What a fascinating discovery! Zines have been around since the 1930s, but I only encountered them for the first time during our excursion. The zines we explored at Carnegie Library were such wonderful examples of creative literary material released outside the publishing mainstream. They embodied the resident freedom that accompanies the lack of a need to meet a certain standard or to be “polished” before perusal. Overall, they were generally rougher, smaller in some cases, and less refined. One zine concerning the importance of recycling even resembled a pamphlet more than a magazine and had a slipcover comprised entirely of soft reused paper! The contents of the zines themselves were also, refreshingly, the opposite of sleek. They were honest and completely forthright in either voicing opinions that did not match convention or containing themes that are not often the core of more typical magazines, whether it concerned organic farming, knitting, or even stories of library etiquette/experience. The dry humor of a zine called Transom: The Library Issue, which included the aforementioned library stories, was particularly entertaining to me. Generally, the zines strove to take both creative and content-related risks, even if the implied work would have taken much effort, such as the ink design on the cover of Ideas in Pictures #5 representing repeated letterpress processes.
While showcasing certain perks that come with being in a niche, there were also some evident drawbacks to the zines’ presentation. The sizes of some of the zines as well as the large amount of print on each page at times led me to draw the conclusion that the layout and resources can be limited for zines. As a result, multiple opinions addressing different topics were often compressed onto the same page with little space in between entries. The effect of a few zines’ layouts was one of sardines in a can or like being confronted with a wall of words, an unfortunate setup which can overwhelm the senses rather than draw the reader’s eyes as a more individual presentation could accomplish. However, since resources are not as boundless with zines and since a main point in zines’ favor is that content will not be sacrificed for the sake of aesthetics, the only course of action is to make do with what is available. Another downside was a lack of long-term durability. Some of the zines, due to their resemblance to pamphlets, seem like they would need to be handled more carefully than conventional magazines which, as standardized as they are, often come sleekly polished and equipped with thicker spines.
After this excursion, the definition of publication in zine-land seems exceedingly flexible. A writer does not need a name in the publishing industry to be able to have something in print. A zine is open to all who want their opinions, views, and pieces published. Furthermore, a publication in zine-land does not need to look aesthetically smooth or meet conventional standards to be deemed respectable or worthy of circulation. In the commercial publication realm, there is a repeated and reused format. A reader can open one magazine and have a general idea of what will be on the next page, from glossy pictures to ads to a column or essay. A zine is much less predictable; every turn of a page opens a new surprise and the omission of excessive “gloss” allows the reader to judge the content for themselves without having to fend off fluffy attempts at distraction. In the end, while the domain of zine publication is more expansive and the world of indie poetry more focused in its genre, they both share a raw style; they do things their own way and seek out unusual pieces to present and publish. They both inhabit a valuable niche that presents something new and different, adding more figurative and literal color to a world of words and designs.