My position on zines

December 12, 2010

I sometimes think that if I hadn’t left the world of commercial magazines in 2007, I’d be a group editor by now. I’d be heading up several mags and on a proper salary, or as proper as these jobs go. There would be considerable obvious advantages to all of that, and in many ways I’ve probably pissed away a lot of opportunities by deciding I couldn’t stomach the 9-5, and that I’d rather explore the other things I think I can do. I have made different choices. I left that world because I had different opportunities that let me get on with things on my own. I found it difficult to be face-to-face with so many other people every day.

There have been various risks and various experiments and loads of mistakes, and millions of “what ifs”. But whatever else I’ve tried, it has always come back to magazines, for me. Since I could hold a stapler, I have made little publications. I love mags, newspapers and journals, and I read them every day – often seven or eight different ones a week. I’m as interested in the clever editorial ideas, the layout, design and voice as the content. People buy publications more or less unseen because they’re buying the general attitude – not the specifics. Unless you have some very similar competitors or a tremendous scoop, what you put on the cover doesn’t actually matter all that much.

What does matter, though, is that the publication is capable of disappearing itself. I mean, the choices you’ve made along the route to its creation blend into something continuous, and become invisible. When it comes to life, it pulsates its attitude consistently, through every fibre of its papery being. It has to – and in this digital age more than ever – or what’s the point of it existing in reality?

Publications have tremendous advantages on the internet, in this respect. The internet is all stream and no bridge. It’s all slips of attention and contingency, subject to accidental arrivals and accidental departures. But things you can hold in your hand are infused with deliberation, and their mere presence in the world remind you how much (or little) someone cared about them, continuously. Everything can make the point – the paper, the typesetting, the content. The more deliberateness there is in your publication, the more choices you make, the more unique it can be.

If we live in a time when you can make anything yourself, don’t make something that’s just adequate. Make something unimaginably professional. Stun yourself with the fantasticness of your achievement. Maybe it’s just that I’m conscious I’ve made a lot of rubbish in my life, but I firmly believe that the stakes for publications ought to be high, precisely because anyone can do it. There are easy ways to make zines, just as there are easy ways to make people laugh, or easy ways to blog or easy ways to publish books. An excellent new zine with tons of attitude is re/action. It’s a professionally printed, full-size glossy and they’ve taken on the trickiness of critical feminist pop culture with a certain understated panache. The articles are incredibly intelligent and well edited. I think you ought to buy it.

But most zines are not excellent, because it’s easier not to bother. Re/action is doing something difficult, quite consciously stepping up to speak out, because no one else has bothered – and the reason no one else has? Because it’s difficult.

Difficulty is what excites me, not the pure possibility of introducing something to the world with my name on it. That’s probably how it started, but I’m in my 30s now, and the stapler has been put away.

I want to make a living, I want to be involved in a market with sponsors and benefactors and the opportunity of promoting people I think are good. I want to take responsibility. The content of my newspaper might be off the wall, but only because these are the things I find interesting and inspiring – and given the response so far, I’m not the only one. The distribution might be mail-order like a hand-drawn zine by a teenager, but packing them up and posting them is an irritation rather than a joy for me (I like to think it’s only while I wait for WH Smiths to notice.) Thing is, I’m too old to mess around with this stuff anymore. I want to be Rupert Murdoch, not Gideon Sams. I want my empire.

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3 Responses to “My position on zines”

  1. enemyofchaos Says:

    On the subject of things being difficult, this has been brought to my attention:

    http://stallman.org/articles/on-hacking.html

  2. James Wallis Says:

    You might be a group editor by now. Or if you were at J*hn Br*wn P*bl*sh*ng you might find your line manager repeatedly sabotaging your attempts to get promoted, explaining his actions by saying that you were too valuable to the company in your present role, and then when you asked for a pay rise to demonstrate that value, turning you down. I don’t miss that cower of shunts at all, I can tell you.

  3. enemyofchaos Says:

    Ha yeah… Maybe we’re unusually resistant to being bossed, but I look back on those times of small-minded managers and draconian fears about ‘setting a precedent’ and it seems clear we’re obviously so much better out of it.


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