Ahead of the Seomra Zine Collective’s launch this Sunday 20th October, we take a look at the history of the zine archive that has developed at Seomra Spraoí.
It often takes a few people with an idea, the drive and a university thesis deadline looming to shine light on something that would otherwise go mostly undetected. In the case of the Forgotten Zine at Seomra Spraoí, that’s exactly what happened. A group of masters students from the UCD School of Library and Information Science, looking for a zine library in Ireland and finding next to nothing, happened upon the collection at Seomra when asking if they could start and host one there as part of their final project.
It turned out that, Seomra, in fact, had a collection of zines anyway, but no formal archive and they were happy for the students to catalogue them and create an official library. The group researched the history of the zine scene in Ireland from its beginnings and it can be traced to the eighteenth century, to various rebel publications.
In their current, common format though, they can be traced to the 1970s Irish punk scene. Didn’t know there was one? Neither did Lou Walker, founder of Eddie Pie Hands, an independent not-for-profit zine printers: “I thought everyone was a nun; just priests walking around Dublin in the 1970s” she jokes, before explaining that the punk zines include the contemporary counter-cultural thought; “that’s why zines are important…there was a need to communicate in a very fundamental, rudimentary way and that’s what zines facilitate.” They keep the hidden or forgotten scenes from Irish history alive.
But what are zines? Are they definable? “They’re usually counter-cultural,” explains Lou, “they’re usually anti-status quo”; they are also often anonymous. The Forgotten Zine Archive hosts a wide selection of zines and it’s constantly growing; there were over 2,000 at time of writing. The subjects range from the political to the personal; feminist, socialist, anarchist manifestos and collections lie in plastic sleeves next to diaries of relationships, textile books about a cat made of felt and embroidered fabrics, recipe collections, writing portfolios and beautifully illustrated booklets. The archives are constantly in receipt of donations; parents clearing out their now adult childrens’ stash or collectors seeing the value of an official archive that want to have their collections preserved.
With so many zines, deciding on a cataloguing process was tricky – cataloguing thousands of works by Anonymous was never going to be easy – and shone light on potential reasons for them being neglected in national and university libraries. “They’re inherently radical ” Tom Maher, one of the masters students, explained, “they don’t fall into an established subject heading – people don’t know how to catalogue them, so they don’t”. In terms of curating, they don’t have any formal rules he told me, “Partly because we’re just starting out and we want as much as we can get, in the hopes it will become more representative”. Tom conceded that the archive will begin to face space issues as they currently only have one shelving cabinet where all are housed. As the collection grows, they may need to begin curating it, selecting that which will appear in the library or go into storage in boxes.
The Forgotten Zine Archive masters project has garnered attention from international library and information scientists who wish to print part of the final masters report in an academic journal. “It’s an atypical library” explains Tom “this isn’t in a library setting, the public have access to it, it’s not using the traditional forms of cataloguing like metadata, so it’s interesting for them because of how we got around the challenges.” Zine archiving seems a bit renegade, like zine production itself; there’s a loose idea of what it should be – we all know what a basic library is, just like zinesters know what makes a basic zine. “Zines are really DIY, but so was cataloguing it. There’s nothing like it in Ireland – no precedent.” explains Mick O’Dwyer, another of the masters students, “We spoke to zine librarians in America, asked them how they went about it. But there’s no set way.”. In terms of information and library science, there isn’t a model to go by for zines; it puts many of the world’s librarians in a flutter when a zine is donated – no one quite knows what to do with them.
A discussion of curating cultural items brings the inevitable debate about the curator’s point of view and potential bias; who should say which cultural expression should be represented and preserved? It would be nice to say all will be represented and preserved; it is possibly the right thing to say that all will and should be, but the realities of limited storage facilities, funding and staff get in the way. For the moment, the Forgotten Zine Archive can represent and preserve all expressions it receives, but soon it will run out of space and there is no permanent, resident librarian to manage it; without continued support in the form of donated storage and voluntary librarians, the zine archive could lose traction once the masters students move on or move away.
While the current collection will remain, once the sole cabinet is full, new donations may have to be stored in large boxes, and therefore could be lost from easy public access, albeit catalogued and protected. It could, without the support mentioned, mean that there will come a point when the archive cannot accept more donations and so some zines may be lost. And as a nation, we can’t afford to lose our cultural history, however small the artifact or however meaningless it may seem on first glance. Zines are a key element to our cultural and counter-cultural history. The zines in the archive cover the alternative in society and commentary on the mainstream. Historians, sociologists and anthropologists will find a wealth of useful information hidden in the photocopied, cut-and-pasted booklets that lie in Seomra now as a result of this project. The development of counter-cultural movements in Ireland can be tracked, perhaps more easily than before now that these zines have been archived and made accessible.
Just as Lou was shocked to learn about the 1970s Irish punk scene, the memory of those scenes and cultural movements would be lost without such sources as zines among other personal expressions and records. As Mick said, “If you look at what they’re writing about, a lot of the stuff is relating to anarchism, they’re not being covered by the mass-media. Some of the best writing is hidden in zines.” Even those zines which do not deal with political material or opinion, but are instead books of personal poetry, writing, or a journal of a break-up, these too can sometimes tell us more about the day-to-day lives of individuals than newspaper reports or government records. A journal of a break-up, or a book of feminist beat poetry can tell us about the gender roles of an era, the expectations people had for their relationships at various points in time and could help further chart the sexual awakening of Irish society – something left out of many other main sources.
Lou also argues in favour of preserving zines for their artistic merit alone “I don’t think there should be any filter process [in archiving] whatsoever. The whole point of zines is that you’re creating content, a cultural item from nothing. The actual content isn’t really important and it’s not up for another person to judge as valid or not because its existent means it’s valid. It means that somebody sat down and wrote it and did their shitty stick-people drawing or something. It totally deserves to be represented.”
The current zine scene in Ireland is highly artistic, many illustrators doing one-off collections of their work, which Lou argues is great to see but worries that using zines as a basic medium for communication of political and counter-cultural ideas, will start to fade out. Lou started Eddie Pie Hands to re-establish zines as this medium for communication and to provide a space for zinesters to easily produce their work. “When I was making zines” she explains, “I was fed up of the creative process being interrupted to go somewhere for printing.” As the initiative is non-profit, Lou will be offering printing at cost, meaning the end price for a zine will be considerably lower than those printed in commercial spaces. “It also builds up the community” she continues, “We’ll get a place going to distribute zines.”
Lou is hoping the base for Eddie Pie Hands at Seomra Spraoí, along with the archive will create a hub for a new independent, literary, artistic scene in Dublin. She is hoping to have a distribution centre where zines made at Eddie Pie Hands workshops and meetings can be picked up along with other Irish ones. While there are zine collections and hubs in other parts of the world, they are not as easily accessible and not as based in the zine community itself. Like the masters students found, this collection and archive is a rare resource; having a centre for production, distribution, collecting, archiving and promotion is a coup for Dublin in zine scene terms.
Zines produced now similarly reflect Irish culture as it is; the state of mass joblessness and low creative funding – as a more artistic community embraces the medium as a format for their portfolios and collections of work. Lou has found that production increases during times of recession; “people want to be something and they have no job, no money and they think fuck, this is the only way I can do it to get my shit out there”. Writers, photographers, illustrators, chefs, poets, diarists, essayists can all create portfolios of work for distribution cheaply or simply create media for their own sense of creative achievement. Most zines come and go after short runs, or the creators change what they are making from one run to another.
There are some stalwarts of the scene in Ireland though; Loserdom has been going since 1996 and is the longest running current Irish zine to be found, currently on issue 23. It covers various areas, in a mostly counter-cultural vein: independent music, politics and the anti-war movement among others. Another, also linked to Seomra Spraoí is The Rag – an anarchist–feminist zine that has been in production since 2005 with a new run about to launch.
But is there room for zines in our increasingly online lives? Photographers, writers, illustrators, etc. can all publish and promote their work on blogs now; would a zine have any purpose any more? Many of us still read newspapers, magazines and books despite all being digitised. Many of us still, clearly, appreciate the tangible. Lou’s enthusiasm for zine-making is infectious and delightful, she is keen to democratise the practice even further that it inherently is already. Cost-price printing and an open space will make it even more accessible an activity, “The biggest thing is that they’re fun; they’re super fun to make, to read, the collect”. She has personally been making zines for many years and her passion is clear, making her an ideal ambassador for the practice; “making zines is so relaxing and lovely and nice. Even the shitty part – stapling together, you see the build up, a pile that you made…It’s really personal. In a way you can’t personalise a blog.”
Eddie Pie Hands, Dublin’s first DIY, not-for-profit zine-printing collective, is hosting the Seomra Zine Collective’s launch event this Sunday, October 20th from 12pm til 6 pm, in Seomra Spraoí, 10 Belvedere Court, Dublin 1.
There’ll be zine-making workshops, vegan burritos, and spoken-word performances by Petty Cash and Milk & Cookies. This is a family-friendly event and everyone who attends will have an opportunity to make their own zine. Suggested donation is €5.
More details about the event can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/651701854854603/