The following history lesson takes the form of descriptions of my past zines. Also see the I am a Camera and Disposable Camera links above.
If you’re wondering how you can find some of these zines, you can see what’s available in my Etsy Shop or see what I have in stock at distros like Take Care or Sticky. They can also be found at Urchin Books in Marrickville, Sydney, and at the Format Zine Shop in Adelaide. In general the only zines I have available are ones from the last few years. Once all the copies are gone I don’t reprint them.
With that out of the way…
I have been reading zines since the early 1990s, when I discovered them in record stores such as Waterfront, Half a Cow, Phantom and Red Eye. I read them for quite a few years before I felt brave enough to make my own in 1996, but once I did I found a world opened up for, and in, me.
What follows is a short history of the zines I have made, from 1996 to the present. My current zines, I am a Camera and Disposable Camera, have their own pages so detailed information about them is to be found there.
For now, let’s go back to a time before when no one had mobile phones, or blogs, and no one much used the internet. Cameras had film in them. Cassettes weren’t retro.
20 issues, 1996 – 1998
Psychobabble was the first zine I made. I wanted to make it a net for random thoughts and reactions to everyday things around me. I would take a notebook with me at all times and record any frivolous idea that came into my head.
A page of a notebook could read:
” phobia of paddle pop sticks, tongue against wet wood gross.
What is the best boy in movie credits?
When you’re bored you count things. For about two years I’ve been trying to work out how many fluorescent lights are between Town Hall and Wynyard.
Laboratories on cleaning powder ads – pristine women in white coats.”
I would enlarge on these musings in the zine, but only enough so they could be understood. I liked the ideas to remain kernels so I could cram in as many as possible; it was like an encyclopedia of the trivial, written by someone on amphetamines. I would hand write my thoughts in between a variety of cuts outs I had saved from newspapers, magazines and books. I chose cut outs which displayed the most nonsensical and petty aspects of the modern life.
I made twenty Psychobabbles, all in a similar style, although my handwriting became a bit neater as the issues progressed and I would started to devote whole pages to themes like the mystery of deep sea fish, or people who make houses out of bottles.
I haven’t read through an old copy for a long time, but I still think about them fondly. I think about the tin I had full of clippings from newspapers, the hours I would spend searching through books and magazines for strange, interesting things, and all the trivial, raw thoughts I managed to capture.
Laughter and the Sound of Teacups
1997 – 2002, 68 issues.
Laughter and the Sound of Teacups was my regular zine for five and a half years.
I would write about my thoughts and actions every 23rd of the month in a detailed, eidetic style. I tried to explain my days exactly how they occurred, including all the important tiny things that make up everyday life. The events on the 23rd were random, I rarely premeditated them, therefore days could be fairly sedentary, or involve complicated excursions, celebrations and weird coincidences. Times of tea drinking and craft, times of mania and excessive boozing, and everything in between.
Each issue felt like a miniature epic. It was pleasing to note the everyday occurrences of my life in such detail – I felt as if I was on a mission not to forget. I trained my memory so it was like a tape player on REC PAUSE. At any moment I can release the pause button and everything I see is etched into my mind, and on the 23rds, I would be recording all day.
I decided to stop writing Laughter and the Sound of Teacups because I was not feeling inspired by it anymore. Writing about my life so consistently was making me feel more like a character than a real person. I felt an excessive duty to my small audience, as if I had been set in front of a studio audience I desperately needed to entertain. Because I wrote it for so long, I had unleashed so many small details about myself and my days that over time the new issues did not feel as revelatory as I wished them to be. Often when I embarked upon an anecdote in a social situation, I found whoever I was talking to already knew it, because they had read about it in my zine.
Nevertheless, I am proud of all the 23rds I collected, and often have fantasies about graphing the details – how many times, for example, I mentioned shoelaces, or stubbed a toe, or felt unreasonable anger towards a member of the public for no reason. If I ever have a long wasting illness and have to spend all my time in bed, I will devote myself to this task.
1 issue, 1999
During February and March 1999 I was busily following hand drawn maps, catching trains and increasing my collections of strange ornaments, offbeat clothes and books with funny little pictures in them. As a result I have a good knowledge of Sydney’s suburbs, the public transport system, and how to deal with the grumpiest of old ladies serving at the counter. Op shops have remained one of my greatest passions. I worried for a while that all the good stock would dry up, but I see the potential in so many things that I doubt I will ever abandon my visits.
This zine commemorates all that is good about op shopping, and secondhand goods. I greatly enjoyed making it, every Vinnies day I would wear my pale blue uniform with long white socks and sagging boots and make sure I had a good supply of pens with which to make notes.
It has been long enough since I wrote Vinnies for stores to have been relocated, renovated and the shops to have introduced touchscreen cash registers. Despite this, I go to op shops for the same reasons. I like to be among such a random collection of objects, from all sorts of different people. I enjoy treasure hunting and finding good, interesting things. I have a mistrust of new objects (although I do enjoy crisp, new books sometimes, and unboxing a fresh appliance and releasing the scent of factories). New objects are threatening, I like second hand ones because they have already had a life before me, and thus seem more human.
My character has developed through second hand goods. I’ve always felt a bit disassociated from other people, and being surrounded by cast off objects gives me a sense of communion with others that is removed from the people themselves (like bookreading and eavesdropping, some of my other favourite activities). I enjoy finding the worth in things other people have tired of, it makes me feel as if I am living life in a deeper, more detailed way.
Vinnies is the zine of mine that people are most interested in, I am often asked if I have copies. I had plans to repeat it for a second edition, but I seem to be more busy and tired than I was in 1999, and it is hard to feel as motivated as I did in the world of 70s dresses under $5, before the Frankification of vintage. However in 2010 I made a “Blue Ribbon” reprint edition, that has the original plus some reflections on op shopping then and now.
By the velodrome/jetty I sat down and wept.
A split zine that I wrote with Tim in 1998, rather than weeping it would have been more accurately titled, I sat down and wrote, as that’s what we did. We both picked a place, in my case the Camperdown Velodrome (now demolished and replaced by a park), and for Tim, a jetty in Perth. The idea was that we would go to this place every day for a week and write something, observations, thoughts.
This is the only split zine I have done, and I feel tender towards it. I remember the excitement of getting Tim’s part of the project in the post, in an envelope that once held dental x-rays. I still have the original in this very same envelope, in the suitcase that holds all the originals of my zines.
I liked that we were completing this project on opposite sides of the country, and our respective halves are quite different, reflective of our personalities. Tim’s is more experimental, mine is more literal. This is reflected in the different covers, mine is of boots, Tim’s is of magnified words.
The title, for those who don’t know, is a reference to the beautiful Elizabeth Smart prose poem, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.
Shopping List Stories
1 issue, 2000
I started collecting shopping lists without thinking too hard about what I was going to do with them, it was just one of the slightly odd things I did to amuse myself. The interesting thing about them is imagining the person who wrote it, and what their life must be like, so it didn’t take me long to come around to the idea of writing stories about each shopping list.
This was my first fiction zine and contains stories about a gum addicts, a tomato glut, cockroaches, bakeries, old. folk, young folk, pen stealers, rats behind the fridge, trying to write on greeting cards, dog obsessives, coffee, twins, the romance of shoe repair…
By the way, if you are into shopping lists, take a look at The Grocery List Collection, which is an archive of thousands of the things.
1 issue, 2001.
After Shopping List Stories I decided to write another zine of themed fictions, this time based on an old children’s dictionary, “The Giant All Colour Dictionary”, published in 1968. I had amassed quite a number of these old children’s books from op shops and it was good to do something substantial with one of them.
Each dictionary entry included a sample sentence, showing how the word was used. I used these to begin my stories, one for each letter of the alphabet. Some of the sentences I really liked, such as (for fun) “The boys made fun of the boy riding the girl’s bicycle”. For this one I wrote a story about a boy riding in circles around a cul de sac, oblivious or uncaring that he was being taunted by other kids.
Other stories include: a mother complaining about her vegetarian daughter to the butcher, kids watching bears at the zoo, the type of people who pull all the paper towels out of the dispenser in the public toilets, greeting card designers, and taking walks at weird times.
Coming soon: A Little Bit Nice, Suggestions for a Better Name Would be Welcomed, News of the Vanessa Berry, Adjective Stories.