Reimagining the fanzine


Reimagining the Fanzine

Though it is hard to imagine after an era of fandom before online forum Archive of our Own or even, there once was a time when fanzines reigned superior. Short for magazine, a “zine” is a traditionally noncommercial publication that is “usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional matter”[1]. As Brown and Duguid chronicle in “The Social Life of Documents,” fandom was once so heavily synonymous with zines that the term became redundant and the ‘fan’ prefix was dropped altogether[2]. Whether the internet killed the zine is worthy of contentious debate. As MPub student by the handle “shrlyw” notes in her essay, “In Canada, zine and comic festivals (that feature many zines too) have seen a large rise in attendance. For example, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) attendance has increased dramatically since its inception with 600 attendees in 2003 to 25 000 in 2016”[3].

Indeed, zines have not disappeared. They remain a prominent medium within counterculture and feminist circles, and have been the preferred style of publishing for many indie artists. Its status as an artistic and cultural artifact has grown exponentially since the zine’s golden era in the 1960s.[4] The internet may not have killed the zine, but the “fanzine” was all but pronounced dead, rendered obsolete by virtual archives that enable fans to enjoy and share fan works for free. Yet, just before zines fully vanished from fandom consciousness, the medium has just now made a triumphant return. The modern fanzine, however, is an imitation of commercial magazine production, abandoning the virtues of rebellion and abstract in favor of a form that grants legitimacy and aestheticism to fandom instead. Fanfiction writers’ and Fan artists’ desire to see their works printed and bound despite the multitude of free online platforms illustrates the undiminished cultural status of the printed word.

The availability to mass-printing and the public’s demand for published fan anthologies have created the perfect cultural climate for the fanzine’s revival. The fanzines flooding the market on twitter and tumblr are not cheaply-printed, text-heavy, saddle-stitched, or stapled like booklets of fandom’s past. Instead, these zines range from 25 page glossy magazines to bound fan books of 60 pages or more. The entire production process of fanzines has been reimagined to create a product that is exclusive and luxurious. In the now comically outdated article “Science Fiction Fandom,” Philip Cohen describes the production of fanzines as follows: “The average fanzine is privately printed – usually typed, mimeographed, collated, stapled and mailed by the editor-publisher, and often largely or wholly written by [the editor] as well.”[5] This model has since been entirely abandoned by fandom.

The new model requires at least two curators who function as the project’s recruiters, coordinators, designers, marketers, managers, editors, accountants, publishers, sellers, and distributors. As my former fanzine publishing partner Caroline Cash writes in her essay, fanzines are not an easy undertaking as they involve “leading a 15-30 person or larger project over a three to six month time frame with multiple deliverables from a remote team, potentially international, on a variable budget”[6] (4, cite). With the advent of the internet, fandom community has become immensely collaborative. Art and writing exchange events where members work together or exchange gifts is commonplace in modern fandom. The large roster of contributors reflects the collaborative (though sometimes competitive) spirit of the community. The other reason for the shift from independent production is that modern fanzines are typically organized with the goal of making sales and potentially even earning a profit. To publish independently would mean relying on one organizer’s platform to create demand for the product and exposure. For the everyday fan, however, more contributors means shared responsibilities, more exposure, and higher profit.

With the move towards commercialism, zine organizers are now tasked with assessing the marketplace and marketing their project throughout the production. Before committing to producing the zine, it has become common practice for potential organizers to post polls on twitter to assess whether people are interested in running, contributing to, or purchasing the proposed zine. The initial poll or website post is also a means of creating “hype” for the project so that followers know to look for upcoming updates. It is also the responsibility of organizers to research the market to determine if a similar zine has already been published. If a nearly identical project is under works, then that may be cause to abandon the concept or to choose another. If reasonable time has passed since the first project and demand for similar concept remains then organizers can use the original zine to gather information on how well a product of that theme sells in the fandom marketplace. Every step of the process is now indicative of the medium’s newly developed commercialism, as zine production was once driven purely by the whims and preferences of a singular publisher.

Another shift that has taken place is the newly competitive and oftentimes elitist culture of fanzines. With the exception of fanzines produced by friends, modern fanzines are now highly curated. Many ezines allow all applicants to participate, but printed fanzines utilize the works of only the 15-25 or so contributors that the organizers selected. Similar to the honor of being publishing, it has become a privilege to be published in a fanzine. Application rejections have left fans bitter in the same way they might if they were to get a formal rejection from a commercial publisher. According to “The Future of Zines,” zines originally existed in opposition to the exclusive and elitist practices of publishing. Quoted in the paper, Hoffman explains, “A little magazine is a magazine designed to print artistic work which for reasons of commercial expediency is not acceptable to the money-minded periodicals or presses. Acceptance or refusal by commercial publishers at times has little to do with the quality of the work.[7]

Though fanzines remain driven by enthusiasm and passion, fanzine publishers now have to consider profit and media platforms when selecting the 15-30 contributors for their zine. Clout over quality is now a point of contention within the community. The production itself has influenced how contributors are picked; because full-colour sells and artists utilize only one page each, it is commonplace for projects to be artist-only or for the ratio of writers to artists be 5:20. There are fanzines are invite-only and are marketed based on the popularity of the artists and fanzines, using fandom recognition to bolster sales. Fanzines with open applications involve organizers assessing over a hundred professional-grade portfolios. Even factors like whether an applicant has been published in previous zines can affect their candidacy. The exclusivity and potential rejection have dissuaded some from participating, however, it also draws those seeking validation and customers who feel there is a greater value in a product that is edited and curated.

The entire production process of the fanzine has been radically transformed. Organizers of zines are expected to plan, research, and schedule their project. The modern fanzine cannot simply be printed on the family printed, stapled, and then mailed to friends. In reviewing the zine planning process, tumblr user “inky-thoughts” outlined 17 phases that take place over the course of months. In addition to advising potential organizers not to undertake zine publishing if time is a potential issue, they share their own experiences, stating, “For the last six months, this zine was basically my job, because it is just that, just without a clear salary, or none at all”[8]. Caroline Cash’s overview of the process is 22 pages long. Organizers now have an overwhelming amount of choices to make: glossy or matte paper, saddle stitch or perfect bound, bubble mail or paper packaging. Printers and post office workers need to be consulted in advance to have an accurate estimate for the P&L. By contrast, Emma Dajska of ascribes 12 steps to traditional zine making[9]. The fanzine is no longer a DIY project; it is a business.

The business element of fanzines is evident in any recent literature providing information on how to curate one, as they all focus on professional conduct. Modern zines “straddle a delicate line of being business and fun”[10]. Similarly, organizers must straddle the line between being professional and accessible. Caroline Cash stresses, “Above all else, be unfailingly polite and positive” or “people won’t support you or your project”[11] (8). The new expectations of professionalism and etiquette reflect the shift in fanzine publishing from freeform and casual to formal and commercial.

The reemergence of the fanzine illustrates the power and the relevance of cultural artifacts in modern society. Many have speculated that the internet will be the ruin of novels, that ebooks will one day replace them entirely. And yet the resurgence of fanzines proves otherwise. Even with free transformative literature and fanart readily available, the prestige and aestheticism of print have not lost their allure. Even as society grows increasingly technological, the cultural artifact of the book will always prevail.

[1] Merriam-Webster.

[2] Brown, John Seely, and Paul Duguid. 1996. “The Social Life of Documents.” First

Monday 1(1).

[3] Shrlyw. November 2017. “The difference between magazines and zines.” WordPress.


[4] Parks, Chloe. 2013. “The Future of Zines.” Digital Commons, 4.

[5] Cohen, Philip M. “Language of Science Fiction Fandom.” CORE, 3.

[6] Cash, Caroline. “So You Want to run a Zine.” Google Docs, last modified 2018, 4.

[7] Hoffman, F.J. “The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography.”

Princeton University Press (1947) quoted in Parks, Chloe. 2013. “The Future of Zines.” Digital Commons, 4.

[8] Inky-thoughts. Tumblr, “How to Organize a Zine 101.” February 11, 2018. https://inky

[9] Dajska, Emma. 2012. “How to Make a Zine.” Rookie Mag,

[10] Thecookiemonster77. Tumblr, “Re: zine etiquette.” May 12, 2018.


[11] Cash, Caroline. “So you Want to Run a Zine.” Google Docs, last modified 2018.




Brown, John Seely, and Paul Duguid. 1996. “The Social Life of Documents.” First

Monday 1(1).

Cash, Caroline. “So you Want to Run a Zine.” Google Docs, last modified 2018.

Cohen, Philip M.. “Language of Science Fiction Fandom.” CORE.

Dajska, Emma. 2012. “How to Make a Zine.” Rookie Mag,

Inky-thoughts. Tumblr, “How to Organize a Zine 101.” February 11, 2018. https://inky

Merriam-Webster. “Zine.” Definition.

Parks, Chloe. 2013. “The Future of Zines.” Digital Commons.

Shrlyw. November 2017. “The difference between magazines and zines.” WordPress.


Thecookiemonster77. Tumblr, “Re: zine etiquette.” May 12, 2018. http://



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