COME ON, JOIN THE CONVERSATION!: 'ZINES AS A MEDIUM FOR FEMINIST DIALOGUE AND COMMUNITY BUILDING

by Angela Richardson (from FEMINIST COLLECTIONS vol. 17, no. 3-4, Spring/Summer, 1996, pp. 10-13)

BUST 1993 - present. 4/yr. $10 (or $2.50/single issue) + $2 shipping and handling. P.O. Box 319, Ansonia Station, New York, NY 10023.

HERD 1994(?)- present. P.O. Box 476669, Chicago, IL 60647.

HIP MAMA: THE PARENTING 'ZINE 1994 - present. 4/yr. $12-20 sliding scale. P.O. Box 9097, Oakland, CA 94613.

MY LAST NERVE - AN XX 'ZINE 9/94 - present. (on hiatus? in transformation?) 2/yr. $1.50/issue or 6 stamps. P.O. Box 3054, Madison, WI 53704-0054.

PASTY. 2 stamps + spare change and/or trade. Sarah-Katherine, 734 20th Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98112.

VERBOSLAMMED $1 + 2 stamps/issue. Distributed through Riot Grrrl Press, P.O. Box 73308, Washington, DC 20009.

Finding that your views still aren't being represented in the mainstream media? Maybe it's time you started your own 'zine! If you haven't the time or resources to launch a self-publishing empire, check out some of the excellent titles available in the ever-expanding feminist 'zine scene.

Like their punk rock predecessors of the 1970's, today's 'zine publishers are usually individuals who see little of their lives reflected in the pages of Time and Newsweek. The realm of modern-day 'zines exists as an arena for many marginalized populations, but perhaps for none more fittingly than feminists. Particularly in today's backlash climate, 'zines provide an alternative to, as well as an oasis from, the mainstream press's (mis)representations of our experiences as women.

Similar in form to the poetry chapbooks and small press output of the 1930' and 40's, the first 'zines were homemade, mimeographed magazines in miniature put together for and by the fans of particular punk bands. Over time, some of these "fanzines" evolved into "perzines," digests of personal diatribes, usually on subjects specific to the punk subculture.

These days, feminist 'zines include everything from poetry to comics to creative writing to doodles and paper dolls. Clip art is used in generous measure along with appropriated news items and fashion magazine spreads. Women use 'zines as a forum for interacting with, reacting to, hacking up and re-assembling pop culture. The 'zines provide a space in which we can create our own meanings, for our own pleasure and amusement.

Most 'zines are the results of hours upon hours of creative collage work and story-writing, followed by a trip to the local copy shop. Articles are sometimes hand-written (therefore occasionally illegible), more often typed or output on computer for pasteup afterwards. Some 'zines are laid out entirely on computer, although this practice is frowned upon by most 'zinesters, who swear by the hands-on approach of old-fashioned cut-and-paste methods.

Some 'zines survive only single issue runs; others last for years. 'Zines often go through metamorphoses along with their authors, changing title or focus as well as address. Many 'zines are just a few pages long, great news for those of us with short attention spans.

These little magazines normally aren't done for profit, but for the personal gratification of their publishers. 'Zines are also useful tools in feminist efforts to create community and share common experiences -- both positive and negative. Women speak out in their 'zines as survivors of sexual assault and harassment, which helps others to see they are not alone. What mainstream venues are available for women to announce "I was raped" and be seen as something other than just a victim?

'Zines by women often focus on the amazing aspects of the female experience that are, for the most part, invisible in the mainstream press. Many feminist self-publishers put in a lot of time doing research for each issue; women's history, for example, is explored and chronicled. 'Zines are a place where individual women stake out ideological territory, debate issues, and reclaim terms like girl and chick. It is in 'zines that new ground is broken, issues debated in exciting and fresh new ways.

For many women the opportunity to publish without the threat of the editor's red pen is liberating. 'Zines bring a sort of freedom other publications can't afford their writers. Here the 'zine queen can indulge in stream-of-consciousness writing -- straight from the brain to the page -- unfiltered, uncensored, and often charmingly misspelled.

Most 'zine creators trade with other 'zinesters, sometimes also sending private correspondence between issue releases; 'zines have facilitated the networking of many young feminists across the country. Since I have yet to come across a 'zine by an elderly woman and because race and physical ability are rarely mentioned in most of the texts, I would have to guess that a lot of the women making 'zines are young, white, able-bodied, and middle-class.

In the early 1990's, as the punkish Riot Grrrl movement quickly picked up speed, more and more 'zines by girls emerged. A contagious 'zine spirit was spreading among feminists, with some titles gaining mainstream attention. Sarah Dyer, creator of Mad Planet and Kikizine, was featured in Seventeen magazine at the height of the Riot Grrrl 'zine phenomenon. A great resource for 'zines by young women is her brainchild, Action Girl Newsletter, "dedicated to networking organized girls everywhere."

With names like Queenie, Heck, Yummi Hussi, Literal Bitch, and Conscious Clit, 'zines from Riot Grrrls cover everything from sexism in the hardcore punk scene to girlhood dilemmas to reviews of TV shows and lists of fun stuff to do. These girls are working through a lot on paper -- it's often pretty compelling reading. Feminist self-publishers everywhere are making their presence known, reaching out, inviting conversation and confrontation. The following are reviews of just a few selections from the abundant universe of feminist 'zines.

HERD (Issue 4)

At five-and-a-half by six inches, Herd is "pocket-size for easy reference," as Jen its publisher has noted on the front of her 'zine. The cover illustration is a lovingly hand-drawn depiction of two women on a living room couch, one woman with her hand on the other's thigh. Another special feature of this 'zine is the color photocopies interspersed throughout, providing a nice reprieve from the typical black-and-white photocopied pages of most 'zines. Jen has compiled a feminist perzine that is fun to read, thoughtful, and will also come in handy if you ever have car trouble. The issue I got my hands on came out in February '95, after Jen had just moved to Chicago. A brief intro to the fourth issue describes her new life there. Thumbs-up to the architecture, thrift shopping, and coffee shops; thumbs-down to the lack of dyke bars.

She starts the issue with a hand-scrawled editorial on the pitfalls of "feminine protection." Later she provides readers with a list of favorite hygiene products, including those to avoid. She also wants to know what we think, promising an in-depth review of "viewers' faves" in future issues. Turn the page and encounter a step-by-step instruction guide on how to do an oil change. Accompanied by drawings of the tools you'll need, Jen wraps up this "girls and cars feature" with a cartoon portrait of herself by her beloved automobile, wrench in hand.

Incorporating a 'zine standard, lists of likes and dislikes, Jen segues into a monologue on the joys of eating out. Next comes a page of poems, followed by a journal-like piece titled "Aggression," in which Jen reveals the very personal, highly-charged flipside of her feelings on food and body image. There are other goodies in this little gem of a 'zine, but I'll let you discover them for yourself.

Her choice of subjects and variations in writing style make for a refreshing take on the "perzine." Additionally, Herd's naive but clean design look enhances, rather than inhibiting, the message. As I close the cover, I feel like I know her.

BUST (Issues 2-5)

If anyone's still harboring the misguided belief that feminists have no sense of humor, the 'zine BUST will provide the very necessary rude awakening. These girls prove way beyond a reasonable doubt that feminist and funny definitely do go together. The ladies at BUST ("the only 'zine that lifts and separates") are like the big sister I always wanted: a little kooky, smart as whips, and out to have a rockin' good time. This 'zine is one of my favorites and has been ever since I picked up my first issue a couple of years ago. The cover of issue No.2 features a gigantic, topless cartoon dog-lady on a rampage at an amusement park. Inside, readers are treated to articles like "Fun from A-DD" and "i think i love you: my life on the road with david cassidy," among others. Each issue focuses on a carefully selected topic. Recent issues have included: Fashion and Beauty (Issue 3), Sex (Issue 4), My Life as a Girl (Issue 5), and Men We Love (Issue 6). These girls have a lot of interesting experiences under their belts and they are willing to divulge all. This 'zine is an amazing buy considering all the goodies you get: comics, short stories, reviews, cool celeb interviews, and so much more.

As time progresses, the 'zine's appearance continues to lean in the direction of the mainstream -- glossy cover, slick production, ads. But appearances can be deceiving and staying true to their early years of misbehavin', the chicks at BUST still write unapologeticallly with a fierce sense of humor about life in the girl lane. BUST never fails to make me laugh out loud.

HIP MAMA (issues 4 & 5)

In the same realm of almost-a-magazine 'zines is Hip Mama: A Parenting 'Zine. On very nice, thick paper stock and with a slick cover, Hip Mama looks as though it's been laid out thoughtfully using a computer.

One of this 'zine's greatest assets is its attention to diversity. We hear from lesbian moms, women of color who are mothers, and teen moms. Contributors share parenting experiences, "motherly advice," and personal triumphs.

The 'zine deftly weaves its poetry and fiction selections in between news, commentaries, and feature articles. Hip Mama is always full of gorgeous black-and-white photos of children and their loving parents. I especially appreciate that this 'zine makes the effort to discuss issues of class, race, sexuality, and gender as they relate to parenting. The mix makes for a rich reading experience, and although I'm not a mother myself, there's plenty of information here of interest to me as well.

PASTY (Issue 2)

Self-identifying as a "fat grrrl," Sarah-Katherine of Pasty has packed her 'zine with all kinds of engaging stuff. SK makes great use of clip art and found images, reworking them into feminist commentary. I related completely to her need to include a Paranoia Page, even though I don't share her fear of accidentally becoming impregnated while using a public toilet. Generously handing over four pages to her buddy Noah to do with as he pleases, she includes his explanation of an elaborate theory on the subject of "jumping on the bandwagon." Sometimes boys are allowed in this world of grrrlzines.

Perhaps the most fascinating portion of this issue comes towards the end as Sarah-Katherine describes how she decided to spend a day off work visiting a jail. She relates the minute and painful details of what she saw and how it made her feel.

VERBOSLAMMED (Issues 6 & 7)

I loved the title as soon as I laid eyes on it, even though I had no idea what it meant. "Verboslammed: when men talk derogatorily about women in the presence of a woman without having any idea it might bother her." Hmmmmmmm, well, of course. This 'zine tackles a different theme each issue. Number 6 was all about women and baseball, Number 7 was on women and cars. Rebecca, this 'zine's coordinator, has done a good job of integrating articles she has written herself -- often featuring individual profiles of obscure women in history -- with tidbits from the mainstream and other alternative press publications.

In Issue 6, she clues readers into the history of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. But first up is an article about Julie Groteau, the first woman to ball college baseball. She covers the topic from several angles, including mention of her own discomfort and anxiety around participating in sports. There's also lots of art, graphics, and photocopied pictures of women in action.

In her seventh issue, subtitled Station Daze, she relates her experience of working at a gas station and the stereotyping she encountered. Interviews with female friends who own (and love) trucks are entertaining and inspirational. Rebecca also includes some of her favorite picks for underground comix, tunes, and other 'zines. Both the design and content of Verboslammed are dense; get out your magnifying glass if you want the full experience.

MY LAST NERVE: AN XX 'ZINE (Issues 1&2)

My Last Nerve is a healthy combination of reviews, reactions, and funky art with a political edge. When I picked of my first copy of this 'zine I was thrilled to discover that it was produced right here in Wisconsin. As it turns out, Carol Petrucci, one of the 'zine's co-creators (along with Cheri Haines) also lives right up the street from me.

Carol explained that one of her main motivations for doing a 'zine was so she'd have something to trade, "sort of as a connection with people." At the time of Nerve's genesis, she and Cheri lived on different floors of a duplex and would get together often to make collages, write reviews -- whatever struck their fancy -- as a way of having fun and making art.

The 'zine is a full eight-and-one-half by eleven inches, bound with staples down the left side. A lot of emotion is packed between its covers. The publishers weren't shy about including it all: what makes them mad, what they find funny or frightening. One of the best pieces in Nerve's just-about-even balance between artwork and articles is Carol's piece titled "(My) Abortion." As the author herself had to say when discussing feminist 'zines with me, "...there's a lot of wisdom in these things...."

My Last Nerve is one of those 'zines with an uncertain future. Other time commitments in the publishers' lives have made getting the next issue together difficult. Carol has ideas for a variety of other projects, so only time will tell. In any case, back issues are still available, so get a copy for yourself.

Even though a relatively short amount of time has passed since those first grrrlzines came out, feminist zines are showing up everywhere, sometimes in mutated forms -- often as homepages on the World Wide Web. It doesn't take long to realize that the world of traditional, underground print 'zines and that of the e-zine are very different. The same sense of urgency, anarchy, and mischief prevails, but the physical experience of the 'zines is not at all the same. E-zines are a little more difficult to read under the covers before you go to bed, and you don't get the pleasure of cataloging copies for your own personal shoebox library.

The electronic world affords the luxury of immediacy; instant updates and alterations to an e-zine are possible. Some webzines include really gorgeous computer graphics and a myriad of hypertexted resources. But class issues are raised: who has access to the technology to create Webzines? And who is able to view them? Money and time are involved with any kind of 'zine creation, but that's even more true of web pages as 'zines. The sad fact is that the majority of the cyber-population is still white, wealthy, and male. The print and digital worlds have begun to collide, though, as traditional, photocopy zinesters go online and then circle back to write about those cyber-experiences in their print grrrlzines. We can only hope that, over time, these explorations in self-publishing will grow to represent an even greater diversity of feminist points of view. They surely will continue to be an important means by which like-minded women across the country establish communications, share ideas, and make plans for smashing the patriarchy.

[Angela Richardson works as an artist on a multimedia software development team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a volunteer producer for the public access television program, "Chick Chat." Angela collects comics, makes videos (.22 and other stories for girls) and has been to known to publish an occasional 'zine.]


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Updated August 5, 1996