Expression: in a small package

Reflection on the publishing style known as Zine. By Jacob L. Snizik

On a visit to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, I was able to discover with our group a form of print that I had never seen before. It was called a zine, it was like a pamphlet, small, staple bound, only probably ten or more pages long. Sometimes the author’s name was included, but mostly they were anonymous.

There were some advantages to this format, the largest being absolute freedom. Most of the zines were self published, meaning they were simply made: easier for rapid production and rapid consumption by the public and the author’s target audience. The author has complete authority on what they write and what the zine looks like before it is published. One disadvantage I found as the reader, is that since the author doesn’t have the “check” mechanism of an editor or an overseeing publisher, it means that what is printed in the zines can be pretty edgy and immersed in the counter-culture. What I mean is, as the reader, I felt at certain points that the author was lumping me into their definition of “The Man” and then at that point, I thought, “Okay man, I get that you’re passionate and that you’re mad, but what exactly are you mad about, because parts of this just seem like you’re spouting off with no clear direction”.

Other zines well more factual, but also in a way that wouldn’t appeal to people working for a normal magazine or newspaper. They wrote about subjects like actually living day to day with mental illness, and eye witness reports to the murder rates throughout Pennsylvania, written by an author who was probably in middle school still because their handwriting needed some work. It was interesting to have first hand exposure to these fringe topics, from people who have lived it instead of just some news reporter coming in and reporting about it.

The first Zine I read, written by an anonymous member of one of the Canadian Pacific Northwest Indian Tribes. They were very frustrated, rebellious, and made accusations at everyone, especially the Canadian Government and the Commonwealth, still ruled by the Queen.

These zines reminded me, in the end, of the voices that aren’t normally heard, as they are all over the world. It reminded me of something like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense published before the American Revolution. the pamphlet was a major spark for starting and fueling the flames of revolution against the British. It, and his follow up work published during the revolution, American Crisis, were small little pamphlets that were printed quickly and cheaply, spreading like wildfire across the American colonies that inspired many to call for change.

The zines have that power within them, all they need is for the right people to get their hands on them.

Cited: “Thomas Paine: Common Sense.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, http://www.ushistory.org/paine/commonsense/.

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