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Zine Culture & The Arts: More Than Just a Hobby

rrramble written by Ellie Reeves.

We’re incredibly lucky to live in a time and culture that surrounds us with art. Whether it’s music, shows, books or the much anticipated John Lewis Christmas Advert, we can’t get enough. For those amongst you who’ve studied or volunteered in the arts sector (if you want to get paid to work, I hear cyber is hiring) you may have come across the weird and wonderful world of zines. Zines are the decorative bed pillows of the arts sector – everyone seems to have them but no one’s quite sure if they’re worth the hassle. 

However, zines’ rise to popularity throughout the 20th Century tells us a great deal about people’s relationship to art. Despite the evolution of technology and the internet as a creative resource, zines are still going strong. These stubborn buggers have stood the test of time. 

From The Comet to Kanye West

During the 1930s, sci-fi fans started producing their own fan magazines for niche fandoms as a way to find like minded people. It gave them a fun and open format to collaborate and show their appreciation for the original sci-fi creators. Pretty soon, they shortened the name to fanzines, and then to zines (because two syllables is just excessive).

By the late 1950s and throughout the 60s, counterculture had grown thanks to widespread economic prosperity. Typically younger, often white middle-class people, turned their attention to social issues. This gave a boost to support for racial equality and the rise of peace movements. Counterculture also gave rise to significant growth of the underground press – a platform capable of giving people a voice outside of mainstream culture. 

A more recognisable zine format emerged by the late 60s/early 70s which combined themes of politics, activism, culture, art and self expression. To this day, the arts has remained a bridge between the personal and political. A quickly developing printing press made it a whole load easier to circumvent the commercial art world and share your opinion with the world (or at least your mates and and a few enthusiastic people down at the pub). 

Punk music had everyone hooked by 1980. Zines became the backbone of an entire subculture, symbolising the ideals and punk aesthetic in a more organised way. More like a magazine, they scheduled regular releases and music fans would flock to grab their copy. 

https://www.sadanduseless.com/

Let’s jump to 2016 when Kanye West iconically saved the Western world from its appalling English. In a tweet promoting his new Yeezy trainers he announced the release of his very own zine: “Season 2 Zine pronounced Zeen short for magazine. A lot of people pronounce it wrong.” Once again, thanks Kanye. So now, even celebrities are producing zines. That didn’t sit right with a lot of people – zines have always had a sense of the outsider about them. They’re counterculture, or underground, or geek-niche, but always giving a voice to a community that doesn’t quite fit the mainstream.

Just Snails?! and Students

I remember arriving at university back in 2016 and very quickly seeing zines pop up all over the place. I got involved with more than a few and even made my own at one point. It’s easy to see why zines are so popular amongst students: cheap printing, easy to design and you’ve got a huge resource of creative people at your fingertips. 

The nasty truth is that graduating with an arts degree (any kind, take your pick) oftens lands you with a job waiting tables or pulling pints. The service industry supports so many young creatives, and we thank it for this, but it’s rarely the career we had in mind. The avenues into a creative career are far less paved than other sectors, so it’s understandable when creativity has to take a backseat. I think this is where zines live – in the disconnect between money making and creative expression. 

In chatting with Minty Taylor and Ed Whitbread, editors of the Just Snails?! zine, I found out why they chose a zine over a podcast or stage show, and why they felt it was so important to pursue this fabulously quirky endeavour to begin with. Minty said, “There’s something a little more punk-rock and DIY about having something you can actually hold in your hands. Also, it helps undercut all the noise of the internet that often suffocates new creative projects.” 

Image by Michaela Appleton, featured in Just Snails?! issue 9

“Everyone I’ve spoken to about the zine so far has said that it looks really good and I know there’s a lot of amazing writing in there because we were so lucky to get so many great submissions. We have some cool plans for the next issue too.” I can promise you, the zine does look very good. Their excitement at continuing the zine is highly infectious. With the arts currently facing a lot of scrutiny from the Government and being framed as mere hobbies, it’s important to remember this is nothing new. It’s the role of arts to question, to contradict, and to make noise. There is a (flourishing and very equitable FYI) arts industry where commercialism reigns, but at its core creativity is personal. 

Since the 1930s, zines have become more and more equipped to celebrate individual passion. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that zines are as much about the community that creates them as the product they create. Many zines will never leave that community. That’s okay. That was never the point. Zines are still pretty unique in their removal from economic and competitive spheres – people just create for the hell of it. They always have and I hope they always will.     

Just Snails?! is a surreal art and literature zine based in Norwich, UK, edited by Minty Taylor and Edward Whitbread. Inside you will find work that toys with reality and contemplates the absurd nature of existence, as well as a whole load of total, unrelenting nonsense.

– Just Snails?! 2020 –

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