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The Rise (and Rise) of Zines

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.

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