Zines seem to be everywhere recently. They first emerged from the punk scene in the late 1980s as a result of the movement’s DIY ethos, as a means to express and transmit fringe ideologies. The 90s saw the form reach its zenith, as they circulated widely amongst participants in the Riot Grrrl movement, giving a platform to frustrations and personal narratives of experience that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Yet now, with rising internet visibility and a fresh wave of widespread feminist engagement, the vanguards of quasi-underground cool, Dazed and Confused, have declared a ‘second golden age’ for the zine. But what exactly is it?
A zine is a publication which focuses on subject matter that, whether because it is too niche or too controversial, is excluded from the mainstream print outlets. Born out of Punk’s DIY ethics, zine culture proudly flaunts its amateurish aesthetic, printing – or rather photocopying – in batches of less than a hundred copies. In Oxford, Cuntry Living, Skin Deep, and No HeterOx form a triad of highly visible examples. And in 7th Week, Freud’s will play host to the GRRRL Zine Fair, where a diverse range of feminist, queer and intersectional publications will be put on sale for Oxford students.
Discussing the importance of zine culture, Ruby Breward, the organiser of the upcoming not-for-profit event, argues, “Zines challenge mainstream media, and allow subcultures and marginalised voices to tell their own stories and create discussion on their own terms.” Co-conspirator Aliya Yule, fresh from a Top 20 appearance on Cherwell’s own BNOC table, elaborates, “At a time when the mainstream media so often ignores issues of liberation, having zines which are particularly designed for those with overlapping identities which are tokenised and/or marginalised allows us to tell and illustrate our stories in ways that don’t necessarily fit in the format of journalistic norms.”
The fair’s genesis originated from frustrations about the affordability and accessibility of online zines. As anyone without Amazon Prime knows, postage costs can make ostensible bargains prohibitively expensive. And Oxford seems to be crying out for them. Created at their inception to challenge establishment norms and acceptability, zines offer students a great way to engage with movements and theories outside of the confines of academia. In a local culture so dominated by the monolithic institution of Oxford University, subversive expression finds its raison d’eÌ‚tre. Yule agrees, saying, “It is so important that we have access to materials, ideas, and schools of thought that are excluded from our reading lists in Oxford. Whilst there has recently been a push to make curricula more diverse, zines still offer unique perspec- tives expressed in ways which don’t conform to the dogma of academia, and it’s vital that we remain aware of them and recognise their importance and value.
“I’ve been taught about feminism by male tutors twice – in fact I’m yet to have a single female tutor at all,” says Breward. “I’ve learnt more about feminism from discussions with friends and online groups than I have in tutorials, and zines are a valuable source of this kind of personal knowledge and understanding.”
Besides offering “radical revolutionary reading”, the free event, beginning at 5pm on Wednesday of 7th Week, will feature girl bands, performers and a panel discussion about the importance of DIY culture. The team behind the event has put together an incredible programme, to be announced soon, with Breward adding, “I think Naomi’s performance should be really great as well. She’s part of the band Bruising who are doing really well at the moment and putting out some amazing music.” Plus there’ll be cocktails.
But despite this “golden age”, both in Oxford and the wider world, a dangerous transformation lies in the humble zine’s future. With zines and their aesthetic increasingly featured (or co-opted, depending on who you ask) in mainstream publications, a tough road lies ahead for the culture to retain its separatist streak. Dazed and Confused itself began life as an underground London zine, illustrating only too well the allure of corporate investment. Furthermore, with their limited print runs, zines face increasing interest from collectors, dragging the publications away from their subversive, anarchist roots and into the murky waters of the professional art market.
For the GRRRL Zine Fair Team, the event is just the beginning of their grassroots not-for-profit operations in Oxford – if all goes well at Freud, it’ll likely be just the first influx of avant-garde literature they’ll be spreading amongst the University’s student body. Watch this space.