Zines: The Saviour of Print

Sophie Knight made a zine for the recent Zine’s Mate book fair. Here she relates her experience and discusses how zines might just save print.

In Features by Sophie Knight 2009-08-06

I’d been pondering making a zine for years. Every time the mediocre English summer rolled around, I plotted and planned and scribbled, but never got near to publishing. Then, in April this year, I met the Zine’s Mate collective, which finally spurred me on to get it together and produce something to meet the deadline.

My original motivation, however, was probably similar to a lot of zine-makers; part sentimentality, part nuttiness and part confidence issues. Sentimentality because I have a certain fetish for paper and the printed format, and wanted to make something tangible rather than a mess of bytes. Nuttiness because only a control freak can be focused enough to make the whole of a zine themselves, beginning to end. And confidence issues because while you lack faith that any publisher would accept your work, you somehow trust yourself to make something readable and popular.
The 'lunatic moon' zine by Sophie Knight.
There’s been a lot of noise made recently about the print industry and its supposedly imminent end; sales of newspapers, magazines and books are definitely falling as more people chase convenience and ‘pure’ information on the internet or mobile phones. But there is a sense that we are over-saturated with dull, meaningless blogs and haphazard streams of temporary information, and a kind of longing for good old-fashioned paper formats. Self-publishing enthusiasts and zine makers are therefore quite like vinyl obsessives, scorning convenience and hanging onto something more awkward for the rather nostalgic sense of tactility it offers.

Oddly enough, the rapidly shrinking audiences for paper formats didn’t really worry me when I thought about making a zine. Most people warned me that I had to carefully consider my ‘target niche’. To be honest, I didn’t give a damn. The beauty of making a zine is not only that you can indulge your control-freakiness, but also that you can write exactly what you want, without having to answer anyone. Zine makers usually sing the joys of ‘punk publishing’, telling people how easy it is: write, print, staple, distribute. But this means that an awful lot of zines are just like blogs: spur-of-the-moment brainfarts that are aesthetically unappealing and ultimately disposable.

I have to admit that I was never really engaged in the ‘zine scene’ in England, finding too many of them shoddy print-outs on some kind of toilet paper with perilous staples poking out all over the place and a particularly insidious finger-staining ink. The fonts were always stupidly small or blurred or ugly, as if warning you that the content wasn’t worth reading.

Fortunately, there seems to still be a kind of reverence for paper in Japan that made me want to raise the bar. Walk into any book shop here and you’ll be confronted with a plethora of beautifully printed and bound books in a variety of paper and textures. I’m all for the punk aesthetic, but I think if you want to beat the doom-mongers of the print industry, you have to make something that is worth making in 3D; something for the paper fetishists who covet real, tactile objects. Those who want convenience will always have the internet.

So for me, it was always about format, format, format. I chose to make my zine in a concertina shape, with little booklets of essays between each fold, and every one hand-sewn and cut. This means, of course, that the content also has to be up to par, because you want to attract and hold readers enough to appreciate the whole thing as a piece of art. I spent weeks batting emails back and forth with an architect, and read books and academic essays on all the subjects to make them as well-rounded as I could, even though I had no idea who would end up reading them.

I’ll admit that it was a struggle to make, and I won’t easily forget the many hours spent painstakingly formatting, printing, guillotining and sewing them together. But it was worth it. Handing the final ten into the zine fair, I felt somewhat like a proud parent waving their child off on their first day of school. Strangely, I really didn’t care about selling them or recouping the cost of making them, as I really wanted to keep them myself, or give them to people I knew.

My worst nightmare is a future dominated by Kindles, iPhones and mobile phone novels, with print consigned to the rubbish heap of history. But something makes me think that people just won’t allow that to happen. There is something very satisfying about holding reading material in your hands that a screen will never capture. The turnout at Zines’ Mate would also seem to confirm this, with most of the zines on show beautifully put together and well worth cherishing. The beauty of making a zine to me is therefore not the simplicity or the ease of it, but rather the gratification you get from making something material. And if enough people are motivated enough to publish what they like and care about, we might just pull print back from the brink.

Sophie Knight

Sophie Knight. Born in what she likes to refer to as the ‘Saitama of London’, Sophie's fetish for foreign languages and hatred of puddles meant she always had itchy feet. After enduring a homestay in Fukuoka and bussing her way through South America, she studied Social Anthropology in London, which convinced her of the essential essence of mankind... and that she had to get away from England. She came back to Japan after a brief stint in Barcelona to find some of the electric nuttiness and zarusoba she had been craving. She now spends her days deciphering Japanese newspapers, translating, writing a zine, speeding around Tokyo on her racing bike to discover tucked-away galleries, making bentos, injuring herself pole-dancing and getting used to the fact that nothing interesting is ever at ground-level in this city. » See other writings


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