People who don’t make or read them much themselves sometimes ask me why I still make zines, even though the internet exists, and the world is becoming more and more digitally-focused, and I have this blog. In short, the answer is for the same reason I still have hundreds of records and books, and develop black and white film at home, even though I have an ipod, spotify subscription, e-reader and two digital cameras, and I’m far from a luddite: I feel the physical medium offers me something that I don’t get from the digital version.
I always have the urge to document things. At home I have loads of scrapbooks with things like flyers, tickets, packaging etc (you can see one here) dating back to 2002. They’re not particularly private though, and friends are welcome to leaf through them when they visit. I’ve got some art/creative activity book type diaries where you have to draw things or do word association or whatever, which I fill out when I feel like. I use instagram a lot to take pictures of small details or objects (not so much for people, and I’m not sure why, I’d hope it’s because I’m enjoying their company more than fiddling with my phone- I’m very much a subscriber to phones away when you’re in company).
The one type of diary I’ve never really been into is the private confessional type, where you write about your whole life. When I was a kid I was given a five year diary as a present by a relative. I tried to keep it up, but got bored very quickly of writing things like “had chicken nuggets and angel delight for tea” and just resorted to drawing loads of animals in it and covering the pages with stickers.
I guess I have a good memory, and a good grasp of the timeline of my own life, so a scrapbook of ticket stubs and so on helps as a good memory aid, like the way the Incas used to record things with patterns of knots on strings. I like looking back on my old blog entries too to remember what I was doing, and what my mindset was and how I felt at the time. From 2010-2012 I was at art college doing a post-grad illustration degree. The main focus of the course was narrative, and there was a lot of discussion about things like different ways to record and document events, collecting, telling stories through objects and the like. We were also required to keep a creative diary of things like inspiration, research, thought processes, exhibition visits and so on.
I’ve never liked the obligation to update something every day. I tried doing a daily drawing diary for art college, and hated it. I much prefer updating something when I feel like it, and feel I have something to say or to show.
I don’t write a blog or make zines to make money. I do it for my own enjoyment, and to communicate with other people. Going into perzines hoping to make money out of it is pretty foolish (if you’re careful about printing costs, and do a zine that becomes popular within the small limits of how a perzine can be popular, you can break even or make a small amount of extra money, but it’s not going to provide a living). Blogs can be profitable if they are monetised with adverts and sponsorships, but I feel a strong amount of distaste at the idea of turning my life and how I document it into some kind of branded, corporate-sponsored business, as a matter of principle. The phrase “personal brand” when used seriously always makes me wince- people aren’t an easily digestible one-dimensional branded product, everyone has multiple facets to them.
You see a lot of now professionalised lifestyle and fashion blogs which a few years ago were records of the interesting lives or style of the (nearly always female) writers, which is what attracted their large audiences. Once they quit their jobs and went pro-blogger though, the blogs gradually turned into lacklustre sets of photos of comped outfits from clothing companies or pristine houses only achievable by someone who stays at home all day without much to do, ridiculous sponsored posts about how much they love a certain breakfast cereal or whatever, and a general sense of a bored, listless person sitting at home all day feeling obliged to keep churning this stuff out and suppressing anything personal or less than super-positive to keep the money coming in, and the advertisers happy. The whole situation becomes that the product they’re selling is their own life, and as a result the writer becomes more and more isolated in a strange little blogging bubble. It’s like some weird, modern, neoliberalised digital paid version of being a 50s housewife. There was an article recently (here) which covers that in much more detail.
I sometimes get samples of fancy toiletries via my job, but I’m not required to pretend I like the product or photograph myself using it in return for getting a bottle of expensive shampoo or whatever. I think the most that has ever been asked was some private feedback to the company, but the majority of the time it’s a no-strings free sample. Obviously I and my co-workers don’t get paid for receiving these samples, but we don’t have to live our lives as a living, breathing advert either.
A few months ago, I was wasting time in a fancy café in Paris while waiting for my train back to London. There isn’t anywhere particularly nice to wait at the Gare du Nord, so I went to a impressive looking place I saw one RER stop away. They had some really fantastic cakes, and I was enjoying myself with a coffee and cake and writing postcards to while away the time. Two French women came and sat at the table next to me, who were very dressed up, with immaculate hair and makeup, more dressy than is the norm in Paris in fact. They ordered a plate full of the most elaborately decorated cakes in the café, and then spent ages taking photos of themselves about to bite into the cakes and posing as if they were having the most fun ever, and were the greatest friends. Once they’d taken the photos though, they pushed the plate of cakes to one side and didn’t eat them, and then ignored each other, tapping away at their phones. Probably uploading pictures saying “best friends ever!” “so delicious!” and getting lots of comments about their oh so glamorous lives. They ignored each other for about 20 minutes, barely exchanging a word, and then left, barely saying bye. I’m guessing they run some kind of lifestyle blogs or something. It was a bit depressing, how everything was for show, and they didn’t enjoy the food or the company at all or really make any attempt to.
Even worse is when bloggers sell scammy e-courses about how to have as picture-perfect a life as them (answer: have plenty of money, lots of spare time, and never let anything unsightly or complicated show in public, fake up some special moments only for the photos, maybe throw in some New Age bullshit like the Secret or EFT tapping). Sites like Get Off My Internets have sprung up to point out the many dishonest and ridiculous things these monetised blogs do, sitting on that weird boundary between personal and advertising that they do. Although I’m very much on the fence about Get Off My Internets- it tends to swing wildly between well deserved criticism and high school level gossiping, depending on who is commenting, being a discussion between a large group of people, but it’s fair to say that if I found myself ending up on there I would consider it as a sign I needed to seriously reconsider what I was doing. I guess I regard it as a handy guide to how not to run a blog, and the people who write the main articles are often very funny.
This blog is certainly not a warts and all portrayal of my life. I’m very much aware that it’s under my own name, publicly visible, and findable to anyone on Google. You won’t see any pictures of my laundry pile (sorry, laundry fans), but I don’t try to pretend I live a wonderful, picture-perfect life either. It’s more for sharing things I’ve done, and things that interest me. Hopefully they’re things that interest other people too. I’ve moved around a lot in the twelve years since I left home, and I’ve accumulated a lot of friends in different places, and become friends with people who have also moved a lot. A lot of the people who read this are people I know, who like to keep up to date with what I’ve been doing, as they rarely see me. It’s also much easier to update a blog than tell loads of different people the same things over and over.
I don’t think I will ever do this for money, and I don’t think it would be a possibility either. I’m not perky or photogenic, and I’d hate doing things like going on comped trips to restaurants or whatever and then feeling obliged to write something overwhelmingly positive because I had to to get paid, rather than giving my honest opinion. Personal blogs are meant to be personal, not re-written press releases. The only time I’ve ever had a comped trip from this is when I took some photos of a café whose interior I liked anyway, and the owner saw them later and offered me and a friend a free cake and drink to say thanks. I guess the key issue is that I feel a bit protective of the things that genuinely interest me and that I choose to write about for their own sake, and I don’t want advertisers’ and sponsors’ grubby little mitts all over them. I don’t think I really cover general enough topics to hit a wide audience anyway. My lifestyle is in pretty easy reach of most people I think, anyway. (Visit charity shops, read books. Shazam!)
So what is the difference between what I put on the blog and what I put in the zines? After all, there’s no point putting the same things on both, anyone who reads the zines is very likely to also have internet access these days. I suppose the two main things are time and method of reproduction. I usually write about things on the blog close to when they happen, it’s a current record. I often write about things in the zines years after they’ve happened, once my brain has had a chance to put them together a bit, and get a narrative out of it. There’s also the major difference that the zines are b&w photocopies, and my blog is seen on a colour screen, and can also feature sound and video. This tends to mean that what I put in the zines is text-heavy, whereas the blog tends to be more photos/other kinds of media with commentary.
There is also the issue of access. To get hold of my zines you have to be somewhat within a certain network of people. If I don’t know you personally, you have to visit a fair or zine library, or have heard of zines and order something from a distro or direct from me. This has positives and negatives, the main negative being that someone who would enjoy your work or who feels very isolated and would love to hear about the lives of people they feel similar to would probably never encounter it if they aren’t in the right networks of people. A blog can be found via a Google search for an unrelated term (my stats have great ones like “ladies in creepy bunny costumes”) or linked to from anywhere. On the other hand, there is also the downside that you have no control over the context your work is discovered in. If a zine reader wants to send me a nasty comment, they have to go to the bother of composing me an email or writing a letter. (This has never actually happened, zine people tend to be a nice bunch). On a blog all you have to do is click a button to make a comment, and I think everyone knows how nasty people can be with anonymised internet comments. I don’t really get nasty blog comments though either (touch wood!) because this blog isn’t big enough to show up on people’s radar either. There are some things I just feel more comfortable writing about in my zines, though.
I think as well, there is something more personal about the physical medium of a zine. There’s more of a connection handing over a physical object, having some non-bill post arrive at your house or chatting to someone who buys it from your stall. I have a shoebox with old letters and postcards from friends that I would never ever throw away, I don’t have a shoebox with printed out emails. The main thing that makes people be so nasty on the internet I think is that it all feels so abstract and detached from real people and their real feelings (here’s a hint: it often isn’t!).
I have made friends with some great people from making, swapping and reading zines. The sort of person who continues to go to the bother of making zines is usually thoughtful, kind, creative and good at keeping in contact, and the sort of friend who it makes no difference to the friendship if you don’t see or hear from each other for a while. It’s not really a medium where there are hierarchies, if you meet someone whose writing you enjoyed, you’re on the same level as them, and you have conversations as two equals, rather than the godlike creator and humble fan. I really hate the idea that actors, musicians etc whose work you enjoy are somehow on a higher plane of existence- I firmly believe that people are fundamentally equal. Doing zines has also given me a network of friends in far-flung places, which is great for travelling. Getting involved with zines won’t bring you money, mainstream social status or fame, but it’s creatively satisfying and I recommend making zines for meeting great people (the proviso for success on this on you being a nice person yourself).