“please listen to me you mother fuckers, i, unlike hundreds of boy fanzine writers all across america, have a legitimate need and desperate desire to be heard. i am making a fanzine not to entertain or distract or exclude or because i don’t have anything better to do but because if i didn’t write these things no one else would either.”


—Tobi Vail, Jigsaw #3 (1991)


1990s DIY punk rebellion! Gritty, counter-culture indie publishing! Bikini Kill and angry feminists! Born from punk culture the zine channels the same non-elitist ideologies with its DIY cut and paste aesthetic, acting as a platform for voices and ideas that fall outside of mainstream media (Corey, 2016). While the zine originated as a resistance media in male dominated spaces, the zine soon found its way into the hands of the Riot Grrrls, the marginalized voices of feminists of the 90s (Piepmeier and Zeisier, 2009). These small-circulation indie publications became the perfect platform to spread feminist discourse among the community in an inexpensive and accessible way that wasn’t possible before desktop publishing and photocopying (Piepmeier and Zeisier, 2009). Zines and third wave feminism soon became inseparable. Pre-internet, zines and indie publishing was a political act, and “comparable to Facebook groups or early-era Tumblr, the pages of Riot Grrrl zines essentially operated as blogs,” with freedom and full control over production and distribution (Gamble, 2018; Corey, 2016). Since we live in the age of the internet zines are dead, right? And some people believe that the women’s movement is over, and that women’s studies has become a history lesson (Creasap, 2014). This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Zines are as prolific as ever, especially feminist zines, and while their form has evolved their messages remain counter-culture (Gamble, 2018). By looking at the feminist zine Polyester as a case study, this paper will prove that the new hybrid form of zines is politically effective, aesthetically pleasing, and stays true to the spirit of the 1990s Riot Grrrl zines. Punk has cleaned up a bit, run a comb through its hair and maybe taken a shower.

In her essay “Reimagining the Fanzine,” Amber Jelly argues that the commercialization of fanzines has created a competitive and elitist culture that goes against the original punk DIY aesthetic and accessibility of zines (Jelly, 2018). Jelly argues that these highly curated modern fanzines in their glossy magazine-like format have become a commercial object that finds itself swimming in the mainstream (Jelly, 2018). Ione Gamble writes in an article for Vice, that zines like Polyester are one of many created in the last five years that blur the lines between politicized fanzine and quality, high-cost magazine (Gamble, 2018).  This “blending of high production value with feminist ideologies […] aim to fill the vapid void women’s publishing [has] become” (Gamble, 2018). The biggest criticism of the Riot Grrrl movement was “its white, middle class-centric nature,” which parallels the current problems of modern women’s media, and it’s up to the zines to create the space where marginalized bodies take the main stage (Gamble, 2018). Zines proliferate the conversations of subcultures such as “the transgender community, feminists, immigrants, nudists, and nihilists” in rebellion against large-circulation, mainstream media (Eden, 2016).

In their physical format, zines have taken the form of what traditional magazines used to be, and people who “wanted to create a glossy magazine have found a more affordable way to do that within a zine” (Gamble, 2018). Yes, the content has become curated but it’s also become coherent with 21st century female and queer-led independent publishing that embodies the feminist musings, discussions, and debates of the early Riot Grrrl zines and it does it in a way that speaks to the current generation (Gamble, 2018). We live in an Instagram era that is highly focused on the image, which is why zines like Polyester have adopted an image heavy format and digital layout as opposed to the cut-and-paste zine aesthetic of the 90s (Gamble, 2018). Curation is a positive thing as it tightens the zines and makes them more cohesive. The curators of these zines are members of the subculture communities they’re showcasing, and are compiling what they think is important for the community to talk about. You don’t like what they’re curating? Then in true zine spirit go start your own zine. Feminist zines in the 21st century have adapted to the desires of the modern reader in the internet era, but they still manage to circulate under the radar despite feminism being a hot topic in the mainstream, and with easy access to desktop publishing, printing, and the internet, it’s even easier to start a zine. However, if you want your voice to be heard amongst all the rabble then you’re going to have to adapt your style (not your content) to appeal to the Instagram generation.

If we have the internet – blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other places for counter-culture communities to congregate, then why do zines still exist? Shouldn’t they have died at the turn of the century? Just like the belief that print books would die with the rise of the internet and ebooks, publishing has once again been proven wrong in the case of zines.  Sarah Halle Corey explains in her article on why zines are feminist that despite the plethora of ways to produce content in the modern age there is “something viscerally compelling about someone crafting their own ideas into something you can hold in your own hands” (Corey, 2016). Jessica Clark agrees with this, emphasizing the intimate connection created between author and readers within the zine community that becomes based on a gift economy rather than a commercial exchange (Clark, 2009). The internet has created a greater sense of ephemerality, with new content being created a such a rate that a blog/Instagram/Facebook etc. post can be buried and forgotten about in a matter of hours or even minutes. To have a physical copy of a zine attaches the individual to the community, and the internet allows the conversation around the zine to take place. The internet has actually strengthened the circulation of zines, as it creates the initial all-access media production that was so valued and appealing in the 90s (Corey, 2016). The community is able to flourish with networks like The Global Grrrl Zine Network that connects zine creators and readers, and promotes e-zines like Cherry (Corey, 2016). The discoverability of zines becomes easier for those who want to find it, and even though zines are easier to find and come in more accessible and appealing formats it doesn’t make the content any less counter-culture.

Ione Gamble, editor-in-chief of Polyester describes the zine as “an intersectional feminist, queer publication aiming to bridge the gap of URL cyberfeminism with the IRL world” (Gamble and Eden, 2016). Gamble marries the digital with the zines of the 90s in a high production publication but presents an alternative to the mainstream fashion magazines, giving readers something she calls unrealistic and ridiculous as she breaks conventional expectations (Gamble and Eden, 2016). But as certain feminist publications gain traction there’s a trend, and a concern that Amber Jelly voiced in her essay, that there’s a transformation of non-profit publications into careers as feminism becomes neo-liberal and leans into the commodification of culture that happens in our capitalist society (Jelly, 2018; Gamble, 2018). For Polyester, Gamble says that the zine remains purely non-profit and that “every penny [they] make goes back in to covering [their] costs for the next issue (Gamble and Eden, 2016). Polyester doesn’t seek an economic profit, and instead focuses on critiquing the industry that exists alongside the creation of a visual identity for the female or queer community, understanding the importance behind the creation of a visual identity for these communities but moving past simple adoration of fashion (Gamble and Eden, 2016). Like the zines before it, Polyester wants to connect a community and help people feel less alone, to create a place of expression for femmes and queer people where they can voice their feelings, thoughts and moods in a way that mainstream media can’t (Gamble, Kane, and Ross, 2017). While Polyester focuses on images and fashion, it also includes creative writing, poems, interviews, and other forms of writing that mirror more traditional print magazine formats, but the content differentiates itself from the mainstream in how it embraces “all parts of the femme experience under feminism – to accept that women have darkness in them and to explore and analyze that” (Gamble, Kane and Ross, 2017). Zines have always been a place to explore subculture discourse, a safe space and a realm where a community can grow and they remain that way.

The feminist zines of the 90s rebelled against the mainstream and screamed to have their voices heard, and now with the rise of female fronted fashion and beauty zines in the 21st century politically-aware feminists are claiming some power back from the mainstream (Rex, 2016). Other zines like Polyester include Coalition which blends the narratives of artists of colour, their triumphs and traumas, with strong visuals and OOMK which explores faith, activism, identity, and style from contributors of diverse and ethnic backgrounds that is again a highly visual publication (Rex, 2016). Zines have changed from the days of Riot Grrrls to become something more inclusive with a focus on aesthetic that extends beyond the superficial. Like it or not the visual is important in defining identity and feminist zines have taken the cue from blogs, Instagram, and the internet to explore the reactions against mainstream visual identities and the ideologies behind them. Feminist print lives on and it’s inherently political even if it’s filled with pretty pictures on glossy paper.


Works Cited

Corey, Sarah Halle. “Why Zines Are Feminist (And What a Zine Is!). Hello Flo, May 17, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. http://helloflo.com/why-zines-are-feminist-and-what-a-zine-is/


Clark, Jessica. “Girl Talk.” The American Prospect, November 11, 2009. Accessed November 12, 2018. http://prospect.org/article/girl-talk-0


Creasap, Kimberly. “Zine-Making as Feminist Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 24, no. 3 (2014): 155-68. doi:10.5406/femteacher.24.3.0155.


Eden, Nellie. “The UK Girl-Zines Challenging Traditional Media.” Refinery29, April 12, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/girl-zines-changing-publishing-uk


Gamble, Ione. “How Feminist Zine Culture Has Evolved.” Vice, June 14, 2018. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/wjbbbb/how-feminist-zine-culture-has-evolved


Gamble, Ione. “Polyester’s new issue asks us to embrace our inner darkness.” Interview by Ashleigh Kane and Charley Ross, Dazed, April 21, 2017. Accessed November 12, 2018. http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/35666/1/polyster-zine-issue-5-clementine-creevy-nadya-pussy-riot


Gamble, Ione. “The UK Girl-Zines Challenging Traditional Media.” Interview by Nellie Eden. Refinery29, April 12, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/girl-zines-changing-publishing-uk


Jelly, Amber. “Reimagining the Fanzine.” PUB800 Essays – Fall 2018, September 30, 2018. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2018/09/reimagining-the-fanzine/


Piepmeier, Alison, and Zeisler, Andi. Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. New York: New York University Press, 2009. Accessed November 9, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.


Rex, Hatti. “10 Female Fronted Fashion, Beauty & Culture Zines to Brighten Up Your Coffee Table.” Bustle, June 23, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.bustle.com/articles/167698-10-female-fronted-fashion-beauty-culture-zines-to-brighten-up-your-coffee-table-photos