Local zine culture thrives
I first became aware of fanzines in the late ‘70s. I was a science fiction geek and belonged to the local science fiction fan club called Starbase Tulsa. Some of the members of the club put out a zine called Sol Plus, my first introduction to self-publishing.
A fanzine, as it’s name implies, is a magazine made by and for fans of a particular subject matter or area of interest: literary, film, or musical subgenres, lifestyles or modes of belief. An argument could be made that fanzines have been around since Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” a pamphlet that encouraged egalitarian government and independence from Great Britain in 1775–76. But the term first became popular among early sci-fi fans in regard to the amateur, fan-published periodicals about the genre.
Early science fiction zines were often produced on mimeograph, a cheap printing machine that forces ink through a stencil onto paper. Those old-fashion public school tests and handouts with the difficult-to-read purple print that are familiar to people of a certain age were produced by a mimeograph. Fanzines took a leap forward when the first commercial photocopier was made available in 1958. Underground comic artists, beat writers, and other misfits immediately started publishing their work with the new technology.
One thing most fanzines have in common is a desire for sincere expression that isn’t homogenized by the genteel ministrations of an editor with an MFA. In spite of the lack of conventional polish that many zines display, there is value in the singularity of voice and unfiltered expression. And, in a zine, you don’t have to worry about Facebook removing your post because someone reported it for “violating community standards.”
In the early ‘80s, I saw a punk rock fanzine for the first time: No Fashion, published by Jeff Sniderman, aka “Jeff Shit.” His attitude in print was defiant, snotty, and transgressive. The reviews of records and shows by bands like Black Flag, Flipper, and NOTA seemed to have been written by someone who might literally be foaming at the mouth. To my teenage mind, his description of an early Tulsa appearance of Black Flag as “the embodiment of the antichrist” was both frightening and compelling.
David Fallis’ Dry Heave was highly political, but also personal, with its sarcastic social commentary, ridicule of consumer culture, and, of course, reviews of punk shows, records, and other zines. The reviews were crucial to the punk scene as there was a virtual blackout of punk and hardcore in the mainstream press.
Zines were proto-social media, totally analog and DIY, and probably more fun and compelling because it took more effort to do, thus separating those who really had an urge to say something from the people who just like the sound of their own voice. Zines developed over time throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, largely inspired by the DIY punk rock zine revolution, but distinctly apart from it, like Lisa “Suckdog” Carver’s Roller Derby, or Jim and Debbie Goad’s psychotically misanthropic yet hysterically funny Answer Me!.
In our current cultural landscape, the necessity for fanzines in print form might seem counterintuitive. But along with increased interest in vinyl records, cassette tapes, and other analog media among swaths of the millennial population, there is an apparent increase in printed fanzines, especially here in Tulsa. Gogo Reader, An(art)Chist Tulsa, Sister Speak, and the series of zines published by Broken Thumb press (No Tulsa Sound, for example) are representative of the diversity of our local zines.
Sister Speak, published by Marianne Evans-Lombe and Mia Wright, wasn’t originally intended to be a zine at all. They wanted to form a feminist consciousness-raising group. The zine was meant to help create interest in the group. But it didn’t happen in the way they had planned.
“The zine became this important project I didn’t expect,” said Evans-Lombe. “The consciousness-raising group became a zine.”
Evans-Lombe said the Internet has had a profound impact on artists’ ability to create and disseminate their work, but that the harsh, judgmental atmosphere prevalent on much of social media has a negative effect on individuals—and our culture generally.
Sister Speak is distributed for the most part hand to hand; the human interaction and tangible document is an important part of the process. In some ways, Sister Speak seems to be an antidote to social media.
Ceili Lawrence, an editor of An(art)Chist Tulsa along with Sydney Smith, also thinks of self-produced print media and her zine as a haven from the furor and superficiality of Facebook and Twitter.
“I’m looking for something more sincere and genuine,” Lawrence said. “To not put it on paper—it wouldn’t be the same.”
“Digital is boring. You can’t smell the paper. You can’t set it on fire,” said the creator of Gogo Reader, who wished to remain anonymous.
“To print something takes another level of intent and commitment … that’s saying something more about the idea.”
For more from Dan, read his piece on Tulsa’s need for a needle exchange.