A Brief History of Zines

Zines as we commonly conceive them, have been around since 1776 when Thomas Paine self-published ‘Common Sense’ to promote ideas that contributed to the United States War for Independence. However, it could be said that zines existed – in a loose form – much earlier than that. They can arguably be traced back to when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and Martin Luther published his “zine”, The Ninety-Five Theses  – in 1517!

Self-publication has always been used as a means of political expression. During the French Revolution Le Libertaire, a newspaper created by anarchist Sébastien Faure, published its first issue on November 16, 1895. Zines – or publications with a similar format – have long been used as a method of resistance. 

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Self-publishing has been associated with several art movements – including Dadaism, Surrealism, and Situationism. Collage, Bricolage, and Detournement – or “culture-jamming” – found in magazines, leaflets and other forms of print advertisement, have been highly influential to zine-makers. 

In the 1970’s the Do-It-Yourself ethos of zine-making found the perfect home with the development of Punk music. The art-form was often used to promote shows and record releases. More than that, though, punk zines represented the ideals of the punk community, showcased their aesthetics and offered a microcosm of the cultural revolt against authoritarianism. 

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The Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s led to thousands of young women, in particular,  producing personal and political zines, with explicitly feminist themes. Famously, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna published a manifesto which called upon young women to form bands, learn and teach instruments through mutual aid, and publish zines. Riot Grrrls continue to be devoted to feminism and activism. 

Zine culture has made a comeback in recent years. Social movements like Black Lives Matter launched a zine to express their work and beliefs. While zines are known for promoting politics and activism, they are also commonly used to exhibit outsider art, and as a personal creative and emotional outlet. Zines are important cultural evidence of marginalised communities. 

‘Zinesters’ share bold, strong, revolutionary ideas. There are lots of ways to make a zine and there are no written rules!

Katie Mayes

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