Auckland Zinefest is just around the corner! To
celebrate, we’re looking at the rise of zine publishing and the role it plays in preserving the histories of marginalised communities.
Zines are the antithesis of society’s status quo. Self-published and self-circulated, these written and visual works are the perfect vehicle for marginalised communities to express themselves outside of the constraints of conventional media. Rooted in subculture, zines are a form of community archive, fighting back against exclusionary official narratives while reclaiming space in a historically discriminatory
industry. Zine-making’s ethos lies within collaboration and resistance, providing an unrestricted voice to subcultures and political movements worldwide.
The origins of zines as a medium for marginalised voices can be traced back to the Harlem
Renaissance of the 1910s and 1920s. This movement celebrated black art, culture, and
literature, bringing the stories of New York’s African-American community into the
mainstream during a time of continued societal repression. Within the movement, artists
and writers began producing “little magazines” that allowed space for poetry, political
debate, and subversion to be published and shared outside of Eurocentric art and literature
structures. These zines became more progressive as the movement went on, with one
publication, Fire!!, openly discussing topics of sexuality and sex work during its run in the
In a pre-digitally connected world, zines played a crucial role in ensuring individual
community perspectives, ideas, and experiences thrived. Zines were a significant form of
communication for lesbian and gay communities during the 1940s and 1950s, with the first
known lesbian zine, Vice Versa, being published in 1947. Created by a 25-year-old secretarial
assistant under the pseudonym “Lisa Ben” (an anagram for lesbian), Vice Versa connected
Los Angeles’ lesbian community during a time of club raids and public shaming. The zine’s
legacy continues today, influencing over 2600 LGBTQ+ zines to follow in its footsteps.
The 1960s saw the underground press explode with anti-establishment zine publications
across various communities and cultures. Adopted by the Beat generation, zines created a
way to circumvent a world of capitalism and commercialism, combining political activism
with contemporary counterculture. From free-thinkers and bohemian musicians to political
groups such as the Black Panthers and women’s liberation feminists, zines were used by
countless organisations to disseminate ideas and essential information.
The association we most often have with zines today is their role in the 1970s and 1980s
punk counterculture. Iconic zines such as Sniffin’ Glue, Maxim RocknRoll, and Profane
Existence helped to shape an entire generation of anti-establishment music fans, eventually
growing to form new subcultures within the genre. Heading into the late 1980s and 1990s, movements such as Queercore and Riot Grrrl, whose roots were in punk queer and feminist philosophy, began to produce their own zines in the fight against institutional oppression.
After a brief lull in the late 1990s and early 2000s, zines had a renaissance. Society began its
relationship with the internet, leading to zines taking on a new form. E-zines emerged with
greater reach, eventually merging with social media to spread creativity and awareness
farther and faster than ever before. It also opened the door to a wider collection of voices -
suddenly, anyone could contribute, no matter who they were or where they lived.
As we enter the 2020s, a wave of public nostalgia has led to a collective craving for vintage
DIY culture. Marginalised communities are threatened by the rise of right-wing populism
and male, pale, and stale perspectives. As a result, printed zines are on the rise once again,
driven by generation Z’s passion for activism. Zine festivals and fairs are sprouting up
worldwide, including Small Press Day, the queer feminist Grrrl Zine Fair in the UK, and
Auckland’s very own Zine Fest. These festivals provide a platform for independent
publishers to share their movements with the masses while celebrating the beauty of
diversity and creativity. As Dazed magazine has said, “all truly revolutionary ideas ferment
from the underground, they are not imposed from above.”
The Charlotte Museum holds an extensive collection of independent, small press lesbian
publications, including LIP (Lesbians in Print), Sapphic Star, and DykeNews, available to read
in our library and research room. We are also in the process of digitising these for online
viewing. Click here to read our thoughts on the importance of these publications in
providing a voice to Aotearoa’s lesbian community.
Finally, visit us at Auckland Zine Fest! We’ll be set up with a stall on Saturday 23rd July at the
Auckland Art Gallery. We are producing two special edition zines for the event – Our first is
a selection of personal writings from our collection of vintage lesbian feminist magazines
and newsletters, and the second consists of writing and artwork from a range of queer and
lesbian women in 2022. Koha appreciated.
Written by Starr Ratapu, Collections Technician and Research Support at the Charlotte Museum.