Despite the Internet and the world of bloggers, Fan/Zines, consisting merely of several photocopied ages stapled together by the author and containing anything from comics and art to poetry or political discussion, are still much alive. “Savage Messiah”, this black-an-white, cut and paste style zine produced by the artist Laura Oldfield Ford, in which she traces her psycho-geographical drifts around London’s grimy underbelly, has achieved cult status in art circles since its first issue in 2005. A near-complete run of the Punk fanzine “Sniffin’ Glue” has been auctioned for £2,000 by Bonhams in 2010. The London Zine Symposium or the Manchester Zine Fest, to quote just but a few events dedicated to fanzines, attract crowds of more of a thousand and these handmade one-offs are now collectable items to be kept and cherished. Since a decade or so, various well-established European Libraries or local repositories have also embarked on the laborious task of tracking down and cataloguing the countless thousands of fanzines published here and there over the past 60 years.
Zines: ephemeral cultural and political materials
The first fledgling fanzines appeared in the 1930s, when they were published by science fiction aficionados whose literary tastes were largely ignored by the mainstream media and critics of the day. From the early 1930s in the United States of America, fanzines (or zines) have been integral to the creation of a thriving communication network of underground culture, disseminating information and personal views to like-minded individuals on subjects from music and football to anti-capitalism and thrift store shopping. Yet, it remains within the subculture of punk music where the homemade, A4 (or A5), stapled and photocopied fanzines of the late 1970s fostered the ‘do-it-yourself’ production techniques of handwritten and graffiti texts, cut-n-paste and ransom note lettering style, collage and the co-option of mainstream media imagery, to create a recognizable graphic design aesthetic (10.1093/jdh/epk006).
The emergence of punk rock music in the 1970s (Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash ahead) most significantly impacted the history and design of fanzines. The Punk “do-it-yourself ethic” – which was exhorting that instead of being consumers and spectators, people should form their own bands and publish their own “stuff” –, has contributed to the creation of a whole new wave of radical zines (http://books.google.fr/books/about/Notes_from_Underground.html?id=l7JYiza7N04C&redir_esc=y). Sociologists and ethnologists examining youth cultures as “subterranean traditions” of deviance and nonconformity have often used fanzines as a primary source for mapping the development of those subcultures (10.1177/0891241607303520). Academically-wise, zines are important historical sources and more and more social scientists rely on them for evidence of cultural dissent and innovation in the late twentieth century. In their article on “Football fanzines and football culture”, David Jary, John Horne and Tom Bucke highlight how fanzines can be seen as enabling a ‘users’ view’ and – sometimes – a radical reinterpretation (or defence) of popular cultural forms to be expressed by people who would otherwise be excluded from any usual means of written expression about, or control over, mainstream institutions in the production of mass culture (10.1111/j.1467-954X.1991.tb00868.x). Zines are a primary method of communication for members of particular musical, artistic or political movements and can serve as documentation of those movements at their earliest stage.
Archival activism or the return of the Zine
In the late 1990s, the value of fanzines and other independent, subcultural and self-published publications received greater and greater acknowledgment across social sciences. This interest for these ephemeral materials coincided with a postmodern-like shift within archival studies. Collection, preservation and the promotion of the use of activist collections for historical research and for ‘social justice’ or ‘human rights’ struggles became increasingly prevalent in the formal archival sector as well as amongst the growing numbers of independent and autonomous archival endeavours. The idea that the major duty for archivists is to uncover the marginalized or subaltern cultures and productions within society is somewhat problematic. Yet, this radical epistemological shift contributed to push even well-established institutions to take further steps towards the preservation of underrepresented and ephemeral cultural materials. Zines, as much as monographs, journals, and the like, are and will be important to study, both for their form as examples of contemporary print culture and their content as one of the means by which contemporary political and cultural movements may communicate and disseminate ideas (10.1108/01604950810870182).
Depositories and collections across Europe
Created in Berlin in 1997, the Archiv der Jugendkulturen (archive of youth cultures) owns over 20,000 fanzines and semi-professional magazines. It is by far the largest publicly accessible Fanzine library in Germany and certainly one of the biggest archive across Europe. The collection is predominantly made of music-based fanzines but not only. The Collection can be viewed by appointment by contacting directly firstname.lastname@example.org. For who is more intrigued or interested by political fanzines from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s, there is another depository in Berlin: the Archiv für Alternativkultur (Archive for Alternative culture). Created in 1995 and hosted by the Humboldt-Universität, the Archiv für Alternativkultur is made of a single but massive collection established by Josef Wintjes (aka Biby) [1947–1995] the creator of the Nonkonformistisches Literarisches Informationszentrum in 1969 and pioneer of the German arty and libertarian underground movement.
The British Library in London has a growing collection of British counterculture, music, and women’s zines, and a substantial collection of British football fanzines. The Library has recently acquired a number of titles which continued or developed counterculture ideas from the last two decades of the twentieth century. These include the anarchist-leaning Acts of Defiance, Ferment, and Hell and Damnation, and the anti-vivisectionist Spectacular Times. Recent acquisitions also include Crophead (which describes itself as the voice of the “oppressed, criminal class”) and the anti-racist zines Crop-Top and HAGL. The Library has also a small but growing collection of British women’s zines. Recent additions to the women’s zines collection include issues of Cazz Blasé’s Aggamengmong Moggie, Lucy Sweet’s Unskinny, Helen Kitson’s All That Matters Is What Makes You Happy, Sophie Scarlet’s Antisocial Scarlet, Riot Girl London, and Chica. The London College of Communication Library (LCC) in London possesses also a significant collection of fanzines. The Collection was founded in 2009 to provide a hands-on opportunity to see examples of zine creation and to recognize the significance of these self-published independent publications. The LCC Zines Collection currently holds circa 1000 zines covering a wide array of subjects, formats and styles and dating from the 1970s onwards.
The Forgotten Zine archive in Dublin is certainly one very interesting and colourful repository to visit. Created in 2004, the Forgotten Zine collection is made up of around 1,200 Irish and international zines, plus quite a nice overview of current Irish radical newsprint and alternative press. The collection is hosted since 2005 by the autonomous social centre Seomra Spraoi and has been entirely re-inventoried, following a classical and well-established nomenclature [P.AC for Political and Anti-capitalism zines, P.AF for anti-fascism, P.RA for anti-racist ones, P. RC for zines dedicated to regional conflicts and etc…].
The Fanzinothèque in Poitiers (France) is undoubtedly the biggest European repository with a collection of ephemerals, zines and related documents of circa 50,000. It is also the oldest one. Created in 1989, the Fanzinothèque is a documentation centre, working as a public library, with a unique collection dating from the 1950s onwards. The Fanzinothèque started recently a huge programme of digitisation in partnership with the University of Poitiers.