The Comet, a sci-fi zine of the 1930s, is known to be the pioneer of all zines. Rightly so, zines today owe their origin to the sci-fi frenzy that dominated fans from the 1930s to early 2000s. The interconnectedness of zines and sci-fi is reflected in the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) Hugo award for Best Fanzine, first given out in 1955 and still awarded today. Sci-Fi zines saw a renaissance in the late 60s with the release of Star Trek fanzine ‘Spockanalia’, which included letters from the show’s stars themselves.
With the evolution of printing technologies, the zines became easier to create during the 1970s. While zines were earlier produced using the mimeograph, the rise of copy shops facilitated zinesters to produce their work efficiently and economically.
In the ’70s and ’80s, the zine culture focused on the punk scene in London, LA and New York. This is when the Do-It-Yourself phenomena took flight and also became grounded in zines. The DIY ethos coupled with the photocopy technology fueled an explosion of zines.
One of the most momentous events of zine history is its association with the Riot Grrrl movement, which emerged out of the alternative and punk music scene in the United States. This is the period when thousands of young women began to produce personal and political zines with explicitly feminist themes. Like punk zines, riot grrl zines exhibit the aesthetic of rough-edged, hand-written text, doodles in the margins and third-generation photocopied photographs.
Zines’ association with movements of self-expression and its lack of hierarchical structures have often led zines to be categorized as counter-culture and linked with authoritarian subcultures. However, zines have evolved through time and today’s zines encompass many aspects of the periodical press.
Mike Gunderloy, the founder and long-time editor of Factsheet Five, a zine devoted to cataloging the zine press and acting as a networking clearing house, said 90 percent of modern zines fit into one or more of the following classifications: art (including comics, mail art and collage), conservative/Constitutionalist, ecological/environmental, film (horror, sleaze and gore), poetry, religion (pagan, Subgenius, Discordian and ceremonial magic), anarchist/leftist, music, science fiction/fantasy, mainstream literary, UFO/Fortean/psychic/odd science/cranks, peace/anti-war/ socially conscious, and gay/lesbian/bisexual.
Whether they cover an aspect of pop culture or a political ideology, zines are the direct result of the drive to write and publish. Throughout the latter portion of American history, zines have continued to fill an important, if not overly visible, position in the history of periodicals. As long as there are readers and writers, people will publish. There are voices, beyond what we hear in the mainstream media, waiting to be heard. These voices when realized by creators will land as publications of their own. Those vital, personal publications will be called zines.