Cut, Paste, Publish: The Path From Zines to Blogs
Where once I sat on the floor in a circle of scraps, scissors and cut-up magazines, planning each page with meticulous disregard for any kind of convention, I am writing this post from a laptop with a wireless connection about to click the “Publish” button. But in the world of zines and blogs, there are more similarities than differences.
I used to write and publish zines in high school. There, I just came out and said it. I’m not embarrassed. Not really.
Not too long ago, I found a stack of old zines in a box. Despite the rash of cringes and groans that occurred while flipping through the pages, I started to see some direct correlations to my days as a cut and paste hack writer to my current incarnation as the author of graphicPUSH.
I’m not going to go into detail about the content since most of it is ridiculously embarrassing, but I will share a few choice headlines:
- “Squeeze the Juice” (regarding the OJ trial)
- “License to Hate: A Day at the DMV”
- “Batman Forever: Why It Sucks Beyond Belief”
- “Jerry Garcia: We’re Grateful He’s Dead”
- “Icky Icky Poopy Girl” (about Shannon Faulkner)
- “The Bag Boy”
It’s that type of fascist, closed-minded, irreverent writing that got my partner and I blacklisted from quite a few mailing lists. Out of the three zines I started, none went past three issues, mostly because we continually pissed everyone off, people stopped trading with us and we had to start over.
But enough about the “content.” Most of it was crappy Goth/Industrial record reviews and stolen poetry anyway. Let’s take a look at the production process.
These zines used computers in only the most primitive ways. I would type content into WordPerfect (in the early days of Windows 95 and 75 Mhz processors), estimate the width of a column, print it out and then paste a cut down version into the master layout. We never considered using the machines for actual layout. Even if Quark was available, and even if I had known how to use a Mac, the idea would have been dismissed. Software would have killed the spontaneity, the crudeness, the immediate and tangible results of scissors, Elmer’s glue and the photocopier. Half the content was hand-written right onto the production master, and most of the artwork was hand-drawn.
After I compiled the entire thing into a thick, ragtag mess of folded paper, I went down to the local copy shop where I paid too much for two old women to run a few hundred copies. I then purchased several rolls of stamps and sent them to everyone. Considering my income at the time was fairly limited (read: none), this became an expensive little habit. Kind of like buying URLs and then paying for hosting.
The parallels between zine production and blogging are startling. Our publishing schedule was erratic. Our topics were chosen randomly, unresearched and almost never proofed. Most of it was timely and then forgettable, and all of it lacked the polish of a professional publication. The process operated on a shoe-string budget with no advertising.
Of course, the major difference is/was time. Blogs are immediately gratifying, push-button publishing in which you don’t need even need to create your own artwork. One second you’re writing a thought, the next second it’s laid bare for everyone to read. Zines were laborious. Dozens of hours went into one payload of information and artwork, and it was mailed to a small list of pre-determined people from whom feedback wouldn’t come for weeks. Where once I sat on the floor in a circle of scraps, scissors and cut-up magazines, planning each page with meticulous disregard for any kind of convention, I am writing this post from a laptop with a wireless connection about to click the “Publish” button.
Zines fed an early hunger for self-expression and the need to share my thoughts—however lame they were—with the rest of the world. It’s what initially sent me down the path of writing and journalism in college. (Before, of course, I discovered Photoshop.)
I would bet that a fair amount of blog writers published zines in their youth. I would even guess there are still many current zines out there using cut and paste photocopying, although I have no interest in tracking them down. After all, it’s easier for me to just follow blogrolls.