Image from 'This is What Makes Us Girls' zine by
Image from 'This is What Makes Us Girls' zine by Talia Ramkilawan

To Zine or not to Zine? – The cultural significance of self-publishing

The word ‘zine’ is derived from the term fanzine, referring to a publication form that first started circulating in the 1930s. During the 1970s fanzines translated into a more developed type of publishing with the then popular punk fanzines and later the upsurge of queer and feminist driven zines in the late 1980s. This was the result of the fanzine form moving away from fan culture and clearing a space for zinesters who felt misrepresented by mainstream media to have their opinions expressed in print. Zines have been described as “non-commercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute by themselves”. With developments in technology, zines have shown growth by incorporating more diverse content such as personal reflections, special interest, literary zines, and fanzines. The unifying elements of zines are their independent production, writing, and design, existing outside of the fringes of mainstream publishing. Zines explore topics that are frequently ignored and overlooked by mainstream media and play a pivotal role in representing the possibilities for counter-hegemonic transformation. Being independent of commercial contemplations and viability, zines address a smaller audience of like-minded individuals and can act as a safe outlet for self-expression (Bold 2017).

We are living in a time where there has been a large-scale resurgence of older forms of content creation and storing. This can be seen when looking at the popularity of film photography in recent times and the ‘coolness’ that is associated with vinyl, tape and the early ’00s aesthetic. We are currently living in the golden age of paper and there is an increasing interest by creative sugar babies to voice themselves through self-publishing. To find out more about this phenomenon I spoke to the creators of two new South-African zines, ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ and ‘This is What Makes Us Girls’.

Image from ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ zine

‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ is a zine created by Capetonian creatives Keenan Oliver, Mzonke Maloney and Dumi Mparutsa. This zine uses the act of waiting for someone to arrive, specifically Joshy Pascoe, as its basis. These zinesters are looking at defining image use as a colloquial language combining the images used with news headlines from the day that they were waiting for Joshy’s arrival. This combination of news headlines as image labels is intended to mimic the way that text is added to imagery in meme creation. They explain in our interview that this union is imposed as an emphasis on the disparity of news image reception in contrast with socially constructed images and how they are received.

The idea for the self-published piece was brought to life after Joshua Pascoe saw an image of Keenan on an insta story which led to Joshua’s instant engagement. Evidently liking what he saw, he jumped on the DM train and asked Keenan for an impromptu shoot in which he planned to finish the remainder of the frames left on his roll of film. The images that made it into the zine were captured while the act of waiting on Joshua took place. When asked why they believe the act of waiting for someone’s arrival was significant enough to base an entire zine on they tell me that their self-published content is aimed at challenging the entire concept of significance in relation to the fundamental elements of image creation.

Image from ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ zine

“The democratization of image making as an industry and a practice, has rendered all images equally significant, specifically within the cultural/social space. Our deliberate use of suburban tedium and non-activity looks to further emphasize the fact that there is no longer an accurate barometer, used to gauge the importance or non-importance of an image.” This statement holds a considerable amount of weight as we are living in a time where there is content on nearly every subject imaginable. We are bombarded by content whenever we open our web browsers. From small pop up adds advertising weight loss products, to celebrity scandals, food recipes, people dyeing their hair with Nutella spread and artistic short films of girls smashing their faces into food (yes I’ve actually watched this). The list is never-ending. Curating your content is a rather new idea and the first time I stumbled upon it was in the book by Michael Bhaskar titled ‘Curation – The Power of Selection in a World of Excess’, published in 2016. This book is a rather useful guide to removing actual bullshit content from your cyberspace experience.

The team behind ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ explain that this zine was a way for them to express their views on the consumption of news imagery, and what people’s reactions are to them at present. “The rapid technological development of the various image generating mediums has prompted the reimagining of images, as more than just ‘artifacts of technology’ but rather as what Hans Belting has termed as being ‘the boundary between physical and mental existence'”. The inquiry addressed within this zine attempts to create a discernment between images within mental existence and images that move into a physical space within our current social context. “What becomes urgent and what remains trivial.”

Image from ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ zine

“I could somehow watch the news and instantly disconnect from the images and their implications (these images would not transcend past mental existence), yet Joshy could watch an insta story and respond immediately, bringing the image to the fore of his physical existence.” This zine thus questions the relevance of news imagery and its significance in modern day society.  This is done by almost saying that their social media interactions that led to a photo shoot and zine were more significant and impactful than news headlines were. They were more inclined to interact with a social post than they were to read the news of that particular day. And let’s be honest, I don’t engage with the news much, I can, however, tell you what my insta connections were doing this weekend in excruciating detail.

News headlines were used as a form of tagging in this zine which is explained by the team as follows, “In attempting to synthesize those two thoughts; we realized that whilst we were waiting, absorbed by our own daily tedium and taking pictures of mundane suburbia (which is significant to us), much more “significant” events were taking place around the country, and the reconciliation of these two events occurring simultaneously would create the significance of the moment.”

Utilizing screenshots from the DM thread between Joshua and Keenan, a timeline is visually built to create a context for the imagery that rests on the opposing pages. This timeline provides a temporal space in which the events were taking place and aided in establishing the overriding narrative of the zine. This zine is in my opinion, a storage space for a ‘live’ event taking place and is almost a self-published insta story/documentary piece of work addressing a complex question. All the content within the zine questions the idea of significance. The team tells me that these images are significant because of the mere fact that they exist.

Image from ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ zine

Explaining the connections made between social media, the act of image creation, texting and newspapers the creators tell me, “Whether it is the form of a meme, post or photo sharing, social media has made photographing a part of colloquial dialect for our generation. News making (documentary photography) was the most impactful form of image production from the past couple generations, but no longer holds the same weight, due to the rate at which images are being produced. The news now exists in synthesis with this colloquial/new language. The news of the day includes personal images, memes and other forms of social imagery.”

This zine considers itself an anthropological study. It is explained as, “Regardless, the mass production of art means that all of art has dissolved into life or more accurately all of life has dissolved into art and therefore an inquiry into the use of medium must be considered anthropological.”

Image from ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ zine

Following my discussion with the creators of ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ I spoke to the young interracial queer couple behind ‘This is What Makes Us Girls’ zine, Boni Mnisi, and Leal after the launch of their zine on the 30th October in Cape Town. Boni expresses that the zine came about rather unexpectedly, “I wasn’t even entirely sure how to create one when I decided to announce to my Instagram followers that I was going to do it. I wrote and shared a painfully mediocre poem on my Instagram story and quickly explained it away as a sample of writing from a bigger body of work that I was trying to put together. I got DMs from so many people who were interested in getting involved and kinda got trapped into doing what I said I was going to do.”

Cover image for ‘This is What Makes Us Girls’ zine by Gina Hendrickse

The zine’s name was inspired by Lana Del Rey’s 2012 single that shares the same title. Boni regrets this title and explains that at the time she did not consider the exclusion that is linked to the word ‘girl’. “While we do actively recognize that trans and non-binary people who identify with our message may not themselves identify as ‘girls’, the word should have no place in our work from now on. As an intersectional feminist zine, we have an obligation to protect our trans and non-binary family, which includes eliminating the violent language that we have ourselves mistakenly employed. We want to rebrand and come back with something more representative of the community we hope to create. As of 2018, this working title is dead.”

‘This is What Makes Us Girls’ is made up of mostly contributed content from South African creative womxn that is bound together by Leal’s illustrations. This zine which consists of an online and print version made use of social media to promote itself.

Photography by Alessia Dossantos

Speaking about the launch of the first issue Boni tells me that they were overwhelmed by the response they received. Only expecting roughly 50 people, about 250 – 300 attended the event. “We began with an exhibition of our Cape Town based contributors’ work and shortly after began our entirely womxn DJ line-up featuring the insane DJ-duo ‘No Diggity‘. It was an incredibly sweaty night of grinding and vogue-ing. People expressed their gratitude for having a predominately womxn space where they were able to be themselves and feel safe. So we had lots of titties! Lots of girl-on-girl action and not a voyeuristic penis in sight! It was unlike anything I’ve experienced at any party.” Looking at the response that this zine has received as well as the intention of creating a safe and inclusive space for all womxn it can be said that this zine gives a voice to an underrepresented community and a safe space for self-expression.

‘This is What Makes Us Girls’ features content created by Afrah Mayet, Jemma Rose, Alice de Beer, Lianne O’Donnell, Claire & Abi Meekel, Amu Mnisi, Keo Borjeszo, Sandra Wilken, Marcia Elizabeth, Kayo Fay, Jesmin, Sasha de la Rey, Phoenix Falconer +30 more. In order to get their vision going, Boni and Leal raised funds in the months leading up to the launch. “This project was made possible by our generous friends and family whom we are so grateful for.” The zine will be available in Johannesburg soon and a digital free version is in the works.

Photography by Gina Hendrickse

Zines are a powerful tool for self-expression and can relate to literally anything as there are no rules to making a zine and they do not need to be commercially viable. A zine can be an experimental exploration and can be about something that the creators feel are relevant which is the case with ‘Still Not Joshy Pascoe’ or they can address concerns or grant a voice to a community of likeminded often underrepresented individuals as is the case with ‘This is What Makes Us Girls’. The act of zine making has been described as the “mass amateurisation of publishing” (Bold 2017).  With the rise of digital folk culture over the decades, zines can be executed in a different way and do not necessarily have to be a physical print. Zines’ audiences are engaging differently today than they would have a number of years ago and zinesters are employing all the tools they have to voice themselves, such as social media. With the internet, there are more options for affordable cultural production with the ability of a global audience (Bold 2017). I believe that today, more so than ever it is easier to create a zine. Amateur creators have a space to explore a different type of cultural production with zines. So to zine or not? – yeah, if mainstream media won’t hear you out then please do zine! However, I do believe that there are many topics that were once considered experimental or non-commercial that have received attention from mainstream media in recent times. I like to think that people today are more connected, and aware of the narratives of some misrepresented and underrepresented communities which I attribute to internet culture. Zines do however still hold a place and creative sugar babies seem to love the heck out of them.

Artwork by Marigold Petros
Artwork by Kayla Armstrong

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