Vanguard Party, Zines, and Zine Culture

--ViNnY and Krusty

What do Vanguard Party, Ben Franklin, the Russian revolution, science fiction lovers and punk rockers have in common? They have all contributed in some way, shape, or form, to the zine industry. What is a zine, you ask? ‘zines are not magazines; they are underground publications that bring to light problems with the government, racism, and sexism, they publish miscellaneous ramblings, music reviews, or in this case, anything that anyone sends in.  ‘zines express the thoughts and ideas of people that share common interests; or, the thoughts of anyone that has something to say. ‘zines are there to give the mute a voice. 

The origination of ‘zines has been blurred, because originally, ‘zine was a blanket term used to describe publications from unknown sources. Many modern day zine writers do it for the love, even if most are anonymous, or pseudonymous. Any publication with an agenda that is printed and distributed outside of the control of reigning powers, has contributed to the rise of ‘zines. The difference between established magazines and underground ‘zines: the almighty dollar. Magazines use money to make money, while dedicated zine-makers scrape together their pennies and bottles every week to get their publications out to the masses. Why would anyone want to work for pennies while looming on possible bankruptcy? ‘zines are produced to share different points of view with readers, and the desire to put thoughts on paper. ‘zines give a rise to culture.

Thinking of ‘zines, the image of angry, anti government, crusty punk kids that have a lot to say about the woes of being weighed down by the man arises. If I may interject, and ruin your rosy view, ‘zines were spawned from political loins, irony of ironies. It all started with Ben Franklins’ self -published pamphlets, Poor Richards Almanac, way back in the good old 1750’s.  The pamphlets distributed during the Russian revolution also had zine-like qualities.  There were also personal ‘zines, or perzines, that chronicled the life and times of families traveling the country during westward expansion.

The term zine is derived from the word fanzine. Fanzines started when a bunch of science fiction junkies put out publications in the 1930’s, and in the 1960’s about, you guessed it, science fiction. In the late 1970’and early1980’s punk rockers started putting out publications for underground punk bands, because record labels wouldn’t sign them. They started their ‘zines to give recognition to the up and coming bands like, Blondie, The Ramones, and The Sex Pistols. These ‘zines were started because punk was, for the most part, an underappreciated, underground music genre. The artists were forced to record and put out their own music and a zine telling what they were all about. These ‘zines came out to let anyone that gave a damn know what was going on in the world of punk rock.

Since Vanguard Party began, we’ve seen other ‘zines dedicated to anything you can imagine: Native-American fiction; a recent graduate’s experience as a woman on the job market; how to question everything; personal diaries; a handwritten zine about a HS kid’s challenges to school authority.  And these were all available at Tower Records, if that’s any indication of whether they’re making a mark. 

‘Zines are traded like comic books: they’re genuinely rare, and highly collectible.  ‘Zine creators often live off their creations – not from the money they make, because they don’t make any; rather, they often exchange ad space for food from restaurants, a place to stay, etc.  Effectively, ‘zine culture offers a look at what a barter economy might look like in the age of late capitalism.  It’s a challenge to authority in that it represents a latent alternative to capitalist exchange.

‘Zine culture has had enough of an effect on culture to prompt scholars and academics to investigate and research how they work, what they achieve, how they’ve affected print and other media, and how they participate in structures of power and resistance, authority and dissent.  The call for papers below demonstrates how seriously academics are taking ‘zines, their creators, their readers, and the cultures they foster.


Brent, Bill.  Make a Zine.

Profane Existence: Making Punk a Threat Again! (The Best Cuts 1989-1993).

Carlip and Block.  Zine Scene: the Do It Yourself Guide to Zines.

Further Reading

I. Web Sources

Friedman, R. Seth.  “An Excerpt of A Brief History of Zines.”  <>.

Wright, Fred.  “The History and Characteristics of Zines.”  The Zine & E-Zine Resource Guide.  <>

“Fanzines Explained.”  [originally published in American Journalism Review.]  <>

Row, Heath.  “From Fandom to Feminism: An Analysis of the Zine Press.”  Echo Zine Distro.  <>.

II. Books

Brent, Bill and Paul T. Olson.  Make a Zine!  Black Books, 1997.

Friedman, R. Seth Friedman.  The Factsheet Five Zine Reader. 

Block, Francesca Lia and Hillary Carlip.  Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to ZInes.

Kennedy, Pagan.  ZIne: How I spent Six Years of My Life in the Underground and Finally…Found Myself…I Think.  St. Martins.  1995.

Duncombe, Stephen.  Notes from the Underground: ZInes and the Politics of Alternative Culture.  Verso Books, 1997.



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