Nominating myself for a Top 10 Influential Zines list
Everyone I know is posting 10 days of influential records or whatever it is, but the thought of writing something like “Are you at all surprised that The Clash - The Clash was a huge deal to me?!” makes me anxious. I’ll write about some less obvious records soon, just not as part of an instagram tagging competition.
Recently, however, I’ve had the pleasure of unpacking and weeding through all of my zines and deciding which ones are worth putting out on a cute bookshelf that my partner and I have put together. Awww. Zines have never stopped being important to me, but sometimes I forget how formative a lot of them were.
Despite the fact that I’m writing to you from the ether that is the internet, having physical objects and paper copies has always been more meaningful to me. Sitting on the floor of our new apartment rediscovering Shotgun Seamstress, Doris, and The Worst was a much needed moment of slowing down and getting outside of the endless scroll.
I’ve tried to link to the place where you can get copies of these zines, or read versions online, but maybe now is the time to try to get some quality $5 snail mail if you’re interested.
And now, in no particular order…
1. Doris by Cindy Crabb
Doris is probably my favorite zine to ever exist. I can’t find my copy of this anthology right now, I know it’s just packed away somewhere, but I also have a number of the individual zines and have read Cindy’s work for a long time. This autobiographical zine is introspective and beautiful, chronicling both simplicity and difficult feelings about gender, feminism and life that I personally identify with on a very deep level. Can I use the term scrappy and still get across how well written it is? My memories of reading it are basically just “punk magic” displayed in floating handwritten letters above my head picturing someone riding around a small city on a used bicycle without ever looking at a smartphone.
2. Brainscan 21: Irreconcilable Differences by Alex Wrekk
I probably picked this one up at a zine fair at random, and it turned out to be a life-changing purchase. This zine chronicles an emotionally abusive relationship and the circumstances that led her to leave her partner of six years. I remember sitting on the G Train while reading it, slowly coming to the realization that a platonic relationship I was in wasn’t just tumultuous and hurtful, but completely abusive. I closed the last page at Court Square thinking “well, I have to get out of this.” Alex still writes Brianscan and it’s still a great zine that you should check out. I have a whole pile of them, but this one will always be the standout for me.
3. Fag School #4: Join the Professionals b/w Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger? by Brontez
Picture it, Brooklyn, spring of 2012. Everything is feminist and queer and on fire. I went to see the Sister Spit tour that included readings and performances from Michelle Tea, Justin Vivian Bond, Erin Markey, Eileen Myles, and Brontez Purnell, among others. It’s a writers lineup that dreams are made of. I had just picked up the fourth issue of Fag School courtesy of Caroline Paquita and Pegacorn Press, which publishes nothing but “art freaker” greatness. Her term, not mine, but it’s true. I remember that Brontez’ reading, which was really more of a performance, was super queer and gay and fucking hilarious. Sidesplittingly crass and amazing. It absolutely comes across in the zine, gave me a bigger appreciation for completely irreverent art and remains one of my favorites to this day.
After that reading ended I introduced myself to Eileen Myles in the lobby and got so nervous that I dissolved into a puddle on the floor and was never heard from again.
4. Bikini Kill: A Color And Activity Book
I picked this one up when I was already in a feminist collective quite a long time ago and it’s a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy that isn’t even stapled. It’s a collaborative zine made by the band Bikini Kill in 1990, including some interviews, lyrics, self-defense strategies, a list about understanding privilege and a lot of chaotic cut and paste. I didn’t grow up listening to a ton of Riot Grrrl but this made me appreciate the folks who came before our lil' feminist collective, and also a little depressed that not much had changed between 1990 and 2010, but things like this lit a fire under our asses to work harder.
This one seems painfully obvious but honestly I didn’t read much Cometbus until Double Duce came out, only because I needed something to read on tour. I borrowed it from a friend in Detroit and mailed it back. Generally I take a hard pass on autobiographical zines written by straight men (just being honest!) so maybe that’s why I was late to the zine game here, but the things Aaron has written with larger narratives, like The Lonliness of the Electric Menorah, or A Bestiary of Booksellers, make me feel like I’m learning secret histories and there’s a romance to them that I’m a huge sucker for. Visiting him and the co-owners of Book Thug Nation is something I look back on very fondly from living in Brooklyn and there’s an energy I’ve tried to take with me out here. It’s an undeniable influence and an imprint on a decent chunk of my life.
6. The Worst: A Compilation Zine on Grief and Loss
This zine had three hefty issues that came out in the early/mid-2010’s that compiled writing on grief and loss, largely from the DIY and punk communities. What always struck me about this zine is how it demystified the experience of loss or at least tried to encourage the conversation where maybe we could all be more supportive of one another. It also put words to loss that wasn’t just about death, and I think that kind of self awareness is really important.
Many authors write from outside the mainstream models for grieving, or about specific kinds of losses that receive little validation in our society. The zine particularly seeks to attend to those who've felt shut out or silenced in their grief, who are not seen or understood, and who find little comfort in the few grief rituals capitalist society offers to us.
7. International Girl Gang Underground, edited by Kate Wadkins and Stacy Konkiel
At a time when Riot Grrl was coming back into the mainstream conversation in 2011, a lot of us were sitting there thinking “uh…DIY feminist punk didn’t go away. It’s still here. Where y’all been?” This compilation zine is a mix of writing and art on the range of DIY feminisms that were and are out there, operating in a very riot grrrl spirit while expanding on the somewhat fraught term. It was the most intersectional look at feminist punk that I had seen at that time and contains writing from some serious powerhouses. I’m not sure if you can still find copies but I linked to their facebook page!
8. Shotgun Seamstress #3: Money by Osa Atoe
“Shotgun Seamstress is a zine by and for Black punks, queers, feminists, artists & musicians.” I think this started as a column in MRR and morphed into a long standing zine which is also compiled together as one book as well. This issue has made it through a million different apartments with me, and actually includes an interview with Brontez Purnell, who I mentioned above, as well as a piece about the life and work of photographer Alvin Baltrop, most notably his photography of Manhattan’s West Side Piers. Writing about class and labor and capitalism from a black perspective is important and insightful here. You can find back issues at the link above.
9. Learning Good Consent: On Healthy Relationships and Survivor Support, edited by Cindy Crabb
This has always been a go-to resource for supporting folks who have experienced sexual assault and, obviously, learning good consent practices. This zine, along with my friendships with folks who have worked directly with survivors, helped give me language for that huge grey zone that exists when it comes to consent, sex and relationships in general. Not every instance of supporting survivors looks the same and I think it’s important now (more than ever, really) to understand the nuances of these conversations. Cindy does a great job compiling a lot of that. When I was thrown into the deep end of facilitating an accountability process a few years ago, I was glad to have read this zine and made sure it was used as reference.
10. Resilient Bastard: ways to combat a brain that is actively trying to kill you
On a tour in 2017 my friend Meg was making this zine for the Olympia Zine Fest when we were in town. She mentioned that it was made to help support folks battling suicidality and let’s just say I made sure to not leave Olympia without it. Part interviews/personal writing, part incredibly practical workbook, it is one of the only zines I’ve seen that is uplifting, honest, and materially useful if you’re having a hard time battling the dark side or even just moderate anxiety. Just for fun, it comes with a fold-out poster of baby animals. I cannot stress enough how helpful and important I think this zine is. You can read it online via the link above.
Runners up that I also feel like mentioning:
• Evolution of a Race Riot, compiled by Mimi Nguyen - Crucial reading, “documents for POC involved in the subcultural terrain of DIY publishing, music, art, and culture.”
• How to Make it in the Music Business: A 100% Complete and Exhaustive Guide to How To Make it in the Music Business Volume 1 by Mark Glick - You might know Mark because he also plays in AJJ. This zine is somewhere between satire and too real, but I’m pretty sure I bought it because the section about making merch includes the following:
Preferably you print on gildan t shirts, because all of your fans are shaped like refridgerators.
• S.C.U.M Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) by Valerie Solanas - My household has two copies of this.
• Burn Collector by Al Burian - An autobiographical zine compiled into a book more recently. Observes and experiences 90’s punk in a way I really enjoy.
Now I want to go get a PO Box so I can tell folks to send me zines. Fuck.
On the opposite side of the Analog/Digital spectrum, I’m a part of the A-F Records instagram takeover this afternoon, so if you want to watch me play some songs and answer questions I’ll be over on their instagram account at 5pm ET / 2pm PT. Kicks off at 2pm ET / 11am PT with Erica Freas who you might also know from RVIVR. See ya soon!