Back in the olden days, before the digital miracle and the gilded purr of the Celtic Tiger there was the humble zine. A zine was a very simple thing, usually a photocopied melange of thoughts and images cut out with a Stanley blade, and flung together in an act of love making to both words and whatever they tried to give meaning to.
Zines were once a vital communicative hub for sub cultures, but that role dropped away due to the net. Yet some have kept up their habit of romanticising the photocopier, transmuting its often streaked toner output into an almost artisan like craft. Down at the Dublin Food Co-op on December 7th many of these Irish zinesters gathered under the auspices of Independents’ Day to celebrate their culture of the photocopied word.
At eighteen issues strong, Anto Dillon’s Loserdom stretches across whole eras in Dublin zine production. He started off doing it with his brother Eugene as a freesheet in 1996, and after visiting international zine fairs, he mooted an idea in Dublin.
“There’d been talk among people involved in the Dublin D.I.Y. music scene of organising a similar event, although it came to nothing; when the space came available at the ‘food co-op I thought it’d be great to try to do it and I put the word out there for anyone who might be interested to help out.”
Anto describes how his zine satisfies a creative itch, and he carries a responsibility to keep a long culture of self-publication ticking over through Loserdom.
“I first got into zines from hanging around Freebird Records on Eden Quay, and picking up the freesheets and zines that used to litter the counter there. At that time in Dublin, they were the main way to communicate about gigs, bands, political demos, events etc. They would literally be in all the independent record shops and arty-cafés.”
Talk to anyone that ever courted the zine culture and they’ll have their memories of a golden era. For most of the people I talked to, that era was the mid to late 1990’s. Willy and his partner Natalia are doyens of the Irish zine trade and run a distro from Leitrim called Stitchy Press. Willy describes the earlier scene.
“Anyone who first got into underground music in Dublin in the 80’s or 90’s will probably tell you that they remember a lot more zines about in the mid 90’s. It seemed like everyone was doing one. And a lot of them covered a lot of different themes. Punk, techno, indie and comics were all catered for.”
When the couple were living in New Orleans between 2002 and 2003, they started distributing zines and upon moving back to Dublin, they continued to sell their over-stock at underground gigs.
Things were going so well they opened up a shop called Red Ink in Temple Bar. It was a wonderful bazaar of the radical imagination and a point of confluence for counter-cultural ideas and political alternatives. As Willy remembers, this was the height of the Celtic Tiger and rents were insane.
“So we had to shut down having never paid ourselves a penny. With the birth of Seomra Spraoi and RAG magazine, it seems like now more than ever in Dublin with the current economic/political climate that the radical community is ever growing. If somebody was to take the notion and find a really cheap premises, I reckon a radical book shop would thrive.”
With the lack of such a shop, the zine fair is set to take on an all important role in the calendar of self-publishers. Clare writes for an anarcha-feminist magazine called The Rag. They can get 200 people to attend their magazine launch but are starved of a sales outlet.
“Getting our magazine into large shops/distributors would be almost impossible for us – too much expense, paper work, our print runs are too small for them to be interested. That is why we need the smaller zine distros, which are often not-for-profit.”
Looking at the material on sale at Independents’ Day you are struck by the level of variety contained within each zine, it’s impossible to slap them with charges of association with a punk milieu or any other single tradition of music.
If the internet and forum culture knocked the scene back, then we are worse off. Most of the Irish blogs are certifiably monolithic in their pursuit of niche topics, it’s either music or politics, film or literature, art or style, or worse, the continuous back patting of self-styled blogosphere celebrities. Whereas with these zines, they were far more multifaceted.
One of the most famous mid-1990s Irish zines was Slanted and Enchanted, full of pill head rantings against work’s monotony and gig listings from across the spectrum. Another was Going Postal. Dermo was one of the conspirators behind that cultural hand grenade and describes how mass unemployment and cheap photocopying made a thousand flowers bloom in the zine garden.
“We couldn’t photocopy that many but we encouraged others to pick it up and spread it like a virus. We just wanted to spear every sacred cow we could find and we didn’t think the corporate whore media would go after anyone. Good as blogs are, actually getting your stuff into the hands of people is special. In Russian they had Samizidat, underground photocopies of banned books or pamphlets and zines came out of a need for expression by young voices who were excluded and not heard.”
There’s also an effort to preserve the culture in Dublin through the Forgotten Zine archive. It gathers copies of zines that have ceased publication and gives them a home. Then, on line you can lose yourself for hours in pursuit of html-ified archives dotting those poorly designed geocities pages from years ago.
The internet hasn’t been all detrimental and Anto of Loserdom describes how, while it has taken away from the immediacy of the zine, it has allowed them the freedom to become documents of time. Ed agrees. He’s been putting out zines since 2001. The first ten or so were affairs of personal writing, all emotionally charged and went under a variety of titles such as Lucidity. Then in 2005, he came up with the idea for The Devil on 45.
“I wanted to create a fanzine covering a wide range of music, focussing a lot on censorship in music, controversial acts/songs over the years and articles based around music culture and history. A wide range of genres are covered, from 1930’s American prison blues to Malaysian Black Metal.”
He says the internet has proved an invaluable tool for zine distributors, no longer does he have to mail off copies of a zine that gets ignored by distributors, but he just scans a few pages online and awaits the orders.
“I think one of the biggest dangers that faces the fanzine world is the continually rising costs of international postage which can add one or two euro to the price when it finally reaches its destination.”
There seems little point pondering that hands, which might once have been messy with glue, are now eyes sore from poring over php code. Or, that the old distro table of xeroxed booklets has been trumped by Word Press and the Internet. As far as organisers of the zine fair like Anto are concerned, the present is what matters.
“Here in Ireland there has been some really high quality zines produced of late, such as The Rag, Devil On 45, Two Headed Dog, Night of the Locust, Baby Beef and the rebirth of an oldie, Nonesuch. There is also a huge interest in graphic novels these days, which often cover similar left-of-field ground to zines, so I think the future is bright!”
Words by James Redmond