Summer 2002

Alt space for fanzines

Zines

Edited by Liz Farrelly, Designed by Mike Dorrian & David Recchia
Booth-Clibborn Editions, £27.50,
US$ 39.95

I recently bought a beautiful book in Booksoup on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles. I bought it because there was no text on the spine and because half the cover is brown card, the other half white PVC with a metal plate glued on. I liked how it felt. The book is Catalog (reviewed on page 79), a book made up of spreads from 1950s catalogues. It is so much more than ‘just’ a book, it feels (and looks) like a work of art.

Bookstores such as Printed Matter, Inc, in Chelsea, NYC, Book Works in Shoreditch, London, and the recently opened Bookartbookshop in Hoxton, London, champion the idea of the publication as a work of art, as an alternative space, as an independent, democratic venture. As defined on the Printed Matter website, ‘The utopian ideal, and mandate, of this refined focus was that the artists’ book medium be consumed alongside a more traditional output of paintings, drawings, sculptures or photography. Indeed, these publications were not simply catalogues of pre-existing artworks but rather “narratives” intended to be seen in a printed, bound and widely disseminated format.’ In other words, these publications are usually by artists and are considered to be works of art in and of themselves, almost thought of as alternative gallery spaces.

A recent publication that follows the tradition of independent art books is Innocent Until Proven Filthy, published in limited edition. Written by Birmingham-based De Anthony Moncrieffe, co-sponsored and designed by Red Design (in Brighton), Innocent Until Proven Filthy is a collection of work by thirteen artists and photographers. The book’s structure is based on a musical score: a time scale with sound waves runs along the bottom of the whole book, keeping the reader constantly aware of its musical references. In sync, the table of contents mirrors a track-listing (complete with ‘duration’ for each section) format for an album. While this book aims to inhabit the context of an important tradition, it falls short. The musical score ‘theme’ is neither strong nor clear enough to thread the numerous elements together and left me feeling that the core (and purpose?) of the book ends up somewhat lost.

Zines, on the other hand, does work. Short for ‘fanzines’, zines share the same independent, democratic ethos as many of the publications on sale at Printed Matter and Bookartbookshop. In the book’s introductory essay, Liz Farrelly writes: ‘We’ve set out to take the pulse of this uniquely personal form of graphic expression at a time in its evolution when some say the zine is dead, mutated by the internet into home-pages, chat-sites or e-zines. What we’ve found, however, is a vast wealth of creativity; where form is constantly being reinvented.’ Offering both a forwards- and backwards-glancing trawl through the still vibrant world of these underground, self-generated publications, Zines brings this work together, paying special attention to the graphic language of zines, small presses and independent publications. Spreads include everything from Fuel’s matchboxes (containing photocopied flip books) via the ultra-lo-fi Shoreditch Twat designed by Bump, to Jake Tilson’s multi-media, interactive Atlas (issue 3 includes a 20-page, ‘bind it yoyourself’ book). Marrying inspiring visuals to a call for zines to be re-assessed in much the same way that other recent debates have asked us to reconsider the artistic merit of graffiti, Zines succeeds in constructing a positive forum, in creating an ‘alternative gallery space’.

Of course, the independent publication, like the independent record or film, can be bad too. Innocent Until Proven Filthy takes what should have been a fantastic thematic idea for a book and fails to run with it. Zines on the other hand, a book (published by a mainstream publisher, no less) celebrating a fiercely independent publishing substrata, takes a great idea and escorts it to its natural conclusion. Casting issues of merit aside, there is still a strong tradition of an alternative publishing space out there and it’s likely to be on sale next time you take an inspiration-sourcing trip to Printed Matter, Book Works, or Bookartbookshop.

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