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Origins of the Zine



Contrary to popular belief "zine" is not so much a shortening of "magazine" but a shortening of "fanzine". Although we tend to think of zines and ezines as being largely devoted to indie bands, poetry, and artsie stuff, the original zine movement sprang from the world of Science Fiction.

In the 1920s, the Golden Sci Fi era magazine Amazing Stories used to publish the full mailing addresses of people who wrote letters to the editor. This had the effect of allowing Sci Fi fans to write to each other. Readers would trade critiques about the stories published in the magazine and early "fan fiction".

This impromptu correspondence organized into a club called the Science Correspondence Club which incorporated letters and fan fiction into a newsletter called The Comet. This is the world's first official fanzine, first published in 1930. Many well know Sci Fi writers got their start in the fanzine realm first, the two most notable being Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. (So take heart you little maladjusted security guards who work nights so you can write for your Sci Fi fanzine... you too can become the next Robert Heinlein ... or at least the next Ray Bradbury!)

World War II introduced not only technological innovations like the nuclear bomb and radar but it introduced the ultimate weapon into the arsenal of military and government bureaucracy: the mimeograph. Like the photocopier of the '80s and your company's web server of today, hundreds of people started using their office mimeographs to crank out (literally) their own Sci Fi fanzines.

The '60s introduced North American society to radical politics. The counter culture adopted the skills learned by early Sci Fi fanzine publishers to create their own fanzines. Major fanzines of the time were The Oracle (San Francisco), Fifth Estate (Detroit), and Seed (Chicago). Fanzines at this time were devoted to left-wing politics, protest, and that druggy talk.

With the punk movement in the '70s and '80, fanzines turned away from counter culture politics and became straight out music rags.

In the '80s, a Sci Fi fan Mike Gunderloy was writing for a number of Sci Fi fanzines and began to notice fanzines were published on a broad range of topics. He began to voraciously read every fanzine he could lay his hands on. He soon started writing his friends, tipping them off to interesting fanzines to keep an eye out for. However, he soon grew weary of writing so many different letters to so many different friends. He decided to create his own quick 'n' dirty newsletter about fanzines. He called it "Factsheet Five".

Gunderloy noticed many of the fanzines in Factsheet Five could not exactly be called publications for fans. Is a person reading an amateur publication about death penalty politics a fan of the death penalty? No. He dubbed these small amateur publications "zines". And the name stuck.

In the '90s, the cost of newsprint and paper skyrocketed. Coincidently, the World Wide Web came into being roughly at the same time . The zine movement -- nearly ruined by a recession (no money... no job... no access to office photocopier... no zine) -- was saved. Many destitute-yet-aspiring zine editor quickly discovered a) the net was cheap b) HTML was not a programming language after all. Why anyone could learn it!

Zines became ezines.





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Copyright 2003 Karl Mamer

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