Behind the zines

Behind the zines
The Library's growing collection of zines provide a unique perspective on Australian culture
14 December 2010

When I was first asked if I would like to go to a Zine fair and purchase zines on behalf of the National Library I was concerned because in all my library training I hadn’t encountered the word “zine” and didn’t have the remotest idea about what I was going to buy.  Debbie Cox and Marjorie Currie, the NLA’s resident zine experts gave me the low-down and I was off with Marjorie to see my first Zine fair held in Newcastle as part of the annual “This is not art” Festival.  I was relieved and quite amazed in this age of digital chic to see the floor of an empty undercover car park full of tables displaying a variety of paper publications. A month later I spent an enjoyable day at the National Gallery with Deb at a fair held as part of the exhibition, “Space Invaders”.

Newcastle Zine Fair

Newcastle Zine Fair

Zine (pronounced zeen) is derived from the word maga{zine] and refers to a small (usually less than 20 pages)self-published underground publication produced for personal rather than financial reasons. Production quality can vary from exceptionally professional to simple photocopied paper and staples. Although the Library would love zine creators (known as zinesters) to deposit their work, many produce such limited runs that they often don’t recoup the costs of producing their zine and look askance at giving a free copy to the National Library. Some zinesters I met at the fairs were simply unaware that the Library would be interested in their work and were pleased to find out their zine would become part of the NLA’s collection. The topics, styles and shapes of zines vary enormously. They can be non-fiction or fiction, serious or humorous or both as in the case of the “Modern life starter kit” containing “ten obvious metaphors for modern life” which expose the ridiculous nature of some everyday stresses.  Some of my favourites include “Vinnies : blue ribbon special” which documents the author’s visits to every St Vincent de Paul shop in Sydney and “Becoming a homemaker” which describes the author’s attempts at following a 1950’s book on homemaking. Along the way she discovers that arranging flowers in a circular shape is not as satisfying as the book had led her to believe! Zines are often used as a vehicle to express the personal life experiences or views of their authors as a mode of artistic expression. “Blue floral gusset” expresses eloquently the author’s experience of being a transvestite whereas “Life as a white picket fence” unleashes a young mother’s feeling regarding pregnancy and parenthood. Some zines such as “The last share house” are like graphic novels and tell a story via illustrations where as others are wholly text. Some rail against politics, sexism, work, environmental destruction and some just delight in shocking with images and language. Zine covers Zines represent a part of Australian culture often not represented by commercial publishers and their endless variety and creativity has made it a pleasure to be given the privilege of acquiring and cataloguing them for the collection.