Past decades may not have stood for low budget paperbacks masquerading as high art, but these days, small press publications are well known, widely read and an economically sound solution to starting a revolution - or simply getting one's voice heard.
"Zines are self-produced print publications, mostly photocopied and hand-assembled," said Tara Bursey, a volunteer collective member at the Toronto Zine Library. "Their roots lie in Dada publications of the early 1900s, science-fiction fan magazines of the '30s and Beat chapbooks of the '50s and '60s."
Zines were a large part of the punk rock movement in the '70s and '80s, gaining notoriety in the early-to-mid '90s as a part of the grunge/punk revival. These days, zines are a participatory cultural art form with a dedicated following and an unmatched reputation of inciting societal and institutional change.
Zine fairs, such as Canzine and Cut N' Paste Toronto, as well as the Brampton Indie Arts festival and various small press conventions across the country have opened up to the idea of these rough and ready creations as a valid literary art form.
"Some of my favourite zines from our collection are more art-focused," said Bursey. "[They] involve hand-touches such as silk-screened covers, sketchbook excerpts and reproductions of drawings."
Patrick Mooney, another collective member, relates to the somewhat radical roots in which zine subculture was first instated.
"Some of my favourite zines include Cometbus, America? and Doris," said Mooney.
Aaron Elliot, creator of Cometbus, is a lyricist, drummer, self-proclaimed poet and "punk anthropologist" who produces his seminal punk rock zine out of pure passion. Despite the Internet invasion and blogging overload, Elliot has created a name for himself through his and other hardcopy publications for which he has written - including Absolutely Zippo and Tales of Blarg.
Although print publications are slowly falling to the wayside in a world of electronic communication, Bursey suggests the sometimes-painstaking creativity involved with small print press is part of the appeal and authenticity, whereas virtually anyone can create a Web site. She lists her favourites in terms of true artistry rather than out-there ideals.
"A few that come to mind are zines by Michael Comeau - a Toronto printmaker, and a zine called Thumbprint Biographies by his wife, Tara Azzopardi," said Bursey. "Both contain drawn and silk-screened elements."
"We recently acquired a zine called Old Weird America, in which the author recounts things that happened to her in her hometown of Detroit. All the stories are rather dark, and involve the poverty and extreme social conditions that some parts of Michigan are known for."
The cost of making a bi-monthly zine of a couple hundred copies is approximately $100, give or take the corners one cuts; however, the expression of self is priceless and, as the Toronto Zine collective suggests, worth the effort it entails.
"I would say that the most important thing," said Mooney, "is to just do it."
The Toronto Zine Library is located at the Tranzac club in Toronto. If you happen to be in Toronto, the collective encourages volunteers to work throughout the weekdays or 1-3 p.m. on Sundays.
The Brock Press, February 6, 2007.