The zine is a form of expression that is truly democratic. Anyone can start one and the only limitations are your own imagination and the efficiency of the photocopier you might be using. The zine has a long and distinguished heritage, from the punk zines of the mid-70s to the e-zines that came firmly attached to the coattails of the internet age. Yes, the zine should be celebrated, and that’s exactly what was going on at the South East London Zine Fest. I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect on my way to the Amersham Arms, a little pub just down the road from Goldsmith’s Art College in New Cross. The venue was pretty apt considering the huge population of art and design students living in the area. When I stepped into the tiny front room of the pub, it was nearly empty with no sign of any zines at all. Then I noticed an A4 sheet of paper tacked above a door with the words ‘ZINES THIS WAY’ scribbled in a thick black sharpie. I opened the door and stepped into a dark room of illuminated tables filled with pretty much every type of DIY publication you could imagine. The place was packed with people and the room was vibrating with talk of grass roots publishing and artistic integrity. I felt like Alice stepping into a glorious, hipster wonderland.
I tentatively examined a few tables, starting with a couple of guys who were from Portland (probably not that surprising given that this was about underground arts). They had some pretty good stuff, including a bunch of zines that each came with a cassette tape stuck to the front. I wondered around for a while before settling on a table run by Avery Hill Publishing. The zines were big, glossy and all looked pretty slick. I picked up a zine called ‘Grey Area’ by a guy called Tim Bird. It’s a trilogy of comic book stories about one night from the perspectives of three different people living in London. The artwork reminds me of a mixture of Daniel Clowes and Craig Thompson. That’s a good thing. I also got a few strips of ‘Offensive Derek the Badger’ by Goz which is nicely surreal. There were a few more stalls there selling ‘high end’ zines, but I decided to go for something a bit more rough around the edges, or should that be pages? The Flabby Dagger stall was just what I was looking for. This zine is a mixture of random articles and cartoons put together from a humorous, left wing point of view. The zine has a classic punk aesthetic, photocopied with what looks like cheap ink on cheap A4 paper, with loads of typos. It’s what comes to mind when I think of the quintessential zine: scuzzy and funny with a semi-serious political undertone. It reminded me of sitting with my teenage friends on a park bench smoking and drinking Mad Dog 20/20.
The last stall I came to was selling various literature and arts zines. This was the serious stuff. One of the zines was a collection of Christmas Day diary entries from famous writers and artists, others were what looked like DIY catalogues for art exhibitions. I picked up a copy of inc.zine #4 from this stall. According to the blurb, the editors pick an illustrator and a writer, and encourage them to work on a couple of collaborative pages for the zine. It was one of the most interesting zines I saw and the copy I got had a piece by Polar Bear in it.
Despite the decline of print publishing over the past few years, it looks like there are plenty of people ready and willing to keep it alive. I left the South East London Zine Fest feeling pretty optimistic about the future of underground print media. Basically, the world needs more people to start getting creative with photocopiers.