Are Zines Making a Comeback?
This story could've been titled "Everything Old Is New Again," but that isn't necessarily accurate. Still, when you look at what pop-culture aficionados are digesting these days, it's easy to think so.
Dustin Ames Jesse La Tour: Fullerton zine master
Records. Cassettes. Betamax tapes. Typewriters. Rotary phones. Wristwatches. Something about our all-touchscreen, right-here-right-now, all-digital lives has people fetishizing the tactile and the physical, which is evident by the resurgence of vinyl (according to Nielsen SoundScan, vinyl sales reached $6 million in 2013), the fact that labels such as Burger Records are releasing new music on tape, and zines.
The stapled, photocopied, cut-and-paste products--a medium invented by sci-fi geeks, then co-opted by punks--were considered the best DIY way to promote new music, talk to up-and-coming bands, and unleash vitriol against the Man. You didn't need an editor (or even spell check!), and you could communicate with other members of your subculture, whether you were a new wave or Riot Grrrl fan--even though you were geographically spread out--to share ideas. Some were more sophisticated than others (Cometbus, Not Your Bitch), depending on the creator's skills. But they were all totally labors of love.
Dustin Ames A healthy source of hipster knowledge (and paper cuts!)
And they still are. They've been popping up in local music stores, comic-book stores and coffee shops. They may not all be about music anymore, but there's a resurgence in a medium that many considered dead when blogging became popular. Santa Ana's Santanero publishes 1,000 copies quarterly. Fullerton's Comic Book Hideout recently hosted a Zinefest night, at which people could swap zines and listen to local bands. Oddly enough, record shops say they don't carry as many zines as they used to, but alternative spaces are covering that niche. BookMachine in Fullerton is an independent bookstore and publisher for many local zines, and its proprietor, author and teacher, Jesse La Tour, actually helps people create their own labors of love.
So what gives? Last year, JWT Intelligence conducted a survey that found that while people use digital formats because of ease, speed, convenience and cost, physical formats have an emotional component that can't be replaced. This translates into a nostalgia for things from the past, especially for digital natives such as millennials and Gen Xers, who vaguely remember what it was like to hold on to media before digesting them.
Which means that these days, if you're an artist looking for a real counterculture, you're going to go way back to forms of expression that aren't readily available, downloadable or accessible anymore.
La Tour is the author of many zines, including such titles as Why I Ran for City Council and Other Essays and The Corporate Music Monster: The Story of Good Bands Who Now Suck; he founded BookMachine in 2010 when his Hibbleton Gallery moved to the Magoski Arts Colony. But even before that, he was an obsessive collector of zines--an obsession that, he says, corresponded with his late-in-life (at 30--he's now 34) discovery of hardcore punk and the DIY ethos. "It's a way to go around the traditional publishing models, where you don't need someone to bless you and tell you your work is good enough," he says. "When I was writing my novel, I thought, Maybe it sounds crazy, but I'm just going to keep making my books, and one day, someone will be like, 'I like it, and I'll publish it.'"