ACT News


Zines still relevant in an online age

Homemade publications are helping communities keep in touch across the country through a practise older than Australia itself.

In an online age, the art of putting pen to paper remains strong through the creation and consumption of zines, ranging from crudely drawn copies covertly photocopied at work to professionally produced editions.

The medium's popularity comes in ebbs and flows, according to creator Bernie Slater, who says the zine scene has been boosted by some recent high profile events at the Sydney Writers Festival and You Are Here Festival.

A member of the Canberra Zine Emporium, which will be celebrating International Zine Month in July, Slater says his introduction to the do-it-yourself publishing scene came as a teenager growing up amid the punk rock era in Canberra.

Under the influence of the Dead Kennedys and their idiom “don't hate the media, become the media”, Slater was drawn to the subversive nature of the zine world and the community it offered beyond his everyday Canberra life.

“Finding people through the mail who had similar interests and were interested in producing their own brand of culture instead of passively consuming was really appealing,” he says.


“Through this network, you found these kinds of kindred spirits.”

Slater says there were a few notable zines being created in Canberra at the time, including one by renowned comic artist Mandy Ord, whose work now features in publications such as Meanjin and The Age.

Slater started making his own zines in the 1990s, continuing on and off throughout the years as he chronicled events such as the birth of his first child. He says the personal approach of zines allows people to deal with issues such as family, mental illness or even disasters such as the recent flood events throughout the country.

“Often when you open a zine, you get a real insight into a person's world,” he says.

“Someone has taken complete control over the publication process and done it in a way you wouldn't usually see in mass media. There are these lovely, personal touches.”

As coordinator of visual arts at the Canberra Institute of Technology, Slater says he also engages his students with zine projects to broaden their definition of art.

“Not all art has to be in a gallery or mass media,” he says.

“We can actually take control of our work and publish it ourselves.”

The medium is also gaining credibility outside the classroom.

The National Gallery of Australia boasts zines in its collection, which have been previously been incorporated in travelling exhibitions, and the National Library of Australia has thousands of self-produced issues in its collection.

The library's serials collection manager Julie Whiting says the store is continually growing as thousands of are produced across the country.

Though international examples date back as far as the 17th century, Ms Whiting says the concept in Australia originally grew out of fan zines, produced by science fiction enthusiasts in the 1930s and '40s as an informal way of sharing information and gossip.

She says it wasn't until the 1960s and 70s until the scene saw a shift towards music, which captured the attention of the mainstream publishing world.

“Certainly, the publication industry would have been aware of these and from that recognised some marketing opportunities,” she says.

“It may have helped them develop more popularly produced magazines which they would target at these communities. It helped them recognise these markets.”

But unlike professionally produced mass media, Ms Whiting said zines presented a preservation challenge.

She says the library's collection houses a zine folded into a paper plane, another which is printed on a scroll of paper, which sits in it's very own cardboard typewriter.

Some even come with additions such as musk sticks.

But in spite of the additional work involved, Ms Whiting says the variety of publications being produced by people as a means of reacting to the world around them is “absolutely fascinating”.

The Canberra Zine Emporium will be hosting a zine soiree at Smiths Alternative Bookshop on July 6 as part of International Zine Month.