Why It’s Good: Scott Berg on Zines

By Corinne Mooney

“[Zines are] Tinkertoys for malcontents. They’re obsessed with obsession. They’re extraordinary and ordinary. They’re about strangeness but since it’s usually happening somewhere else you’re kind of relieved.” – Chip Rowe

Zines are fun and quirky publications with fluxing topics: “music, parenthood, politics, television shows, runaway consumer culture, sex, your roommate’s snoring, you name it,” wrote Scott Berg in his article, Zine Saver. What I think puts magazines apart from their counterpart zines are the pocket-sized DIY work, tight-knit readership, and drive to move the readers to experience other zines.

Though many zines still offer paper copies, the Internet has provided worldwide networking with readers and other zines. In this article, Berg covers the transition from material to online and how the world (and the people) of zines have turned around.

Xerography Debt #32

Cover of Xerography Debt #32. For sale for $4. Photo from http://www.leekinginc.com/xeroxdebt/

Berg’s article also mentions many zines and their online components which were helpful to extend my web of zine knowledge out to zine-reviewers including Xerography Debt, a zine review publication that continues the zine reviewing legacy of Factsheet Five from the time before the Internet (according to ZineWiki,

Factsheet Five was a comprehensive guide to zines and alternative publications. Each issue was packed with reviews of independent, DIY and unusual publications.)

Berg’s mention of one of the original zines was helpful in understanding the zines of today and the styles they get from zines no longer in circulation.

This article led me to some great sites of zine reviewers and from there to fun and interesting independent publications. Before, I didn’t know there were so many archives and libraries held zines.

I also think this is a good article because Berg gives editors a shout-out at the beginning. “I need my editors,” Berg wrote. Of course I appreciate this mention because my focus is in editing and it’s always nice knowing that those you help appreciate it. I agree with Berg that a writer may be at a lost for design, proofreading and printing, so editors are certainly an important aspect to the zine publishing process. I recall telling zine-friends of mine to let me edit their zines before publishing. It really helps! Just a fresh pair of eyes before printing can make all the difference to your zine image and reputation.

Berg’s article helps better understand the conflict the Internet brought to DIY zine producers.

“Zine writers now had to choose to stay underground or go virtual (or both).”

Many zines still remain in print, but much like the most recent issue of Portland’s Taking the Lane, “Bike, Stretch, Breathe,” the originals can run out quickly when you have an Internet reader base wanting physical copies. Juggling the online presence of your zine with the material presence while trying to understand it all is “like trying to herd house cats, virtual cats, alley cats and cartoon cats all at once,” wrote Berg. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Zines can be an outlet for many writers who want to get their deeper ideas on paper, but still want to share them with the world.

This article also taught me that zines can provide flexibility for writers from the confines of mainstream magazine work. And sometimes a rest from being behind a computer screen is what drives a zine-writer to pick up the scissors and paper and start piecing material together. Berg quoted Davida Gypsy Breier, a per(sonal)-zine publisher and editor of Xerography Debt saying, “[T]he Web site gives me freedom to experiment with color, and I don’t have to worry about the cost.” Berg added,

“[T]hanks in large part to the Internet, those communities are more than ever relentlessly interdependent. It’s as if the place of Factsheet Five has been filled by everyone rather than someone.”

But, as Breier points out, it’s not profit that drives the success of a zine, but passion. “Would you still make a crappy typed zine if there were no computers? That’s the test,” she said.

Though this article was written eight years ago, the people mentioned are still involved and have an online presence and that shows how the times have adjusted. Zines remain strong, and I see it here in Eugene as well. This article made me realize the persistence of nostalgia and a person’s drive to publish their words.

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