The Zine Yearbook
Edited by Jen Angel, et al.
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Monday, July 19 1999, 6:08 PM
The zine movement produces a very mixed bag of writing and graphics. However, its most important product is free expression. Zine writers and artists produce because they feel an internal drive to create a counter-voice to the mass media; they listen to their own voices and write their own words. Small zines are self-published and printing bills are paid however one can. In a society shaped by profitability, the unprofitability of zines represents a freedom from capital's impositions on expression. Together with indie comics, zines are the contemporary literary samizdat for the alienated auteurs of America. When a future Robert Darnton sifts through the seditious and libertine literature of the late twentieth-century United States to estimate the origins of pre-Revolutionary conceptual change, zines will be at the forefront.
The Zine Yearbook, edited by former Maximum Rock and Roll coordinator and Fucktooth producer Jen Angel and friends, provides a look-see into the small-circulation (as in under 5,000) zine world. That's a huge chunk of intellectual territory, and the selection committee readily admits that there are a great many zines they have never encountered and would not know to include. Their honesty is winning. This volume does not have the New Yorker-centric pretensions of a Best American Essays of 1998volume with a canonizing piece by Cynthia Ozick. But then zines with names like Fucktooth, Dwgsht, and Shithappy aren't looking for canonization. They are more in the line of print orifices. Words here exist to be excreted with the peristalsis of meaning, not glorified for their gaseous harmony.
The transience and local availability of zines makes them a print culture that speaks to the moment, that embraces the whim of picking them up off a rack in a locally-owned music or video shop and finding the bright spark of another mind speaking. The Yearbook, which does not have any schematic plan for the organization of its materials, relies on serendipitous reading. Dip into its 125 pages, skip from one essay to another, admire the artwork, and debate with its authors. Over fifty zines have selections republished, so there is a representative spectrum of opinion and concerns.
Some of the essays are too poor too live. They should have died screaming on the editorial spike. Alex Couglin's gawky "Cesar Chavez" reads like a biographical book report for high school class. Tom Hendricks uses six miserable paragraphs to state the full legal case to justify the title of his essay, "The FCC Is Unconstitutional." How brilliant: the barracks lawyer delivers constitutional law opinions. Kate O'Hara's "How To Raise Happy Children" is filled with homey child-rearing nostrums such as "Set a good example." In this respect, the Yearbook captures the negative aspect of the zine movement: it can be a Speakers Corner soapbox that attracts folks who get no hearing elsewhere, and for good reason.
This anthology provides much more, however, for other essays are brilliant. Jessica Mills, publishing in the Florida zine Yard Wide Yarns, provides a teacher's perspective on right-wing efforts at book banning. Che Marischino and Dave DeRosa provide a succinct indictment of Toys 'R Us in the Chicago zine Lumpen. Pat Jones' article "What the Hell Do I Know About Getting Married?" speaks in a very effective personal voice to catch the questions and conundrums that arise as people face their imminent participation in the social institution of marriage. In the articles and manifestos that have most force, like Giz's "Johnny Unitus is Gay Positive?" or "An Open Letter to Progressive Activists" from The World Is Ours, a sense of community emerges from out of an underground of personal isolation.
The Yearbook editors saved the best for last, an anonymous essay titled "Tina Chopp's Follower's Sacrificial Self-Circumcision," published in Bug, a zine from Boise, Idaho. It provides a day-by-day account of six self-performed plastic surgeries on the most sensitive of male members. And here I thought those sixteenth-century conversos, doing themselves alone with a rusty knife was the stuff of fortitude!
San Francisco: Becoming the Media, 1998