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Queer Zines Steal the Scene at the L.A. Art Book Fair

In the prehistoric decades before the internet’s advent, independent writers and artists had limited options when it came to producing and distributing original works. Without the luxury of Kickstarter or Facebook, creatives relied primarily on zines to circulate their unique literary concepts. An abbreviation for 'fanzine,’ these DIY publications were cobbled together using photocopiers and distributed through mailings. While the process may seem antiquated in a new century dominated by photoshop and blogs, for disenfranchised LGBT creatives barred from participating in mainstream publication, zines were a forum for sharing subversive literature.

As an important chapter in the evolution of LGBT media, queer zines take center stage in the second annual L.A. Art Book Fair. Running Jan. 31 through Feb. 2 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (with an opening event held Thursday, Jan. 30), the event features books, art catalogs, monographs, periodicals and zines presented by more than 250 international presses, booksellers, antiquarians, artists and independent publishers. Highlights include The Classroom, a series of talks and lectures curated by David Senior; KCHUNG Radio, which will provide live coverage of—and will broadcast from—the fair; a number of rooms devoted to special projects; and a series of screenings, panel discussions and performances, curated by the fair in tandem with MOCAtv. The Contemporary Art Book Conference will make its West Coast debut for a one-day-only conference. But for gay and lesbian audiences, the most pertinent aspect of the L.A. Art Book Fair is the exhibit on queer zines.

The Queer Zines Exhibition, presented by Printed Matter and curated by Philip Aarons and AA Bronson, is referred to as “a historical survey of serial, independent publications with a queer sensibility, illustrating the trajectory of queer zine publishing from the early ‘70s to current day.” The exhibit’s literary display will feature the work of more than 20 publications, both contemporary and out-of-print zines, many of which are available for purchase. 

In 2008, Printed Matter released Queer Zines, a 200-plus-page catalogue of alphabetically listed zines (of past and present), buttressed by illustrations, reprints and excerpted interviews. This year’s exhibition coincides with the publication of Queer Zines II

While zines can be traced back to the pulp movement of the Great Depression, queer zines first rose to prominence during the ‘70s and enjoyed a renaissance in the mid-’80s. These publications tapped into the rebelious, countercultural spirit of young gay culture that often overlapped with the surging punk scene, resulting in prominent zines such as the groundbreaking Homocore. Besides providing an outlet for post-adolescent gay angst, zines facilitated a yearning for connection—a trait that still typifies gay culture to this day.


“Creators of many of the early queer zines were motivated by the need to find and build community,” explains Printed Matter’s Raymond Cha. “The DIY aesthetic and means of production of the first wave of queer zines practically guaranteed that people would connect to one another directly, creating a sense of belonging. As the gay/queer community has become more established and recognized, the current wave of zines frequently focuses on a single subject or group, celebrating diversity and individuality within the gay/queer community.”

While some millennials—armed with MacBooks and iPhones, granting them access to gay art, fiction, film and pornography in a matter of keystrokes—may perceive zines as an archaic form of communication and art, the Queer Zines Exhibition is an important window into a bygone era of gay history—one characterized by exponentially higher degrees of bigotry and shame.

“Queer zines provide documentation of queer history in its most expansive form,” says Cha. “In the 1980s and 1990s, queer zines such as Disease Pariah News played a role in shaping the discourse around HIV and AIDS, while modest publications from single authors from all parts of the country demonstrated that the movement and queer culture  was not limited to the big cities. Other zines—like the seminal Straight to Hell, which published the purported sexual experiences of its readers—are a reminder of when queer culture was far more fringe and underground than it is today. Today, zine makers use their publications as a way to express ideas outside the mainstream media.” 

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