The Magnificent Zine?

The zine is unlike any medium of communication I have ever beheld. Bold designs, strange text, and imperfect imagery immediately set them apart from the polished name-brand magazines that lined the walls of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The simplicity in a zine’s creation resonated with me as well: to exist is to be published. Subverting the traditional publishing techniques, creators birth their ideas straight into print. The passion put into each pamphlet is palpable, and a reader can feel the pure zeal put into each word and artistic choice. To craft a zine is to craft a comet, in essence releasing a radiant spear across the fringes of the literary world.

When we were given these remnants of comets to pore over, I was promptly drawn to a zine that struck me as an oversized. It was almost the size of an average magazine, and I wonder if this was a deliberate choice to emphasize the issue at hand: an observation of the tense relationship between masculinity and the American military. To further stress this theme (and further grabbing my attention), the sizable zine was covered in sheared dark olive-green military fatigues, written on in thick black sharpie. It was rough, unafraid to get dirty, and evoked guerilla warfare. Inside, the zine continued to riff on a convention magazine (or even a book) by dividing the main topic up into three tributary “chapters.” This is where that riff ended though, as the militaristic pamphlet took an artsy-crafty turn. A-shooing the pristinely glossy and well-organized pages of mainstream magazines, this zine’s content solely consisted of Microsoft Word documents, cut up and glued onto construction paper. The heavy gluing began to reveal the clumsier side of the zine as a medium, and the lack of any cohesive design reinforced this notion of mine. Near-illegible titles were drawn with a mix of blue and black marker, and a message was scrawled on the final page in pen; I’ll speculate that it was an author’s note, but it was impossible to read.

These flaws, while primarily graphically related, compound with the subversion of mainstream publishing companies to form a credibly deficiency. I don’t mean to say that mainstream publishing companies are the be-all-end-all overlords that get the final say in what content is legitimate or not; however, the lack of any respected authority in the creation of a zine could diminish this legitimacy in the eyes of a reader.

In this gap between mainstream publishing companies and zine culture is where I believe small press printing (especially of poetry) fits perfectly. Here, the small press is connected enough to the creators as to preserve the authenticity of their works, while simultaneously refining its form and giving the works a leg or two to stand on. Small presses can draw on zine culture by tapping into that same zeal to push the boundaries of their mediums, to dodge mainstream publishing agendas, and to revolutionize literature, in form and thought.

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