Although the Internet provides a platform for anyone to easily ponder and pontificate to a potentially limitless audience, many self-publishers still prefer to do so in print. Some create zines. Small runs of printed pamphlets bound, stapled, or paper-clipped together and distributed via sympathetic small retailers and gatherings, zine culture perseveres in 2013. Even as the word "zine" is erroneously applied to more and more blogs, advocates of the physical version gathered over the weekend for the San Francisco Zine Fest. This year, the summit for micro-press devotees drew over 140 vendors to the San Francisco County Fair building in Golden Gate Park. It featured comic book artists, book publishers, and peddlers of assorted DIY goods. There were zine guides to parenting, gardening, dating, bicycling, composting -- but all "radically." Many zines detailed personal experiences with navigating subcultures and overcoming adversity from feminist and politically radical perspectives. Though zines focused specifically on music were in the minority, we bought a handful to feature here.
Re/Search founder V. Vale is a fixture of the Bay Area small press. In 1977, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg sponsored his first issue of Search and Destroy, a fanzine committed to documenting the nascent punk scene and subversive art. The zine evolved into Re/Search, which feverishly championed industrial music and its associated "modern primitive" culture. Fold-out, tabloid-sized zines with excellent photographs by artists like Bruce Conner, Monte Cazzazza, and Ruby Ray alongside in-depth interviews, Vale's table boasted complete runs of the early printings, plus anthologies and newer titles from his publishing house. One box of ephemera held out-of-print books published in Germany on Survival Research Laboratories. SRL was a San Francisco performance art group led by Mark Pauline best known for creating machines to battle each other as violent allegories for global politics.
Local punk musician Greg Harvester was so smitten with the first issue of Disunderstood in 2002 that he sought permission from the original creator to churn out a second issue. The concept is simple -- attend punk shows, jot down a deciphering of the lyrics, and publish the results. Lousy PA systems, overbearing guitars, deliberately unintelligible vocal techniques, and the close-quarters melee of the audience create some rather comic misunderstandings. For instance, guest contributor Mike Wilson's misheard Ceremony lyric goes, "Holes in my head / I'll give in / Hold me bed / Does anyone have a guitar head / That we can borrow?" Maybe the last bit is passive-aggressive.
NEGATIVE PARTY #1
Created by Travis Igler and Jesse Steinchen, Negative Party is a printed, tabloid-sized comic zine in black and white. It depicts punks dramatized as mutants, animals, and mutated animals in single-frame situations on each page. The caricatures are grotesque, but lovingly detailed with knowing punk references. A rat street punk fends off kitty cops with a broken bottle. "ANTI-GATO," its arm band declares. The caption reads, "All his life, Morris had an almost instinctual fear of cops, no matter how cute they appeared in uniforms." A particularly deformed punk's backwards cap reads "PUKE CHRIST" (a non-existent but believable band name for those familiar with crust punk) in a snot font variation as he swills Olde English, eyes boggled. The craft of these comics demands attention. The cheeky mocking-punk-from-inside-it humor sustains it.
THE FIRST 7" WAS BETTER: HOW I BECAME AN EX-PUNK
On the table of the People of Color Zine Project, Nia King's minimally designed and paper-clipped zine sat for a $1. As the title explains, it details her immersion and eventual disillusionment with the politically active punk scene. King first tells of years spent volunteering at Food Not Bombs and vigorously engaging in political activism with other punks. Some of her peers vocally advocated the destruction of capitalism, while others blamed industrial civilization for the oppression and displacement of the under-privileged, but King found that the activists were unwilling to confront even their own sexist biases or work directly with the poor communities most affected. Her account of the anarcho-punk scene, in which radical politics and insurrectionary anarchism go hand in hand with fast music and circle pits, depicts it as hypocritical and alienating for a queer, mixed-race woman. In precise and personal terms, King's zine credits punk with first politicizing her. Yet, as she came to terms with her own identity, the scene began to feel exclusive. Now she's an ex-punk.
MAXIMUM ROCK 'N ROLL
MRR was founded locally by Tim Yohannan in 1982 to report on the international punk scene and foster political consciousness within its community. Today, it's published monthly with over 100 pages of columns, interviews, news, and reviews. The zine's international scope, voluminous content, and obtuse policies are rigorous and demanding of the unpaid staff (called "shitworkers"), yet MRR is the longest-running punk zine in the world. In 2011, local garage rock artist Nobunny named a record after the zine -- Fuck Maximum Rock 'n Roll. While the zine's editorial policy of excluding bands with major label affiliation or corporate sponsorship often restricts content to willfully underground groups, MRR's reporting has been prophetic in recent years. After all, the zine (to which this writer used to contribute) featured Iceage, Mika Miko, and Death -- the latter two on the cover -- long before other critical media outlets praised the bands. There's room for both flippant offensiveness and political consciousness in punk. MRR just makes sure the two clash.