A local look at zines


First published on http://www.mediaupdate.co.za in September 2015

A zine is defined as a self-published booklet created by physically cutting and gluing images onto a master flat for photocopying. Although not as popular in South Africa as it is internationally, zine culture does have a place in the local media landscape, and has, in fact, for a long time.

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By Remy Raitt

Hannes Bernard and Jenna Bass, founders of Jungle Jim, a bi-monthly African pulp fiction magazine say; “There is a distinct difference between the traditional legacy of formal ‘pulp fiction’ magazines or popular fiction, and what is being produced now. In South Africa, Afrikaans language pulp fiction, in the form offotoboekies (photo-comic books) as well as other forms of international pulp were a hugely popular source of entertainment, and though pulp for black South African audiences was also prevalent, Apartheid tended to keep these markets distinct and separate.”

These days, local zines include a wide variety of content; from booklets of amusing drawings or artfully curated photographs, to musings about the continent, or art exhibition listings.

Print is not dead

For years, the media industry has been muttering about the decline of print. Zine self-publishers are throwing caution to the wind, funding the printing costs of each and every edition. Illana Welman, the force behind the photo-zines Tow Aways says seeing her own work in print is one of the biggest motivators behind her efforts. “I also think there’s a tangibility that people like myself still crave and that’s why quality print is still very much alive.”

The DIY divide

“DIY plays the biggest role in zines,” says Minenkulu Ngoyi of the Alphabet Zoo zine makers collective. “It’s one of the biggest differences zines have from traditional media.”

This do-it-yourself focus also allows people who might not typically be able to publish work in traditional media, a space to express themselves. “It breaks the traditional relationship between art and the public,” says Welman, “where people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to have their work printed are now almost encouraged by the zine culture to take it upon themselves.”

Self-publishing also allows for complete control. “By self-publishing, we could maintain our vision for the magazine – both in design and editorial – without compromising controversial content and keeping the pages ad-free,” says Bernard and Bass.

Welman echoes this; “There are no rules with zines; you create, you are the author and you determine every aspect of the publication.”

A focus on fun

Ngoyi says another fundamental element of creating zines is play. There are no strict deadlines, no editors barking orders, and freedom of expression is encouraged above everything else. He says Alphabet Zoo use their zine making workshops as a “platform for play”, something evident in the final product.

Bernard and Bass say they also place value on the amusing voices zines can express. “We are excited by the idea of people reading purely for entertainment – not on a highbrow, or high-lit scene, but something accessible, fun,” they say.

The pros and cons

“Self-publishing, of course, comes with all-consuming responsibilities and demands on our time beyond the purely creative aspects of running the magazine, but we see all this as crucial to what the magazine is, rather than a sacrifice,” say Bernard and Bass.

Welman agrees that the positives have more weighting. She says printing costs can be a hack, but the satisfaction of holding the finished product in your hand and watching it journey from reader to readeris what keeps her at it.

Do you read any local zines? Tell us in the comments section below.

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