It’s hard to pin down exactly what a zine is. By their nature, they can be anything. Typically, however, zines are a locally published, small batch magazine, which focuses on a single niche topic, that is usually atypical or countercultural. They’re produced at a low cost, and sold at a low cost, or distributed for free in certain cases. However, the main thing zine’s tend to have in common, from early zines like Fire!!, to the 80’s Riot Grrrl zine movement, to modern publications, is their prominent association with the activism of the time.
Fire!!, a literary magazine from the Harlem renaissance, is widely considered to be an early political zine, who’s nature is not explicit, but implicit. Edited by a host of young and bright African American writers from Harlem, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston among the team, it aimed to create content for the young, black, artistic people who were pushing boundaries across the neighbourhood. Published in 1926, it hosted tales of bisexuality, homosexuality, prostitution and interracial relationships, aiming to uplift and centre the politics that many in early 20th century Harlem stood for. However, Fire!! was not accepted easily, and after their first issue was published their headquarters was burned to the ground, and a second edition was never published.
Despite this tragedy, Fire!! succeeded in many ways, namely, by planting the seed of inspiration for activists and change makers across the next century. If your publication is not owned by anyone bar you, no one but you can decide what is published in it. Particularly in the local area, its short lived existence helped to spark the literary rejuvenation that was the Harlem Renaissance, a movement which centred the experiences and artistry of marginalised people in the district.
As time moved on, zines became more commonplace, and with that emerged another subsection which continues to live on to this day, the Fanzine. Fanzines were incredibly popular throughout the mid 20th century, and were a common way for local fans of media like the Beatles and Star Trek to share ideas, to share art, to share how this media impacted them, and, to a lesser extent, to share fanfiction. This was always a subversive practice, with teenage girls, young women, stay at home mothers, and the budding LGBTQ+ community alike joining together to share a creative space that is not bound by the strict media censors of the time. However, as time moved on, a distinct zine based counter cultural movement emerged; the early 90’s punk submovement called Riot Grrrl.
Riot Grrrl is a punk, direct action based feminist movement that centred itself in northeastern America in the early to mid 90s. Word was spread about protests and gatherings through fanzines for popular feminist punk bands like Bikini Kill and Courtney Love, with Jigsaw, a zine founded in Washington state in 1988 by members of Bikini Kill (These members later went on to form a second zine, focusing on the same subjects, also titled Bikini Kill). This movement encouraged activist actions like attending the March for Women’s Lives and the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, as well as holding interviews with important and influential punk bands they met on the road. Famous as performers for their early 90’s punk aesthetic and their iconic call of “Girls to the front”, Bikini Kill and Jigsaw furthered the feminist cause in Washington and surrounding areas through their publication, and both informed and inspired young feminists across America both in writing and action.
At the same time, here in UCD, the then Gay and Lesbian society were producing their own zine, Gluepot. Gluepot was a zine which published poetry, short stories, news and political essays written by LGBTQ+ students in UCD in the 1980’s. Homosexuality would not be decriminalised here until 1993. The zine contained calls for legalisation, information on safe sex, news that was relevant to LGBTQ+ people in Dublin, and many other things that many people of the time would have found unnecessary or outright abhorrent.
This practice has continued into modern day, with zines like Nothing Substantial, which raises money for local charities through poetry, prose and art, and ziens from the NOT4U collective, which centre works from LGBTQ+ writers and female writers, providing them with a space for creative and political space for their art. As well as this, UCD LGBTQ+ society is bringing back Gluepot this year, providing a space for similar work here on campus.
The nature of zines is that of subversion, it’s counter cultural, it fights against the status quo. So as long as there are zines, they will be associated with activism, and with direct action. Their essence calls out for it. I for one am looking forward to what future generations of zine makers will bring.