by Shae Kahlo
In the 1990s, the zine (sometimes written as ‘zine) was the alternative to the glossy, look at me magazines of Cosmopolitan and even Rolling Stone on any newsstand or bookstore. Zines are often smaller in size, straight from the copy machine, and available on random. Street corners, cafes, and local flea markets and fairs.
The pamphlet-sized items have been around since the 1930s and generally customized for challenging mainstream media or perception. (Different from yellow journalism which can appear in either mainstream or underground publications). They were imperative to punk bands getting their name and shows out to potential supporters in the 1980s and became the new face of grassroots journalism in the ’90s. From that decade, I heavily associate zines with the riot grrrl music movement.
The riot grrls represented third wave feminism. At its height of exposure and influence (aka MTV News taking notice and a caricatured shout out on Roseanne), the zine was greatly distributed as means to communicate their messages of female empowerment and speaking out against sexism, in addition to music concerts.
The movement was mainly projected by White women, an obvious problem in hindsight, as we continue to fetishize the 1990s. Women of color weren’t deliberately excluded but intersectional feminism was not riot grrrl’s calling. As a kid, I noticed the lack of melanin voices and later on in my late teens, felt that Black women talents like Yo-Yo and Neneh Cherry had represented a similar message of pre-Spice Girls girl power. I did enjoy seeing more girls with guitars, in their own bands, and with a lot to say. I’m still a fan of Babes In Toyland‘s Fontanelle, Bratmobile, L7, and my ultimate favorites from the canon, 7 Year Bitch and Sleater-Kinney.
(Kathleen Hanna, formerly of Bikini Hill, in a 2013 interview with SPIN, discussed regret at how women of color were nearly eradicated from riot grrl history. Over at Broadly, in 2015, their rightful place was returned and re-examined).
I didn’t read a zine in riot grrrl time, but I recall the images that looked like cheaper versions of my Lisa Frank sticker books that I treasured so much. Today, artists, like Frank Ocean, have adopted and released variants of the zine. Ocean released in companionship to his album Blond, a Boys Don’t Cry magazine/book, that was similarly assembled to Madonna‘s notorious 1993 coffee table book Sex.
Fashion has hyped up zines too. In 2011, YSL released paperback Manifestos (black and white photography of the A/W 2011 line) that had the fashion devoted from Milan to New York scour the streets (literally) for an exclusive, free copy.
Zines, and the zine spirit, are still produced in more humble formats by independent and non-profit groups, artists, and organizations. On Saturday, November 12, a small festival called Print & Zine was held in Brooklyn, New York at the New Women Space. At 188 Woodpoint Road, The Bettys, Suffragette City, Got A Girl Crush, Pretty Dirty Press, MATH Magazine, Selfish, Tom Tom Magazine, La Motocyclette, and illustrators, gathered to promote and ascend feminist and womanist words, leaders, workshops, and iconography.
Got A Girl Crush was established in 2009 by former bi-coastal friends Meg and Andrea who are now both based in Brooklyn. They run a blog, obtain a shop of GAGC merchandise, print zines, and an annual hard copy magazine. For $15, I purchased Issue No.4 from last year. I was moved by the cover of a water colored painted brown skin woman, wearing a star designed outfit. Her face was void of features but filled by an ablaze sky behind her. And her Afro accented by a red star.
I read Issue No.4 the following Sunday and I can attest that the content is of quality, in-depth, and the presentation gregarious. Stocked with interviews and profiles of women as diverse as their passions or jobs, I read about painter Faythe Levine, Make Love Not Porn founder Cindy Gallop (a fantastic feature), and artist/activist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, known for her Stop Telling Women To Smile wheatpaste based portraits, to name a few.
Hayley Blatte was one of the artists there to showcase her artwork at Print & Zine. Her pens and pencils are inspired by pin-up models, and these classic examples of female sex symbols are given the unorthodox supplements of mustaches and body hair. Hair is left untamed or grown elsewhere and everywhere copiously.
Blatte’s most fascinating drawing was of a woman with shaded skin tone to reflect brown skin, a white mask, a beautiful, huge head of curls, and bending over while gently pulling a ribbon out of her nether regions. Blatte explained that the image, “Every Woman”, was based on a real person she knew and their striptease act. The ribbon was her stage outfit.
Her artwork is starkly impudent. And yet, a charm coexists in this representation of female sexuality and beauty. It is openly bizarre in a way that brings to mind Robert Crumb, but not as derisive.
After I gave her $5 for a thin booklet of her Hirsute Heroines, Vol. 1, she was kind to slip me a postcard of “Every Woman”. Like most of the vendors and groups at Print & Zine, was she donating her proceeds to not-for-profits like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock in North Dakota.
The Bettys are relatively known within the pin and patch culture of Instagram. Identifying as a pro-women/LGBT collective from New York’s tri-state area, they are colorful, flamboyant and maintain shows and forums of their own. They were the only group I had heard of prior to Print & Zine.
I perused their table the most. On display were a handful of zines, buttons, photography books by The Bettys, and small to medium sized books by the like-minded artists they advocate for. I purchased Sodashoppe Punk Volume 1, an illustrated tribute to 1960s girl groups and their music such as The Ronettes, The Shirelles, and their favorite subjects of young love, and overall jukebox culture. By Kelsey Zigmund, her squiggly drawings with a color scheme of pink and black delighted me. I handed over my $8. Truthfully, I should’ve also picked up The First Time, a collection of women that shared their first sexual experiences in short stories. The few I sped read left this voyeur wanting more.
Print & Zine had an easy camaraderie to it, and the stance expanded if you were willing to chat it up and your brain picked about the state of women in art and society. I stayed about a half hour tops, heading out after I bought a Pellegrino at the bar. That wasn’t a long time to be there, but I was satisfied with what I supported and became notified of. The real education would commence once I had the chance to sit down and read Issue No.4.
As shown in the beginning, the mini-fest got me thinking about zines and the impact of independent brands, businesses, and the written word not publicized by a larger marketing head. It was encouraging to see the aforementioned groups at the New Woman Space just looking to be heard and seen, not shut out of the many revolving conversations on what women can do and are challenged to not to be able to do. The coolest factor being that blogs like Got A Girl Crush have been in effect since the late 2000s. Before feminism became a buzzword in popular culture and eager to capitalize on the concerns and efforts of the little guy in the media, once again.