Zine Culture:
Better Than Blogs?

 Unlike your #TBT favorites Teen People and Tiger Beat, one type of publication has outlasted the twists and turns of media: The ‘zine.

Even today, as old-media organizations like Hearst and Conde Nast shuffle to figure out their business model in a digital world, ‘zines are thriving with celebs like Kanye West adopting the art form, and wunderkinds like Tavi Gevinson basing their entire digital businesses off of their niche natures.I talked to several ‘zine readers and founders to define what a ‘zine is, and why its nature has struck a chord among young people.

From what I deduced, in a world of fast-fast-fast-content, there’s no better to way to slow-down-and-think than with a ‘zine.


You wouldn’t really read anything that in-depth anywhere else


The self-published, small-circulated issues typically cover niche and or controversial topics left out of the mainstream media. They got their start as print editions and even in a digital world, ‘zines have remained tangible objects of desire. "There's a new allure to printed ‘zines because everything is so digital,” Justin Allen told me over the phone. He’s the co-founder of BD GRMMR, a physical publication with a digital outlet dedicated to the lives and works of queer artists of color. The inane click-bait type of fodder that our generation has become all-too-familiar with have “made the medium more valuable," he said. For there is a wide swath of artists and writers who enjoy journalism as it once was, those who long for outlets that provide meatier discourse, and publications that value true expression. And so paper ‘zines, specifically, have fast become luxury items, things to hold, to stare at, to immerse oneself in.

via: BD GRMMR "The Whole House Eats" Issue

 “They just go against the minute reporting, and they have longevity that a blog post doesn’t,” Allen told me. Last year, BD GRMMR printed a successful issue called “The Whole House Eats” which offered a deeper look into the famed House of Ladosha’s queer culture. “You wouldn’t really read anything that in-depth anywhere else,” he noted of the feature.

But as you’d expect these days, ‘zines don’t need to be physical. Most young people today who appreciate the medium’s content but can’t be bothered with its physical production have turned to digital sites like Issuu and others to create their online versions.

"Digital ‘zines don't really exist in the same conversation as [mainstream] sites," Isaac Kariuki, founder of Diaspora Drama Zine told me in an email. "Some of the zines are so niche, like there’s one about the three seconds Solange was in the ‘Blow’ video," and you’d be hard-pressed to find a major website centered around a moment that specific. Many online ‘zines have found rabid audiences around hyper-niche subjects like transgender identities, the importance of 80s-pop icons, and the black diaspora.

via: Diasphora  Drama Zine Issue 1, Arthur Black Balloon Archive by Liz Johnson


But don’t call an online ‘zine a blog…or a Tumblr. They’re not reactive like blogs, they’re not home to shady .GIFs referencing pop culture, and unlike both mediums, ‘zines largely have a distinct and thoughtful voice.

Oh, and they’re not ad-supported. “Zines aren’t about making money,” Carolina Batista, Colgate University student, and creator of an upcoming ‘zine focusing on bisexuality, pointed out. “They’re about sharing ideas, about engendering a community of people who care about the same things as you do.”

Digital ‘zines tend to be hot-beds of conversation since their readers double as their writers. “Larger sites are usually super general and the community they have is very fractured,” Batista told me. “Zine content is much more focused and because there are usually less people within each community, it’s much more cohesive and conducive to deeper conversations.”

Yet it should be noted that those deeper conversations could also stem from the non-censored conversations initiated by its creators. "The way I feature artist on True Laurels is one of a kind,” Lawrence Burney, told me over the phone. The music journalist, whose work has appeared on more-established sites like Pitchfork, Noisey, XXL and others has received attention for his Diaries series, which exposes intimate moments with music’s up and comers. “Neuport’s Diary is about overdosing on heroin,” he mentioned. “You don’t see that side of an artist in the mainstream.” Talking about his own ‘zine vastly differs from those he’s written for he said, “I’ve had an editor look at me straight faced and tell me to change my review because of a relationship with a label.” “[On True Laurels], I’ll never let myself do that.”

Whether the stories are about queer icons or underground artists bubbling toward the mainstream, stories found in ‘zines can go far beyond the parameters of what's trending. They delve deeper into narratives that highlight a marginalized group left out of the broader conversation.

In her upcoming publication, Batista will call out the mainstream's inability to catch up to the “inclusive and open minded way of looking at sexuality.” At Colgate, she hopes to spark a real convo around sexuality, one that is deeply missing from the school’s campus. “I looked into sexuality blogs and zines on tumblr, and just on the web, I knew I wanted something more informal. I want to make this zine to have a kind of dreamy and whimsical vibe to it because that’s the view of sexuality I want to promote, something very fluid and ever changing that is completely up to us.”

"The internet wasn't made for people of color."

Kariuki, founder of Diaspora Drama Zine, which highlights creative people of color with a heavy emphasis on immigrant POC, simply said “the internet wasn’t made for people of colour.” Their issues are only discussed when they impact a celebrity – like the time US Weekly likened Solange’s natural ‘fro to a dog, or when Oprah released that documentary on complexion wars within the black community. And so he’s created Diaspora Drama as one of the only places to constructively discuss topics like the beauty standards society places on dark skinned women and the misconceptions of being a Kurdish teen living in a Western world. “I knew [Diaspora Drama Zine] had to be personal, it had to say something, otherwise it’s pointless.”

We're only falling deeper into the digital realm, and so I wonder what that means for the future of zines. Will publishers loyal to paper expand their audience by going digital? Will there one day be advertisements slipped into the issues to help fund editions? Will more celebrities follow Kanye and Diplo into the culture? Who knows. And the beauty with zines is that there are no rules, so, really, anything goes.


Aug 24, 2015


Cassandra Alcide