zine cover

Answering for myself

David Hogan, a media student in Ireland, interviewed me about zines for his dissertation. I’ve answered quite a lot of people’s questions for media dissertations over the years, but I’ve never really kept track of it very well. I was in some Dutch documentary about zines too, but again I didn’t bother to find out exactly what it was, so I have never seen it (although I really hate seeing or hearing any recordings of myself). Here’s my attempt to keep better track of this stuff.

Can you tell me a little bit on why you started producing zines? What was it that drew you to the zines?

I think I was always aware of zines being a thing. I was a teenager in the 90s, and caught the end of grunge/riot grrrl, so I knew about zines. By the late 90s there didn’t seem to be a huge amount around though. Around 2001 I started making mini zines of silly collages to swap with a friend who lived in NZ. I kept meaning to do a proper zine with articles and so on, but never quite got round to it. It tends to take me a long time to get round to things. Champion procrastinating.

In 2006 I finished university and got an office job, because I needed the money and didn’t know what to do with myself. I hadn’t gone to university because I saw it as the stepping stone to a respectable career, I enrolled in a Classics degree because I’m genuinely interested in the Greeks and Romans and I was good at exams at school, so it was the best way to get out of Medway. I ended up studying at Reading mainly because there was a mixup with my place at Bristol, then it turned out if I went the following year I would have to pay tuition, whereas that year I wouldn’t, there aren’t many Classics departments in the country, and they were a good university and had room, so there I went. I enjoyed the course, and it was ok being a student in Reading. I met good people, and we had fun.

Living and working there is a different matter. It’s the most average place in the world. I once described it as like “a beige cushion”. You can get a job somewhere like an insurance company, and all the shops etc you need are there, but it’s very, very bland. It turned out I hated office work too. I pushed myself to do as much creative stuff as I could in my spare time in the hope that it would stop my brain dribbling out of my ears. I started making zines properly then, and started having a stall at the London Zine Symposium. I’d always been writing letters to people, and here I had something to include in the envelope.

I think I managed to take about 8 months of office work in Reading, then I went to Budapest and then Brighton, places I liked much more. I really stepped up making zines in Brighton, because I met other people who made them and who lived nearby, and we organised the Zinefest and monthly events, so it wasn’t just me in my little bubble.

What sort of production methods do you use?

The guide I made can be found under popular posts

What kind of role, if any, does the Internet play in the production of your zines? Promotion or publicity? Distribution? Research? Online shops? Online distros? How big a role do these play?

How do you as a producer choose between using the Internet and using zines as a medium? What kind of drawbacks or benefits do you see to those mediums?

I have had internet access since 1997, so I never produced any zines pre-internet. A lot of people buy my zines online, or contact me after receiving flyers in their orders from distros that sell online. Outside of zine fairs, that’s how I tell people I have a new issue- by making a blog post.

I have a blog as well, but I use it for different things to my zines. Obviously there’s the fact that the zines are b&w photocopies, and the blog is electronic and can have as many colour pictures as I like. Often I tend to use the blog more for images, and save long-form articles for the zines. People get annoyed if you duplicate content, because why buy the zine then? The good thing about zines is that you can feel bolder in what you write, because it’s not googlable, and you have to be somewhat in the know/like-minded to have it in your hands. That said, it’s also a disadvantage of zines, because I’m sure there are large amounts of people who would love to read them, but have no idea they exist. You come in for far less abuse putting things in zines though, people have to go to the bother of looking your email/postal address up in the zine and contacting you if they want to be nasty, rather than just clicking in a box. I still don’t feel too comfortable putting anything really personal in either my zines or blog though. I have friends in real life I can safely tell that stuff too, and I’ve never had the confessional urge.

I’ve always had an urge to document things though. As well as what I actually put in the zines and blog, I have so many scrapbooks and notebooks and folders on the computer with reference photos. I usually have a small camera on me. I like to wander and look at things and spot details, so I end up with folders of pics called things like “chimney pots- march” that I don’t know what to do with until I think of some use for them a few years down the line. I’m not much good at doing things in a timely fashion. That’s one of the nice things about doing zines, there’s no pressure. I just make one when I feel like it, and people are pleased to see it turn up.

People always complain that I’m “elusive” or that I “disappear”. From my perspective of course, that’s not really true. I know where I was and what I was doing. I probably just forgot to tell other people. I don’t like repeating myself. I have moved around a lot though, and it’s probably hard to keep track. Another good reason to keep a blog, to prove that I still exist and haven’t disappeared into the ether, I’m just somewhere else, doing something else.

I do use facebook and twitter. I wish I didn’t use facebook, or had never started using it. I did disable my account for about 6 months, and it was great, but people complained so often that I was “uncontactable” that I gave in and reactivated it. It’s not like I was demanding to only be contacted either via pigeon or telegram or something. Twitter is something I mostly use on my phone when I’m bored on the train. I think I the idea of what you can do with these things is often so much better and exciting than what people actually do do with them. The ease of access to information that the internet provides is fantastic, but every time I want to lose my faith in humanity I only have to look at the comments on newspaper websites or youtube.

Do you produce your zines at a profit, a loss or do you cover your costs?

I think anyone who goes into making zines hoping to make a profit is only going to be disappointed. I roughly break even on my zines. I sell a fair amount, but I also give away and swap a lot too. I don’t think there would be any point doing it if it were only for money. I’m equally happy to for people to pay in UK first class stamps as I am money, because I get through a lot of stamps. Giving people a copy of my zines after an interesting conversation is far more satisfying than an email from paypal, or a brief handing over of coins. I try to keep the production costs very low (24 pages, shop around for deals on coloured paper etc) so that I can afford to give them away or sell them for a very low amount of money. If you try to charge too much money you will just piss off all the zine people. They know how much printing costs.

Do you feel like you give more attention to the  design of your zines or their content? Or both?

I deliberately don’t agonise about the design of them at all. I spent two years as a post-graduate art student, and I could faff about with the visuals all day and never get anywhere, and tie myself up in mental knots wanting it to be perfect. I do more than enough of that. Making them with basic cut and paste and simple pritt-stick, which is non-repositionable, means that I have to accept the first way I did it unless it’s terribly wrong.

Do you feel like you participate in a community through your zines? If you do, has that communication been through the internet or zines themselves?

Yes, definitely. I’ve met so many fantastic people through making zines, often people I would never otherwise have met because they live in other regions of the country or abroad. I try to go to every zine fair I can in the UK, usually tabling and sometimes running workshops, and I was part of the collective that ran the Brighton Zinefest.

You always meet a lot of interesting people at zine festivals. A lot of anarchist/syndicalist principles tend to operate at zine fairs, not just in terms of overt political writing in the zines themselves, but in there being no hierarchies between readers and writers. I’ve never truly got the concept of fans, or ever really understood the appeal of things like autographs. Even if I think someone’s work is incredible, I still want to interact with them as an equal. Maybe that shows some kind of arrogance on my part, but the fact that zines tend to operate like that suits me. If someone comes up to me at a fair, or contacts me via email or letter saying they like my zine, it’s not as just a passive reader, they have their own interesting ideas and things they do, and often a lot of interesting two-way conversations are the result.

Zine people are often good at staying in touch too, which is nice. It’s a medium which tends to attract introspective people who like to express themselves via writing. I write and receive a lot of postcards and long letters. Everywhere I visit I tend to send a fistful of postcards. I also do keep in touch with zine people via facebook and twitter, but that’s on more of a superficial basis, the meat of it is via letter and people’s writing. You can get to know people pretty well through their writing.  I also like reading other people’s perspectives on events that we both experienced. Zines are not really the medium for fame, fortune or money making, as I’ve said before, so the people who make them (or at least, stick with making them) tend to be looking for a genuine connection.

I’ve also made a lot of good female friends through doing zines. Obviously zines attract a lot of feminist/left-wing types. There seems to be a prevalent idea around at the moment that because women have the vote/it’s not illegal to be gay any more/you can get gender-reassignment treatment on the NHS/it’s illegal to discriminate against people based on their race/etc etc that somehow everything has been fixed and is ok, and people should stop their complaining, despite the fact that so many people’s daily experience of life proves otherwise. The mainstream expectations of how you should be, what you should like, do, etc, as a woman can still be so stifling and alienating, and so all-pervasive no matter how you try to avoid them, that it’s nice to meet like-minded people who feel the same.

There are also a lot of people involved with zines who put on clubnights and gigs, like Girl Germs, Riots Not Diets, Girls Get Busy, Bloody Icecream etc with an upfront feminist/queer focus. They pay more attention to the diversity of the acts they book, so it’s not just the same old thing of the stage being filled with white males all night, and the nights are designated as safe spaces, so it’s great knowing that no-one there is going to get harassed. It’s just a relief to be in a social/drinking environment without having to put up with the same old crap.

Do you feel like you’re producing something that is missing from mainstream magazines or web publications?

I think it would be a bit arrogant to claim I’m providing some missing viewpoint. If I stopped writing anything I doubt the world would be any different. Most mainstream magazines are pure bullshit, it’s true though. Reading most of the crap like Cosmo or Heat aimed at women makes me want to hurl it across the room. I do like Oh, Comely however. One of my pet hates is the way places like W.H.Smith file music and photography magazines as “Men’s Interest” like there’s some sort of correlation between wanting to look at naked orange women and wanting to see reviews of studio lighting. A lot of blogs have become just as bad now so many of them are sponsored. They deserve all the mockery they get.

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