Where Will the New Era of Zines Take Us?


by Simone Tranfaglia

Throughout my childhood, I’ve always had some sense of the second-wave punk skateboarding culture; being the daughter of a self-proclaimed skate junkie. My dad, as a young adult in the ‘80s, was one of the curators in defining skateboarding culture in Palo Alto, California. Throughout our house, hanging pictures of old print pieces from zines and cover art fill our walls. The zines were the product of their lifestyle, a snapshot of their inspiration; this notion was not glossed over as a child. 

Unseeming, the 2010’s get to witness a new age of zine. Formally there’s no definition of a zine, which only falls into the seams of what these literary magazines represent; an artist's DIY manifesto for their niche group. They all follow the basic rules: self-published, low- budget, prints of artistic expression. 

In the past decade, artists such as Frank Ocean, The xx, and RL Grime have reinvigorated the zine’s relationship with music. Usually releasing them alongside a new album, these zines emulate the DIY sensibilities of their pulpy ancestors with a high-budget sheen. Similarly, FKA twigs leverages social media, ‘printing’ her zine, “AvantGardens” via Instagram. Begging the question, are these “modern zines” just another shallow ploy for self-promotion, or do they still hold the spark for artistic passion like their predecessors? 

For historical context, what was once the original wattpad for science fiction fans became the spark of punk-subculture and a political activism platform with no barriers. Zines originated in the science fiction fandom “Zinefan” in the 1930s. It opened the gates for artists and writers to express their ideas and create a collective network. Zines redefined what magazines could be, free of pressure from critics or censorship. Handing people a bullhorn to grab and speak to kindred spirits, creating a safe place for inspiration within communities to flourish. It wasn’t until the ‘80s that zines became the face of punk-rock subculture for an entire generation; giving people the freedom to express the aesthetic and ideals of punk; a political statement within itself. The third wave feminist movement, subversively known as the Riot Grrrl movement, was greatly fueled by zines in the ‘90s. Giving girls the platform to share personal experiences, building a community that fought against sexism in punk culture. For generations, the zine continues to be the blueprints for marginalized groups manifestos, enlightening political and artistic freedom. 

Frank Ocean, released his zine, “Boys Don’t Cry” in 2016 alongside his album, Blonde. Being a consistent spark of creative mimicry, other artists began to follow the path laid by Frank’s heavenly footsteps as if he had unearthed a new form of artistic expression. “Boys Don’t Cry” hit shelves for a limited time, free of charge. While this nonprofit ideal upholds the ideologies of zine culture, with artists like Kanye West, Tyler the Creator, and renowned photographer Wolfgang Tillmans as contributors to the final project, this was in no way a “DIY project.” No one should solely credit Frank Ocean for this kind of media art expressionism; however, he’s the first to redefine how artists use this sense of aesthetic branding for promotion in today's music industry. Frank’s authentic personal insight into his life is why people reacted so positively. Regardless of big budgets, the imperfections only add to the aesthetic playfulness, paving the road of authenticity over perfection.

Artist FKA twigs moves away from print completely with her Instagram zine, ‘AvantGardens.’ She uses the slides affect, and the square borders of each post, creating a digital clone of the zine’s abstract collage essence. FKA told Pitchfork that it’s “a way for me to express myself without any rules or guidelines.” This remains a constant pattern as art continues to move forward with new technology and mediums. Digital zines seem like an inevitable response to the modern generation’s reliance on social media. Today, so much of people's identities are plastered on the walls of social media. It only makes sense that the ideologies that made zines so special would move to platforms such as Instagram.  

Big names like Frank Ocean and FKA twigs aren’t the only ones continuing the legacy of zines; individuals and small niche groups use of zines still remain prevalent. However, these artists are paving the way to a new sub-genre of artistic transparency and zine culture. So far, their zines might lack a pinpointed niche group or objective statements, but their use of an authentic, DIY aesthetic has created another layer of transparency between the artist and fans. It's creating a bridge between the artist's intention within their music and the listeners’ understanding. The zine culture will no doubt continue to mold with new times and remain a unique medium of artistic expression for years to come.