When you think of the “best zines,” you’re probably flashing back to the late 80s and early 90s, with visions of crudely printed pamphlets passed around rock shows and in underground dives. However, there’s a new set of best zines in town, as zines are making a major comeback. Or perhaps, they never really went away.
All sorts of 90s trends are coming back this year – with jelly shoes, butterfly clips, fanny packs and baggy jeans coming back to haunt us. Another compelling (and unexpected) trend that’s made its way back into the cultural zeitgeist is zine culture. Or, rather, something that looks like zine culture.
When zines were especially popular more than 20 years ago, they represented a movement in the counterculture. Small groups created DIY publications with as little as a photocopier to advance what was more often than not an “anti-authoritarian message.” When these publications were popular then, they were often produced independently, had a small circulation and were usually free.
Zines were, at that time, a symbol of the community as much as they were about subculture. Associated in the 70s and 80s with the punk scene, zines were an amalgamation of imagery, art and written rhetoric that followed a minimalistic, unpolished aesthetic. During a time before the internet had come into its own, zines “offered tangible glimpses of radical feminism, social-justice movements [and] queer history.”
And, while the internet has been credited with slowly killing the publishing industry as we know it, zines are still in production – just in a slightly different way. One good thing about all this advanced technology is that it has democratized the production of certain kinds of materials, specifically when it comes to publishing.
Now, using Adobe Creative Cloud or another design program, you can pretty much create whatever you want. Circulation has become easier, too, with the internet and social media allowing for word-of-mouth to quickly reach across oceans. You don’t even need a physical copy anymore, though many creators still consider it the best form for zines.
No longer just an underground medium for spreading rebellious art and political theories, zines today are more generally about self-expression and art. Still, they are primarily published independently, if they are “published” at all, in the traditional sense of the word. There are even awards given to the best zines.
So no, zines are no longer the intimate symbols of the counterculture that they once were. However, they are still around, and they are still separate from mainstream media, often created and printed by small teams or even singular people. That being said, here are some of the best zines you should check out today.
A zine still in its infancy, “Nixie” is already in the spirit. Nixie began as a single-issue zine for a class project by editor and founder Cheyenne Rayne. A mishmash of essays and what they refer to as “teenage-magazine-esque touches,” the first issue is titled “Let’s Get Physical.” Boasting fun DIY ideas and a horoscope, there’s a lot to enjoy here. All of the essays included within this issue center on the theme of physicality, which each writer interprets differently.
Helvetica Blanc is an internet artist known for their zines. They’re currently publishing a monthly zine called “Eidolia,” which focuses on their “art experiments.” In the past, Helvetica Blanc has published another monthly zine, called “Holy!” and a few special edition zines with specific themes, namely “The Daemon Catalogue,” “Everyday Sigils” and “Modern Angels.” All of their zines sell for US$3 and come in PDF form.
“The Lunch Break Zine”
Published quarterly, “The Lunch Break Zine” is a music-centric zine associated with Out to Lunch Records. The cover art for each issue is truly stunning, with each cover done in a completely different art style. The zine is available online for free viewing, with issues around 50 pages each. Featuring interviews, reviews, poetry, essays and art, you’re bound to find something in here to your liking. As the Lunch Break crew says, “Enjoy your time out to lunch.”
Creators working toward a cause, A.B.O. Comix regularly publishes comic anthologies by LGBTQ+ prisoners. This artist collective works to “amplify the voices of LGBTQ prisoners through art.” Zine proceeds go toward funding prisoners’ medical copays, COVID-19 supplies, phone time, food, surgeries, legal counsel and more. The anthologies themselves can be purchased on a sliding scale based on what you’re willing to donate and are available in print or as digital copies.
Another art-focused zine, “La Horchata” is published quarterly. Each issue features a cover involving the titular Mexican beverage. Primarily, “La Horchata” promotes artists who are a part of the Central American diaspora. Their latest issue is titled “En Los Tiempos de Cuarentena.” Unfortunately, this issue, among all of the other ones published thus far, is sold out. So, keep an eye out for their next release!
“People Make Plans”
“People Make Plans” is “a perzine about trauma, education reform, poverty, grieving and privilege.” In fact, they follow the 90s tradition of perzines. The creator sees zines as “a place to be vulnerable and real in this glittery nightmare of the present,” and therefore prints them; issues are not available digitally. Issues range from US$0.50 to US$5 in price. Many of them include vignettes and mini-stories.
Also following a perzine concept, each issue of “Plasma Dolphin” follows a specific theme. The artwork included is self-reportedly “weird, intense, gorgeous and strong.” Featuring political and cultural commentary, this zine is interested in the personal experiences that exist within larger phenomena. Based in Canada, “Plasma Dolphin” considers itself an international publication, accepting submissions from all over the world. With four issues currently in print, their latest is titled “Bad Faith,” which is also the issue’s theme. They publish art, stories and articles in their zines.
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