This week in The Culture Crush studio we had a blast talking ‘zines with the creator of Stelazine, an awesome punk rock 'zine out of ‘70’s Seattle. Obviously, we are no strangers to the topic of 'zines and 'zine-making. 'Zines are coming back, if they ever left at all. If video killed the radio star, then certainly digital should have made analog publications obsolete due to their inability to scale, the technological requirements necessary to make them, and their finality. So if those are the downsides, if they are in fact downsides, then what is keeping them around? We had a lot of theories as to what makes 'zines uniquely attractive to people. The first was one that our guest, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Stella Kramer, shared: collaboration. The DIY culture of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s created a medium of true collaboration. Read our interview with Stella here!
Unlike the modern age of Google drives, Slack, and other systems designed for remote collaboration, 'zines required individuals of various skillsets to work on them while being physically together in the same space. Collaboration at its most basic and personal occurs in the analog world. The physical properties of a 'zine were also heavily discussed with Stella. While we know that everyone loves our broadsheet, the question of why everyone loves it comes up often. Another theory we had was that it is the sheer sensory experience of it all - holding a magazine, getting the ink on your hands, smelling the paper, hearing it rustle as it moves. Additionally, there is something special about having a physical artifact of culture, something that can be put away and rediscovered years later. A relic that can be passed down, each issue acting like a tiny time capsule with the ability to transport the reader back to the moment it was first printed, read, and distributed.
This idea of having a piece of cultural evidence struck us as important. Not only because it is permanent, but because it is physical, that means we can own it. Despite the hype, not everything on the internet lasts forever and articles from as recent as the early 2000’s are disappearing or being improperly archived. This does not even mention how precarious our access to that information actually is. If the conversation surrounding Net Neutrality has taught us anything, it is that our access to certain outlets and publications are a function of many more factors than simply “logging on.” There is a reason why so many dystopian novels show the government still having to round up and burn print publications, it's because they survived.
Finally, we wondered what the implications were for community. 'Zines, and the words and pictures printed in them, connect us to each other. To read one is to belong to a community of others who are also reading the same 'zine in the past, present, and future. While the conversations in this community don’t take place instantaneously, they do still take place. In our piece from the archives, Brian Shevlin, founder of the Con Artist Collective, details how ‘zine culture was a culture of mutual exchange between 'zines and their communities: “My real strong step into ‘zine culture was realizing that (at the time) it was a mail exchange thing. “If you send me your ‘zine, I’ll send you mine.” Read our interview with Brian here!
In our interview with Stella, she brought up the people and creators that made her community thrive. The punk era had a lot of universal, core collaborators in its tribe, a main one being photographers. In Seattle in the late '70s, Bob Kondrak was the guy you could count on to record the night. Every small-town punk scene had those documentarians. The underground heroes who would push through the thick of it all to record and analog the scene for generations to come. It’s interesting to compare these photographers, especially the famous ones – were they that great, or were they just there? To us, being there, being in the moment of it all and contributing to the culture, is just as important as skill. To truly capture the grit and sweat of the punk scene, and the grunge scene after that, you needed photographers who were willing to get just as down and dirty as the fans in the mosh pit.