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The text below is an essay written by AA Bronson as the introduction to the book, Queer Zines
New York City, 4:25 am, Friday, October 3, 2008
I am sitting in the dark listening to the soft subtle snoring of my boyfriend, Mark, as I write this text. I am thinking of the Queer Zine exhibition and book that Phil Aarons and I have been thinking about and working on for some time now—let me be clear, this was Phil’s brainwave, not mine—and as this book will be released in a mere 20 days, it is time to write an introduction.
In this brief introduction, I‘d like to piece together a patchwork quilt of ideas and histories that someone some time should develop into a coherent history. They are the bits and pieces that have concerned us here as we have assembled this story.
In the late 1960s, an almost shockingly explicit underground newspaper appeared amidst the plethora of underground newspapers that had swept the Western world. SUCK, from Amsterdam, emerged from a freeform sex commune of the period. Many of the underground newspapers came from communes, but this one was unique: it was edited equally by men and women (a notable contributor was Germaine Greer), straight and gay, and it used a kind of diaristic method that emerged from feminist thought and practice of the period. In other words, what happened in the pages of SUCK—and a lot went on in the pages of SUCK—was a kind of dramatization of sex life in the commune that incorporated intellectual thought and theory, radical politics, and sex into one unique voice.
At about the same time, on the Lower East Side of New York City, Ed Sanders Fuck You Press and his magazine, Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts became a kind of portal into a world that married the Fugs and their anarchistic ecstatic political musical rantings with the writers of the New York School, the Beat Generation, with, yes, more sex. A kind of continuous political/polysexual tirade animates the mimeographed outpourings of this small press and sets the tone for alternative publishing in New York City for decades to come.
We are used to the kind of journalistic voice that includes a self-reflexivity in the text, in which the journalist does not hide her own presence in the story, and drops the pretense to objective reporting. The Village Voice championed this style of journalism in New York City in the mid-70s, particularly in the writing of the lesbian Jill Johnson. Her dance column was infamous as a rambling diaristic diatribe, weaving together dance theory and reportage with her own sexploits and amorous adventures and battles, radical politics and social musings. It’s frankly amazing that this voice thrived in a venue as public as the Voice. Although the column did not last a long time, we all heard her, and Jill Johnson’s influence was remarkable in my generation.
It is during this time that Boyd McDonald published the first issues of Straight to Hell, and began selling them in the gritty newsstands and sex shops of the city.
6:17 am, Monday, October 6, 2008
I have been thinking about precursors to the queer zine: Audrey Beardsley’s The Yellow Book, for example, although it dates back more than 100 years; Jack Smith’s The Beautiful Book (1962) more clearly steers the course for queer zines to come, with its very personalized and often erotic photos of Smith’s peripatetic scene; and Walter Pfeiffer’s 1970-1980 (1980), the now infamous diaristic photobook of the artists scene from Zurich in the 70s, with its hyper-erotic close-ups of beautiful Swiss boys, is a clear model for today’s European zines.
But ultimately, the best models for the zines themselves are other zines: they are a community in constant communication.
7:14 am, Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The explosion of punk zines from Britain in 1976 was a phenomenon without precedent. Together with self-published vinyl singles, a flood of zines circulated amongst the punks themselves and sold in the shops that they frequented, notably one bookshop in Camden Town, London, whose name I have been unable to remember. (This bookstore was also one of the few outlets for cutting-edge conceptual art journals of the period). Stephen Willats was an artist who began to collect this material in the mid-70s, and he drew it to my attention at the time: his contribution was crucial in assembling the Punk issue of FILE Megazine in 1977. The best known of the British zines was Sniffin’ Glue, but it is the hundreds of lesser zines that are interesting as a phenomenon. And although a sort of broadened and quite flagrant image of sexuality emerged, and SM regalia became part of the punk look, the queer zine as such took a while to emerge from the pack. The British punk overlap with the fashion and cultural scene, most visible in Vivienne Westwood’s involvement with the Sex Pistols, and perhaps Derek Jarmen’s film Jubilee (1977), had a visibly queer or at least gender-confused component. In New York, Punk Magazine itself began in 1976, but always maintained a strictly magazine (and jock-ular) format, although an adventurous and constantly changing one.
Let’s consider the fashion and culture worlds for a moment: In the mid-70s, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren transformed their little clothing store at World’s End, London, into SEX, appropriating leather and rubber fetish gear from the sexual underground and propelling it to center stage. The look was gender-confused and androgynous. The primary salesperson became the poster girl for the punk aesthetic: she was noted for riding the tube from the outer reaches of London each morning, dressed in a rubber miniskirt and no underwear, with a startlingly tribal Mohawk and extreme eye makeup. As Vivienne developed her brand with Seditionaries (1976), she incorporated the drawings of Tom of Finland into her clothing, a look she popularized with the Sex Pistols. Vivienne was known for her ongoing scathing commentary on the world around her: at one point, during a falling out with John Lydon, she covered the front of her shop with plywood and hand-wrote a vitriolic diatribe upon it. This independent and outspoken voice, I would argue, provided a role model for the punk zine.
In assembling the components for this patchwork quilt, we shouldn’t forget the importance of William Burroughs, an American beat writer who achieved enormous fame in France, and yet was largely overlooked in the USA until the mid-70s, when his book Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (1971) began to attract attention with a youthful proto-punk audience. Burroughs connection to young people, especially young queer men, grew through the late 70s, and Burrough’s cut-up method became a touchstone for many of the queer zines of the 80s.
5:29 am, Thursday, October 9, 2008
I have been communicating with GB Jones about the content of this book, in particular about the contribution of women and also about the intent of zines in general: to create one’s own culture. I want to emphasize the contribution of women to the phenomenon of independent publishing but especially to the phenomenon of queer zines. It is a practice that comes out of the traditional woman’s occupation of writing diaries. Germaine Greer’s writings in SUCK are exactly that, as are Jill Johnston’s writing in the Village Voice of the mid-seventies. The memoir is a form that has been studied in feminist critique of literature, but I doubt that the critics have examined SUCK—or our queer zines, for that matter. And I wonder whether they have noticed that the lessons and methods of feminism have been picked up more quickly by queer men than straight (that feminism has been championed by gay women goes without saying).
Garrick, our designer, is asking for this text, and so I am aware that I must end this soon. In fact, I would like to finish this morning. So let me add the last few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that I feel absolutely must be represented—any others someone else will have to add to the mix at a future date.
The pamphlet first appears in the English language in the 15th century. In the 1580s pamphleteering exploded: gossip and slander mixed freely with ideas and opinions about current events and politics, and the pamphlet spread political ideas about democracy and self-determination. Of course it was the invention of the printing machine that made this possible.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, a sequence of technological advances makes self-publishing easy again. A short list of zine technologies: the web offset press made the explosion of underground newspapers of the mid-sixties possible. The mimeograph machine, designed for use in schools and institutions, produced small-run poetry journals through the mid to late sixties—The Fuck You Press specialized in quick ‘n easy mimeo publishing. By the mid-70s, the plain paper copier appeared, resulting in an avalanche of photocopied zines, including most of the earliest punk zines. The personal computer creates the more polished look of zines today; and direct digital publishing and publishing on demand are altering the face of short-run publishing yet again.
5:22 am, Friday, October 8, 2008
What I have not mentioned in this introduction is the queer zines themselves: as an early example of the diaristic, I choose John Jack Baylin’s Fanzini: the first issue seems to me particularly delicious. J.D.s, by GB Jones and Bruce LaBruce, carries that wanton, flaunting voice to a high art in the late eighties. Many zines of the late eighties and early nineties should be written about—Scott Treleaven’s This is the Salivation Amy, or Vaginal Davis’ Fertile La Toyah Jackson Magazine, for example—but I leave it to someone else to undertake that analysis. As for the current crop, Paul Sepuya’s SHOOT retains the diaristic, although it has lost the use of words; while Calvin Holbrook’s HATE carries the pamphlet as gossip-monger to its logical conclusion. I hesitate to identify the most original voices today: they are, after all, engaged in conversation.
Dear Reader, we hope these pages incite you to a closer reading of Queer Zines. If we have done our job well, you will immerse yourself in zines, indulge a bad habit of buying subscriptions to publications that you fear may fold at any moment, and hopefully end up disagreeing with our choices: for there are hundreds of zines more waiting to be discovered and waiting to be published.
Queer Zines provide a model for living: this century, release your strident inner voice. It is essential to creating culture, and creating culture makes us human.