Zine-ophobia

Two of them do it in their bedrooms. Two others do it in an alcove. One does it in his living room and another in his glass-blowing studio.

Other people across the country do it in other spaces, but the point is, anyone can do it anywhere.

That is, create a zine.
Call them newsletters, periodicals or fanzines; by any other name, they are still simply zines: low-budget ruminations about what's on self-appointed editors' minds--music, sex, poetry, B movies, literature, comics, art, work, spirituality. The list is as long and varied as there are frustrated, creative personalities. The writing quality is mixed, as well, from stupid to prosaic to insightful to wickedly entertaining. But zines are not about promoting spotless, free-flowing text. They are crude tools of self-expression, a means of communication employing the most fundamental of mediums--the printed word. And the rules are easy: Anyone with the ability to use a Xerox machine, pound a stapler and lick a stamp can play.

Though zines have technically been around since the advent of the printing press (home publisher Benjamin Franklin started a hip one titled Poor Richard's Almanack back in 1732), the last decade has seen a proliferation of the do-it-yourself publications.

R. Seth Friedman is publisher of the San Francisco-based Factsheet Five, a 12-year-old magazine devoted to reviewing zines of virtually every description. He deals with more than 1,200 D.I.Y. submissions in each issue; the man knows from zines.

"They're along the lines of a publication that is the vision of one or two people," he explains by phone from Factsheet headquarters. "Typically, they don't make money and have a circulation of 1,000 or less with a local or national focus. They're nonprofit, obsession-driven publications."
He attributes the surge in zines to the "growth of computer technology, the dropping of copying costs and the fact that the postage rates have been kind of stable."

But Friedman sees zines as ultimately becoming much more than nifty, offbeat by-products of the obsessed. Forget about cable TV with 500-plus channels; forget about Internet and interactive video. According to Friedman, zines represent the mighty essence of human communication.

"People are always talking about the death of journalism, how everyone will be writing for news on-line and news on demand, but as far as I'm concerned, the future of journalism is zines," he states. "The future of journalism is a personal, subjective vision about life, and more people are going to be producing their own magazines. I don't think it's a backlash against technology; it's just a natural growth pattern based on the way people feel. They want to connect with other people, and zines are much more personal than those other kinds of artificial technologies."
And you don't have to be in some cultural mecca to take part in the revolution; the photocopy machines and mailboxes in Phoenix work just as well as the ones in Manhattan.

"I find some surprisingly good zines coming out of some surprisingly unlikely places--like, for example, Phoenix, Arizona--where some highly concentrated cultural areas like New York and L.A. are pretty devoid of a cohesive zine culture," Friedman says. "Arizona as a whole has a pretty sophisticated zine scene."
@rule:
@body:. . . Season To Risk were crazy. The singer had his funky CB microphone hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes he sang through it, sometimes he used a regular mike and sometimes he used both making it double loud and obnoxious. Their feirce [sic], unstructured noise sounds like something that could only come from Texas, but they're from Kansas. Not far off. The guitarist had this really cool Velveeta hat and I saw that he let a girl wear it later that night. Man, if I had a hat like that, I wouldn't let it outta my sight.

--Excerpt from a review in Grind

"We were just so stinkin' bored, you know. You go to work, come home, eat, go to sleep. You need something else to do, something to keep you sane," says Sherri Butterfield, an inventory coordinator for a fast-food chain. Her antidote for insanity became a zine titled Grind, founded, edited and published with her husband, Jason, from a kitchen alcove in their east Mesa home. Both are in their late 20s.

Jason, a mail carrier in real life, says drudgery wasn't the only inspiration. "We just pretty much did it to get free stuff," he says. "We'd always heard people who did fanzines got a lot of stuff. And it worked."

As mercenary as that may sound, one look at Grind (Literary Noise for Punks & Drunks") reveals that this is much more than a cheap throw-off to scam promotional CDs. At 60-plus well-laid-out pages, complete with glossy cover, this zine seems pro enough to have "maga" in front of it.

Though punk rock is Grind's staple (album reviews, band interviews, live reviews), here's a sampling of other features from the latest issue, No. 5: articles on hangover etiquette, home beer brewing, a consumer-revenge letters page, reader feedback and--requisite for nearly all zines--a section reviewing other zines.

"I think we're pretty conservative compared to most zines," offers Jason. "Not that I really want to be, but it just kind of reflects our personality. We're not really vulgar or obscene people, so we don't publish stuff like that."
The writing, done by the Butterfields and a handful of unpaid contributors, is almost conversational in style. That's no accident. "We like to write as if people were our friends," Sherri says. "Tell them what's up, and tell them in words I would use if I were writing a letter to somebody."

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