The introduction to The Book of Zines: Readings From the Fringe:

Most zines suck. There’s no nice way to say it. The truism coined by Theodore Sturgeon applies: Ninety percent of everything is crap. Most people forget what Sturgeon said about the remaining 10 percent. He said it was worth dying for.

I’m dying! Zines (pronounced “zeens,” from fanzines) are cut-and-paste, “sorry this is late,” self-published magazines reproduced at Kinko’s or on the sly at work and distributed through mail-order and word of mouth. They touch on sex, music, politics, television, movies, work, food, whatever.

They’re Tinkertoys for malcontents. They’re obsessed with obsession. They’re extraordinary and ordinary. They’re about strangeness but since it’s usually happening somewhere else you’re kind of relieved. You can get to know people pretty well through their zines, which are always more personal and idiosyncratic than glossy magazines because glossies and the celebrities they worship are so busy being well known.

Most zine editors can recall the moment they first saw Factsheet Five, the zine that reviews zines, and asked themselves (1) that’s what I’ve been doing? or, more likely, (2) I can do that, and why not? Everyone cleared space on their kitchen tables, and estimates flew like confetti — ten thousand zines, fifty thousand zines, a million readers. Nobody knows. A zine dies, a zine grows. Over the years since I assembled the first issue of Chip’s Closet Cleaner and sent copies to my puzzled relatives, I’ve exchanged zines and letters and e-mail with hundreds of underground publishers and found we share the same desire — the same need — to create. Factsheet Five used to ask its readers a deceptively simple question, “Why publish?” and always received passionate (if sometimes long-winded) responses.

Zines have a long history. In the early part of this century, they got a kickstart from Dadaists, science-fiction fans, anarchists, poets, and other self-starters, along with technology such as the mimeograph. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who discovered zines in the early forties and later wrote a book called The World of Fanzines, believed they were “essentially unpolluted by the greed, the arrogance and the hypocrisy that has invaded so much of our intellectual life.” He was wrong, of course. Zines were around in the fifties and sixties and then punk rock and its Do-It-Yourself aesthetic pushed them along in the seventies. The arrival of self-service copiers and desktop publishing did the same in the eighties. More recently, zines have become hip. The Wall Street Journal gave zines space on its front page while dismissing them as “the bottom of the publishing food chain.” The New York Times has written about zines three times and declared them “quirky” twice. Some zines now have barcodes and are sold in chain bookstores. Zines have gone online too, for computer savants who crave fancy graphics. Some are good — say about 10 percent.

The method by which you get your hands on a zine has not changed — for best results, send well-wrapped cash and a kind word. You’ll get a zine in return; if you don’t, the editor needed your money to eat or something. The selections were selected because I liked them — like many zine addicts, I save my favorites in tottering piles. Yet all I did was read. The writers and artists who graciously let me reprint their stuff deserve the kindest words.

Most zines suck, but you find that golden 10 percent and you’re hooked for life. Found mine.

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