In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Zines and Communication

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Anthologies
  • Topical Collections
  • Autobiographies, Directories, and How-To Guides
  • Zine Libraries

Communication Zines and Communication
Jennifer Rauch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0268


Revolutionaries and romantics, Dadaists and dissidents—these are some of the self-publishing traditions that zine communities embrace and embody. Zines are printed publications characterized by idiosyncratic themes, noncommercial motives, low budgets, do-it-yourself aesthetics, and an independent spirit. They are produced by individuals or collectives of writers, editors, graphic designers, and other artists sometimes known as zinesters. Zines first emerged among sci-fi enthusiasts and later spread through the countercultural, feminist, and punk-rock movements. Zines are a form of alternative media related to, yet distinct from, similar genres such as the left-wing little magazines of the 1930s as well as the later underground press and alternative press. The term fanzine, a contraction coined in the 1940s, preceded the term zine, adopted in the 1970s, although the two words are often used interchangeably. Some consider the former a subset of the latter, signifying only publications made by fans of a particular cultural form or genre (such as science fiction, punk rock, football/soccer, nostalgic TV sitcoms, horror movies, Asian pop culture, or Super-8 filmmaking). These self-publications proliferated in tandem with cheap, accessible reproduction technologies like photocopiers and desktop computers. The term e-zines, a once-fashionable reference to “electronic magazines,” typically denotes web publications that espouse a more professionalized and commercialized ethos than printed zines do. Zines are important social, cultural, and visual documents of the periods in which they are made. These do-it-yourself (DIY) publishers established a graphic language and “zine aesthetic” that significantly influenced mainstream design. Due to the diversity of zines and their producers, people in a wide range of academic disciplines show interest in how these publications are made and used. Many scholars of communication and media studies view zine-making as an exemplar of democratic expression, inclusion, and participation as well as an important shaper of social identities and communities. Zines are popular objects of study in areas such as American studies, graphic design, linguistics, popular culture, sociology, women’s studies, youth studies, and more. Zine collections are valuable resources for archivists, librarians, and educators, as well as for researchers. While the existing canon of scholarship on zines and communication includes many materials from the United States and the United Kingdom, there are also substantial zine communities in South America (including Argentina and Brazil), continental Europe (including Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, and Switzerland), Australia, Indonesia, and elsewhere. The materials presented in this article emphasize riot grrrl, feminism, fanzines, and technology because these aspects of zine publishing have received comparatively more attention from scholars in the field of communication than have other zine genres and subjects.

Core Texts

The books in this section represent useful points of entry into zine research. Wertham 1973—focusing on mid-century sci-fi, comix, and fantasy fanzines—laid a foundation for the study of zines. Duncombe 2017 is the first comprehensive research on zine communities in the context of a US surge in zines’ popularity. A conceptual framework for considering zine production as a form of alternative media is proposed in Atton 2002. The 1990s Riot Grrrl phenomenon in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which promoted female enterprise and empowerment through microcultural production of music and zines, inspired Kearney 2006, Poletti 2008, Piepmeier 2009, and Triggs 2010. (The triple r in “grrrl”—resembling a growl—signifies an alternative, powerful, angry, and resistant form of femininity that is distinct from mainstream connotations of girlishness.) Licona 2013 expands zine scholarship by examining women of color and other diverse groups who self-publish.

  • Atton, Chris. 2002. Alternative media. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Atton provides a theoretical foundation for zine research by proposing that alternative and radical media should not be limited to political and “resistance” media but also should include newer and hybrid cultural forms. One chapter examines how zine production and zine culture help build alternative identities and communities by promoting sociality and communication among readers and writers.

  • Duncombe, Stephen. 2017. Notes from underground: Zines and the politics of alternative culture. Portland, OR: Microcosm.

    This landmark research focuses on producers rooted in white middle-class culture and its discontents. Duncombe considers zine principles and practices as they relate to themes such as identity, community, work, and consumption. He also discusses the dangers that zine makers perceive in mainstream publicity. Originally published in 1998 by Verso; 2008 and 2017 editions by Microcosm include a new afterword.

  • Kearney, Mary Celeste. 2006. Girls make media. New York: Routledge.

    Kearney argues that zines reshape female pride as girl power, reconfigure feminist history through new role models, and refuse feminine beauty standards through new body politics. A key entry in the fledgling field of girls’ studies that connects gender and media.

  • Licona, Adela C. 2013. Zines in third space: Radical cooperation and borderlands. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

    Notable for spotlighting zines made collaboratively by feminist women of color who consciously advocate for social change. By studying zine authors and producers of diverse identities, including working class, Chicana, queer, first generation, and others, it offers a corrective to previous work on zine communities, which is often grounded in predominantly white punk cultures.

  • Piepmeier, Alison. 2009. Girl zines: Making media, doing feminism. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    This book helps map a feminist trajectory for zine scholarship. Looking at titles such as Bitch, Bust and Action Girl Newsletter, Piepmeier explores how young women renegotiate gender terrain and find material pleasure in printed zines. She discusses the political possibilities of zine-making processes, imaginations, and subjectivities that challenge prevailing discourses.

  • Poletti, Anna. 2008. Intimate ephemera: Reading young lives in Australian zine culture. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne Univ. Press.

    Looks at Australian zine culture through the lenses of feminist theory and youth studies. Poletti applies concepts such as resistance, authenticity, and materiality in this study of autobiographical perzines (personal zines). She discusses how zine publishers imagine their readers and convey intimacy, as well as how they express complex identities as consumers.

  • Triggs, Teal. 2010. Fanzines: The DIY revolution. San Francisco: Chronicle.

    Notable for its focus on graphic design, this book features 750 color images of US and UK fanzines. Triggs provides detailed accounts of the DIY aesthetics and politics of early punk publications, zine makers’ critiques of consumerism and the market, responses to e-zine publishing, and connections between zines and craft culture.

  • Wertham, Fredric. 1973. The world of fanzines: A special form of communication. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.

    An early scholarly introduction to sci-fi fanzines, fantasy fiction, and comics by a controversial German-American psychologist who spurred a moral panic by claiming comic books caused juvenile delinquency. Wertham surveys the historical origins, content, style, readership, and production methods of that era’s fanzines, which he distinguishes from the underground press.

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