The World of Zines with Mal
I would call my friend Mal a connoisseur of many things within various music scenes—especially of the punk variety. With the release of her new zine’s first issue, I thought to have a chat with her today about what makes a zine a zine, her inspirations, and the culture behind all of it. Any websites mentioned have been linked at the end for your convenience alongside being hyperlinked within the article.
Rya: So, Mal, starting off relatively simple—who are you? Tell me a bit about yourself.
Mal: Well! I'm from Ireland and I'm 18. I like music and music culture a lot. I'd consider myself a punk, but I don't have much in the way of punk "cred". I've had various writing projects and ideas over the years, but none have really come to fruition. I've given up (often before I've started) on fanfiction stories, novels, webcomics, a magazine, a newspaper, bands, songs, organising live gigs, a podcast, a youtube channel, and blogs.
Rya: Any specific reason why you give up on these projects?
Mal: Laziness. As well as a (deceptive) feeling that having a good idea and telling people about it, or having a good idea and thinking about it, is as good as actually doing it.
I get all the endorphins or whatever before I actually do any work. Just from being happy with an idea or other people's response to my suggestion. So I don't feel any motivation to follow it up... at least I think that's why.
Oh, and my planning skills are a bit deficient, and I can turn into a bit of a perfectionist. Cut me off—I could harp on about my deficiencies for hours.
I get all the endorphins or whatever before I actually do any work. ...So I don't feel any motivation to follow it up... at least I think that's why.
Rya: On it. Let's talk about zines. For people who may be unaware, what makes a zine an actual zine?
Mal: A zine is a DIY magazine.
To me, anyway, that's the best definition of a zine or fanzine. Zines aren't professional and most people don't expect to make money from doing them; they exist for a small audience, not a mass market, and they're made with whatever the author can get.
There are different zine communities and traditions, like punk music zines or fanfiction zines, but a zine can be about anything and be in almost any style. So long as it's a kind of magazine shape, it's created informally and it's not written for a mass market, it's probably a zine.
Of course, though, you can't really define what a zine is any more than you can define what punk rock is. Something that chooses to call itself a zine is probably a zine; a band that calls itself punk is probably punk. If you ask 10 punks what punk is you get 10 different answers, it's about the same for zine makers I think.
I'm sure that to some people my zine isn't a real zine.
So long as it's a kind of magazine shape, it's created informally and it's not written for a mass market, it's probably a zine.
Rya: One of those open-ended things, I get it. Speaking of your zine—has the recent world news affected any inspiration or what not?
Mal: Not really! I've only released one issue of My Anarcho Pop Zine so far, although number two is in the pipeline (even though it's months late!) The zine wouldn't exist without the coronavirus crisis—I started it because I was home all day, and because I was on my computer, pretending to do my homework. The actual content of the first zine had almost no relevance to the coronavirus crisis. Procrastination drove me to start my website, nuclerosea.neocities.org, which initially I used to publish a diary of the pandemic.
I think that browsing all the sites on Neocities (which is like a DIY reboot of Geocities) encouraged me to be creative because Neocities is filled with one-person websites, where one person has set up their own website, coded it themselves and created every bit of content in the site, which might host their music or their art.
Oh, I should also mention that I think I first learned about the software I used to make my first zine (the Electric Zine Maker) through a Neocities site, quarantinezineclub.neocities.org. The owners of the site, who normally sell zines and run a zine archive (I think), set up the site to encourage submissions to an archive of zines made during the Covid quarantine and posted prompts for each month.
The May prompt was to make a zine with the Electric Zine Maker software, and it seemed like a fun idea. I didn't feel much pressure to create something really good since it would just be an online zine, available for free. It felt like doing a drawing in MS Paint—you don't hold yourself to the same standard as you would if you got out some pens and pencils. Anyway, I downloaded the software and made a zine that morning.
The content of the zine came from things I had been interested in for a good long while. None of it was new, but I had the time and opportunity to research and present it all because of the quarantine, and because of the web-browsing habits I’d developed during quarantine. To sum up: the content of the zine came from certain subjects that I’d been interested in for a while, but the existence of the zine and its format come from the Covid crisis.
I didn't feel much pressure to create something really good since it would just be an online zine, available for free. It felt like doing a drawing in MS Paint—you don't hold yourself to the same standard as you would if you got out some pens and pencils.
Rya: That makes sense. With My Anarcho Pop Zine, how does the content in it correlate with your interests?
Mal: Issue One was very much a one-woman show, because I wrote it and designed it, so I think that it does closely reflect my interests and my perspective.
My twin influences in making this zine were probably [the] Kill Your Pet Puppy zine and Smash Hits magazine. Kill Your Pet Puppy was an anarcho punk zine in the late 70s/early 80s that ran for about six issues, all of which are available online at the Kill Your Pet Puppy website along with stacks of related material. Smash Hits magazine was a commercial pop magazine aimed at young teenagers, which started around the same time as KYPP [Kill Your Own Puppy] but lasted till the early 2000s.
I have a copy of a Best of Smash Hits book, but many 1980s issues of Smash Hits (as the 80s was allegedly the magazine's heyday) are available online. I mostly read them through the Internet Archive, which I also used to upload my zine.
I like punk rock, but I like pop music as well. When it comes to writing about punk music, there's always an argument over whether punk is primarily an art phenomenon or a music phenomenon, whether it's pop music or an art project. I sometimes take the side of those who claim that punk rock is all about pop music: it's not entirely true, any more than it's true that punk music is all about postmodernism or situationism.
But I like music history and I like pop music history, so it suits me and my feeble intellect to read about punk and its relationship with mainstream pop.
I have a fondness for new wave music and early 80s pop music from the UK, all of which is pop music that was influenced by punk, that maybe existed because of punk, but occupied a different place in the music world to punk. Punk made much more of an immediate impact on pop in the UK than in the US (in my opinion).
I could rant on and on about why this relationship exists, but in any case I find it interesting and I'm always looking for connections. I've experienced punk mostly as something that's already happened, because it's been interpreted for me by my parents (to whom punk pretty much means late 70s/early 80s New York and UK punk) and by music writers from the UK, many of whom were shaped by that late 70s/early 80s period. That was when the UK music magazines were important.
So this zine is an attempt to write about the connections between pop music and punk music, from an anti-authoritarian, critical standpoint that's influenced by anarchist politics but also by the 2010s social justice worldview that I knew through spending time on tumblr: interested in how society works, interested in oppression, interested in the media and in writing and in art.
I think I’ve described my background more than my interests here, but I suppose just as I'm interested in the history of punk as much as the music, I tend to wonder why I like things as much as just enjoy them. In summary, the zine expresses my personal ideas and thoughts very closely.
So this zine is an attempt to write about the connections between pop music and punk music, from an anti-authoritarian, critical standpoint...
Rya: Do you want to go in depth about design influences?
Mal: Just a little bit maybe. The tone of the text in Issue One is influenced by the house style of Smash Hits. Smash Hits used to have an informal tone to its reviews, interviews, and reports, and often referenced running jokes and invented words. I am consistently delighted by the ridiculous language spoken by Smash Hits. The idea of including fun facts about the bands is also inspired by Smash Hits.
Putting in additional text sideways next to the articles is inspired by KYPP, issues of which have text crammed in wherever necessary. The idea of a Top 10 is also from KYPP.
The "cover story" (Crass graffiti in a Wham! music video) is a combination of the kind of music covered by KYPP and by Smash Hits. The pointlessness of the story is mostly me, although I think I was also influenced by Steven Wells, a music journalist and former zine editor whose work I've been reading the last few months (partly for personal entertainment, partly for research for my website).
Wells used to write a filler piece in the NME about almost anything, as well as reviews and interviews. One time he investigated whether the mascots for Weetabix cereal were skinheads. That's the kind of trivial writing I aspire to with this zine.
The zine has been supported and influenced by discussions I’ve had with friends on Discord servers, and going forward the zine will probably involve more collaboration. Back in May I solicited contributions for Issue Two and got some responses.
Other influences include Popbitch newsletter and various zines I've been browsing on the
Rya: Do you have any thoughts on how zines progressed over time, and how they may continue progressing?
Mal: I don't feel very qualified to answer this question, because I don't actually know that much about zine making or zine history. That said, I do have a few thoughts.
Early punk zines have had a different afterlife as art pieces or as historical documents or examples of graphic design, objects from the past that are admired for retro reasons. They're part of the mainstream narrative about punk.
Later American zines like Maximumrocknroll haven't achieved the same artistic status, as far as I know, maybe because they're more like normal magazines with gig listings and ads and plain typography, that don't fit into the mainstream narrative of a punk explosion that quickly fizzled away (since MRNR, for example, ran for 30+ years in print), and because the people who read them and liked them (mostly) didn't go on to be super influential in UK media, or the art world.
The print zine has (as far as I know) kind of taken a hit with the explosion of the internet; that said, "alternative" people, be they techno-hippies or punks, were some of the early adopters of internet tech so punk was and is well represented online.
Print zines sometimes seem to often be individual art projects or conscious attempts to revive an older style, from my (super limited) perspective on the way some zines are advertised. I haven't read that many new zines to be honest; I see a lot of ads for events I don't go to and things I don't buy, so my judgments can be shallow. That said, I think there is a tendency either to look backwards or to plug away at individual zines that are really just art projects, or even intended for self promotion or as part of an ex-punk culture full of academics and educators.
Looking backwards or being interested in retro culture doesn't have to just produce diminishing returns. There was always a strand of punk music and punk thought that looked back to 50s rock and roll in favour of the 60s, to garage music instead of millionaire bands with string quartets.
Can I make a comparison with Neocities? Neocities was created out of nostalgia for the world of GeoCities, and many sites reflect the aesthetics and format of late 90s/early 2000s personal websites. The site attracts people who are nostalgic, but it also provides a platform for new, DIY writing and art and allows people with all sorts of influences to express themselves, and there's an interesting mix of the new and the old that I really respect.
I think the same thing can and maybe will happen to zine culture: it may already be happening somewhere, in a zine I haven't bothered to read. There are plenty of smart, enthusiastic people out there who are interested in zine culture.
Print zines sometimes seem to often be individual art projects or conscious attempts to revive an older style... Looking backwards or being interested in retro culture doesn't have to just produce diminishing returns.
Rya: Do you have any advice to people who are wanting to get more into zine "culture"?
Mal: If you're interested in zines, read zines! There are masses of content available online for free, and lots available for reasonable prices as well. If you want to make your own zine, go ahead and do it; you don't owe it to anybody, including yourself, to make something really high quality. All the tools and resources are there you make your own zines, from software like the EZM [Electric Zine Maker] to free image editors that allow you to make your own graphics and design your own typography and almost anything you could ever want!
Online zine archives and collections that I personally like:
The Internet Archive has thousands of zines that can be browsed online or downloaded. Just look at the zine tag on their website, or check out specific collections. There are hundreds of issues of Maximumrocknroll online there, for example, from the 80s to the 2000s. A specific collection I like is the Sparrows' Nest collection, which has thousands of interesting zines and independent publications, many about politics as well as music or art, from the archives of a UK library of anarchist and anti-authoritarian writing. I liked Bad Attitude magazine and Girl Frenzy comics.
I've talked about Kill Your Pet Puppy already, but they're just great. So much material—zines, blog posts about the history of the zine and the zine makers and their friends, photos taken by the authors, audio downloads of gig recordings and lost singles... just fabulous, more stuff than I know what to do with.
The links page of girlandqueerbands.neocities.org has lots of links to cool online zines and archives. And the website run by its owner (mr617.neocities.org) also archives some really cool zines. I really like the conspiracy theory zine about how Kurt Cobain was totally lactose intolerant.
Oh, the Queer Zine Archive Project is pretty good as well, although their actual online archive seems to be a bit broken, the articles and pictures posted on their blog are really good.
If you want to make your own zine, go ahead and do it; you don't owe it to anybody, including yourself, to make something really high quality.
Rya: This is all super useful information, thank you. Finally, do you have any closing thoughts you'd like to share?
Mal: I don't know… Wham! were a good band, the early 80s was a great period for UK pop music, and anybody with an idea for a zine should go for it! Thank you for your interest—you can find Issue One of My Anarcho Punk Zine in the Internet Archive, and the next issue should be available there this week.
Links Mentioned (Chronological)
Electric Zine Maker
Quarantine Zine Club
Kill Your Pet Puppy
The Internet Archive
The Sparrows' Nest
Girl And Queer Bands
Queer Zine Archive Project
After being vaguely interested in zines for what feels like forever, this interview felt like the push I needed to delve deeper in reading and creating, as I hope it did for some of you. I thank Mal for doing this interview, and hope to have her back sometime in the future with another topic.