The Village Voice the hippie-era youth culture underground press documented everything from politics and art to film and fashion - with a sizeable leavening of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
The ideas unleashed in these now vintage publications continue to reverberate through society and influence public discourse and graphic design in the form of today's 'zines' and blogs. Among the figures whose work appears in these pages are Hunter S. Thompson, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Ken Kesey, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman - to name only a few.
Among the publications featured here are The Los Angeles Free Press (persecuted by the Nixon-era FBI for its antiwar views), The East Village Other (the first to adopt a psychedelic layout), Interview (founded by Andy Warhol and the first to feature homoerotic imagery), The Berkeley Barb (famous for one cover showing a young man with a chain around his mind), The San Francisco Oracle (which featured the writing of Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti) and Fifth Estate (which coined the phrase 'all isms are was-isms').