It’s difficult to pin down what a zine is, exactly. A vague, unsatisfying definition would be that it is a self-published endeavor with a relatively small circulation, little to no profit, and a handmade element involved (e.g., it’s hand- or typewritten). But what about the small zines that became big, like Punk Planet (RIP), MRR, Bitch, and Dig? The cheap cover ink might’ve still come off on your hands, but they were available at big box bookstores in modest cities and suburbs. In the mid-90s, zines were even seen as a possible threat to the magazine industry. Read “I accidentally made a popular zine” in Vice to get a sense of seemingly how easy it was to get your work noticed at the time.
Nowadays, you might have to do some digging to find good zines in your neighborhood. Both Barnard and NYU have zine libraries, and ABC No Rio is always an option, as are the number of stores offering new zines like Desert Island in Williamsburg. Here, you can find copies of current local favorites, like Jocko Weyland’s Elk and Aaron Lake Smith’s Big Hands. Or better yet, you could just make your own. Here’s a look at how we survived our formative years, along with some recommendations from a few of our friends.
Burn Collector by Al Burian
From Burn Collector #1: “I’ve got a backpack full of notebooks with phone numbers and addresses scrawled down, so many that it immobilizes me, and I just sit there and twitch and feel stupefied by the weight of a world that is really, really big.” Al Burian, the singer/guitarist of Milemarker, describes sleepless nights, bad relationships, and a serious caffeine habit in his zine, which began in North Carolina but continued when he moved to Chicago many years ago. (He now lives in Berlin.) Issues 1-9 are now available as a book, and this Friday Burian will be reading with Aaron Cometbus (below) at Chicago Zine Fest.
Cometbus by Aaron Cometbus
Despite Everything is a compilation of issues 1-48 of Aaron Cometbus’ musings on life in Berkeley and his travels beyond California’s punk scene. In the latest issue (#54) he goes on tour with Green Day, his old pals who were ostracized at 924 Gilman shows once they made it big. Cometbus describes the frenetic energy of their East Asian tour while being able to look back on their humble origins without seeming like an asshole.
I’m So Fucking Beautiful by Nomy Lamm
The ’90s was a sweet decade for identity politics. Lamm strutted onto the stage with a drawn-on moustache, a prosthetic leg, a fairy wand, and a whole lot of attitude. She was a staple in the Pacific Northwest Queercore scene at the time, and continues to collaboratively perform with singer-songwriters through her project “Nomy Lamm & THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.” Lamm made it seem like anything was possible, and that you didn’t have to wear the right clothes or be anemic to be punk.
Jigsaw by Tobi Vail (of Bikini Kill)
Vail, the former drummer of Bikini Kill, writes about the first Rites of Spring album in Jigsaw #2: “So the best record of all time was made in 1985 by these four guys in Washington DC as part of some kind of major scene phenomenon called Revolution Summer. All I can say is if you haven’t heard it then you should check it out because this is exactly it. Exactly everything a record could possibly ever hope to be. They save your life, break your heart and kill the pain all at once.” Vail now blogs at Jigsaw Underground (as well as 10 other sites), and old issues of her zine are online here.
Hit it or Quit it by Jessica Hopper
Former Punk Planet columnist Jessica Hopper started publishing HIOQI back in 1991, and she frequently writes about music for The Chicago Reader (and DJs under the Jean Yanne-approved handle “Coco Le Rock”). Download her HIOQI podcast to see what you’ve been missing here. Also, Hopper just released her book, The Girls’ Guide to Rocking and is touring in support of it this spring.