In the 1930s, science fiction fans swapped stories and commentary by mail in handmade fanzines.
In the 1970s, photocopiers made it all the easier to self-publish. By then, the name of these pamphlet-like tomes was shortened to “zines,” and in the ’70s and ’80s they proliferated, especially in association with punk culture.
Enter the internet in the mid ’90s, and social media about a decade ago, which gave just about anyone the ability to self-publish just about anything.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the zine scene as of late, you might suspect that you’re about to read a story of how zines all but died out and were replaced by web comics or Vines. But that never happened. Zines are still very much a thing.
Lauren Cardenas is a gallery committee member at the Holland Project and a fellow at the Black Rock Press at the University of Nevada, Reno. She said that students in college art programs, both here and elsewhere, publish zines.
Zine production hasn’t shifted exclusively to academia, though. Denali Lowder, who’s been a gallery committee member since she was a teen a few years ago, loves zines, makes zines and collects zines. She even has this claim to fame—she was the sole employee at Mixed Message, which she described as “a small-press zine store that [painter and tattoo artist] Ron Rash was running for a while.”
Lowder’s zines are among the hundreds lining the walls of Holland Project’s front gallery right now. Some are old, some new, some dashed off quickly on a copier, others printed meticulously on a press. Their imagery ranges from strictly text to cheaply copied black and white photos to small editions of labor-intensive, handmade books. And topics range from stories of the Reno punk scene circa 2000 to skateboarder photos to, well, just about anything.
One of Cardenas’s favorites is called “Hijacking a Culture,” with images that show how the aesthetics of black culture have been widely adopted. Another is a palm-sized volume titled, “Crybaby,” with pen drawings of all of the of the places its author has cried in public.
In terms of content, pretty much anything goes. Zines don’t lay claim to any one culture these days. And by Lowder’s estimation, zines appear to be here to stay. She doesn’t see the one-button publishing capability of social media as a threat to their existence in the least.
“It’s not ever going to be the same as putting out a status on Facebook,” she said. “The feel of it is much different than a Tumblr. It’s always been popular with young people who are interested in making this thing. I like the feel of them. I like the feel of having something that somebody made.” She also pointed out that the barrier to entry is just about nonexistent. Anyone with something to say can make and circulate a zine.
Cardenas added, “Me, being a printmaker/book artist, I’ve met other people who were involved in small presses. It’s a really easy venue to create community across state lines, and internationally.” She said that old Risograph and Xerox machines have been making a comeback lately, and the zine clubs are starting up at universities.
Holland Project has its own zine library, too. And gallery director Alisha Funkhouser advises people to stay tuned to Holland’s calendar for news of upcoming zine workshops and possibly a zine fair in July.