Going Underground with Zine Culture

Rabeeah Moeen looks at the history of zine culture and its growing popularity with modern counter-cultures.

As a medium of publication, self-printing has always been around. Perhaps we see it more nowadays, when printing is largely accessible and remains relatively inexpensive, but since the invention of the printing press, if people could publish their own work, they did.

This is most obvious with the prevalence of ‘zines.’ Sometimes shortened from fan-zines, they are a small, often inexpensively printed piece of work by the fans of a particular movement, counter-culture or sphere of society. Due to the fact that people can photocopy in colour, use small A4 paper and produce the zines themselves, it is a popular medium for spreading one’s own work.

Now, you can see zines everywhere. They are undoubtedly increasing in popularity, due in part to the ease of production but also smaller subcultures and groups forming, of people interested in a specific issue.  Usually deviant from mainstream media and publications, zines cover topics you wouldn’t see elsewhere. They become a chance to spread your own message to a group of people you can also consider your own: interested and involved in the same things. Now, you can find a zine of anything.

The history of the zine usually dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, with sci-fi. Science fiction fans wrote about their own ideas and published their own stories, circulating their zines around a small, close-knit readership. This was soon followed with the popularisation of punk zines. Punk has always been associated with being a counter-culture, going against mainstream media and expectations by refusing to conform. In the 70s, this new subculture began to write their own features about a music scene that was, for a long time, being largely ignored by the mainstream media. Both of these communities created zines to be small and exclusive publications: for those in the know.

That exclusivity hasn’t really changed. Yes, anyone can start reading a zine or publish their own, but you have to be interested in a subject to such a great extent that wider publications aren’t producing the content you like. Though not necessarily niche subjects, feminism and the comic in particular are two things that are given more space through the medium of zine. The zine is a space where a particular issue can take precedence, rather than be a small feature of a broader publication.

For zine-creator Ella Healing, this idea of zines being for people who do not see themselves and their interests in the wider community resonates too. “Zines have always been a way to showcase the voices of marginalised groups, so I thought that combining arts with supporting these equal rights movements would be a positive move.”

Punk vines still exist, and so do ones about science-fiction stories, but the movement for social justice is becoming something you can express in your own publication, no longer reserved only for sociological research papers. ‘Grrrl’ Zines, ‘Feminist Zinesters’ and the ‘POC Zine Project’ are just a few examples of websites showcasing the works of groups and individuals related to diversity and equality.

Ella creates an arts zine, and she does so “predominantly to showcase the work of all the talented people I know.” At the annual Leeds Zine Fair, there are tonnes of workshops to help you in the production of your own zine. This past month, you could attend a workshop on making zines with the theme of identity at Leeds Central Library, or learn screen printing and marbling techniques. Once you have the basics down, you can create anything.

For more information regarding zines in Leeds, look out for fairs happening frequently at the Leeds University Union, Hyde Park Book Club and other local venues. With a rise in feminist and art zines happening in the student body, there’s plenty of fairs and events to go to, especially around Christmas time.

Below are the full interviews with Holly O’Brien and Ella Healing as Rabaeeh asks them specifically about their approach to zine making and their vision for their specific publications.


Holly O’Brien: Yonica

1) What kind of zine do you create and why?

I’d say that Yonica is a feminist compilation zine but initially the idea behind it was quite different. I am now in my third year of studying English Literature and still regretting the decision not to do Fine Art. Yonica was a project to get myself back into drawing and painting. But, as I hadn’t been doing much of this in my first two years at uni, I found it difficult to find my own style. I decided to begin by writing about anything I wanted and asking my friends to do the same. From there, the Yonica naturally evolved into a feminist zine and the artwork was made in response to the work we had.

Now, Yonica has more of a long-term focus which is to promote the work of creative women in the Leeds art scene. As a female artist, I wanted to create my own platform and space in which myself, and other women, could vocalise our ideas. We wanted to share our thoughts and feelings, and also talk about what we do to inspire other like-minded people.

The next issue of Yonica is coming together now and has interviews, submissions and stories with the intent to inspire more young women to get into the creative industries.

2) What got you into zines and who are your influences?

The first time I thought about making a zine was when I saw a photo on Instagram of my best friend from school printing her own zine. I was really proud of her and kind of in awe of what she was doing. Later, I borrowed a couple of zines from another friend and realised it was something I could definitely do myself. So I started doing some research on Instagram and Pinterest and went from there. As for my influences, I’d have to first give credit to my best friend Heather and her zine Constructing Constellations and then to Chapess Zine which had an amazing selection of writing and artwork submitted by women all over the world. And then finally, to Ione Gamble’s zine, Polyester, which I am fascinated by. The zine explores an aesthetic of maximalism and reacts against the idea that ‘less is more’, instead Ione asks you to ‘have faith in you own bad taste’.

3) What is your opinion on the zine community and its recent popularity?

So far, the zine community have been pretty great to me! Most people I have met and worked with have been really open and welcoming and I think people are drawn to zine communities for these reasons. When you make a zine you have the freedom to write about whatever you want, it can’t be deemed ‘too personal’ or ‘not good enough’. Also, when you read zines you find voices that you can’t find in mainstream media and it’s exciting to read people’s uninhibited thoughts or concerns and to be introduced to how other people see the world.

It’s really awesome that zine culture is becoming more popular because it is a meaningful platform for artists to share their work. It also spreads the idea that everyone has the opportunity to produce something different from what we are seeing in the mainstream. As zines are non-profit publications and celebrate DIY culture, they will always remain outside the grasp of large newspaper corporations and are the perfect tool to express yourself freely. Recently however, I have seen the highjacking of zine-culture and seen some people trying to promote a single exclusive aesthetic defining exactly what zines can and can’t be. I think what is important, especially when zines are becoming so popular, is that we all keep zine culture as something that remains diverse, accessible and an inclusive.

Ultimately, Yonica has led on to lots of new and exciting things for me and I would encourage anyone who is interested in zines to go to zine fairs and workshops and have a go at making a zine yourself.


Ella Healing: Voices

1) What kind of zine do you create and why?

I create an arts zine, which I started predominantly to showcase the work of all the talented people I knew. I’m hoping to expand this by taking submissions and broadening the scope

2) What got you into zines and who are your influences?

I’m left-wing, a feminist, LGBTQIA+ ally/supporter, BAME rights supporter and somebody who is appalled at the state of the arts sector and how it’s been underfunded and neglected. Zines have always been a way to showcase the voices of marginalised groups, so I thought that combining arts with supporting these equal rights movements would be a positive move.

3) What is your opinion on the zine community and its recent popularity?

The more the merrier in my opinion! I love seeing different people’s zine ideas because they really show what you’re passionate about. This awesome guy at the recent Zine Fair at Left Bank Leeds did a zine solely about Bruce Springsteen’s butt. It was glorious.

Oh, and all Gryphon readers who do anything creative should submit their work to the Voices zine Facebook group or my email eleanor.voiceseditor@gmail.com, or send in their artist’s profile so we can plug their stuff!

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