Spring 2011

From dump to designer bookshelf


Teal Triggs, (Thames and Hudson, £19.95)

It seems antithetical to the DIY fanzine ethos for a book about the subject to be as well designed as Fanzines by Teal Triggs (Thames and Hudson, £19.95). The format, designed by Therese Vandling [Amanda Vinnicombe edited it], stylishly frames this oversized zine-of-zines-cum-scholarly-chronicle. Vinnicombe’s clean yet nuanced typography is an intelligent counterpoint to all those typically chaotic covers and discordant typographic interiors – which is another way of saying zines are mostly sloppily amateurish.

The book design, however, accentuates the various visual anomalies and layout eccentricities. Furthermore, this format allows all the printed ‘objects’ to be viewed not as an undisciplined mass of cranky anti-design but as documents with integral qualities that purposely (or not) defy conventional design standards. In other words, regardless of each zine’s design flaws, they look great together on the page.

Fanzines have not been overlooked in cultural history. Stephen Duncombe’s Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture (Haymarket Series, 1997) is a superb analysis of the roots and routes of alternative publishing in the pre- and nascent digital ages. Triggs’s own Below Critical Radar: Fanzines and Alternative Comics From 1976 to Now (co-edited with Roger Sabin, Codex, 2002) was an important early step at chronicling the trends. But design has not really been the focal point of these histories. And although Fanzines is not entirely about unpacking the design tricks and tropes, the generous number of visual examples displayed to highlight the warts and all makes this a book to have, if only for the visual record.

A few members of the zine community have lobbed some online criticism regarding factual inaccuracies and unsanctioned reproductions.

But since fanzines were and are a means of instant communication, they are often credited in confusing and anonymous ways. Such errors or misinterpretations are bound to occur, even with the most careful research. It could be argued that Fanzines balances out any mistakes by its very existence, for it seriously analyses and respectfully displays this otherwise ephemeral medium.

Saving zines from the waste-dump and placing them in a smartly designed venue is the book’s virtue and value. Even those who have not followed the zine scene will find this a useful guide.

First published in Eye no. 79 vol. 20 2011

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.