Sunday, 13 November 2011

Quick answers on photocopying, being free and the 'aesthetics' of fanzines

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a Manchester-based design student named Jenn Trethewey who is currently doing research into self-publishing, with a view to producing a map charting the overlaps between different types of formats in self-publishing. She asked me a number of questions about photocopying, the Shrieking Violet being free and the aesthetics of self-publishing. You can read her questions, and my answers, below:

JT: Why, when you started the Shrieking Violet, did you choose to photocopy and have a free fanzine?

SV: I'm afraid I won't really give you any passionate, ideological answers, as the way I publish mostly comes down to laziness and convenience.

I started off photocopying the the Shrieking Violet because of the immediacy – I could go from finalising the content to publishing and distributing it almost immediately. As there was no waiting around for printers or anyone else to deliver a finished product, it was all up to me.

It is very important to me that the fanzine is free so that it is accessible. Having a cost on it – even a small one, is a barrier to the casual reader picking it up. Also, if there was a cost, selling it would have to be regulated somehow – I wouldn't be able to leave it around to be picked up. Again, the process of distribution would lose its immediacy if some kind of transaction had to take place – it would limit where and how it was available.

The Shrieking Violet was conceived as an alternative guide to Manchester, as there are number of free city guides which are left around the city – in hotels, cafes, bars and other attractions. It seems that most of them are sponsored by big business and are very unimaginative – they mainly recommend shopping, or visiting the big city museums and galleries if you want some culture. I wanted to offer an alternative to that which was also free and could just be picked up in some of those public places, but gave a guide to things in the city which were free.

JT: Why, sixteen issues in, have you kept it that way?

SV: I would love to publish a fanzine on lovely paper with staples and make it a nice object to hold. There are a number of reasons why I haven't, most of which come down to laziness:

1. There are always mistakes and typos in the Shrieking Violet, however hard I try to proofread it. It doesn't matter quite so much so much if it is just photocopied, as a photocopy feels like a temporary object, but a properly printed publication would feel much more 'permanent' and I would want everything about it to be perfect.

2. Photocopied fanzines are quick, cheap and easy to reproduce – if I got a fanzine printed professionally it would be limited by print run and it would be harder to produce extra copies as and when needed if I ran out.

3. As i'm not really from an art and design background, I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the choice of different papers and qualities and ways of printing as I have never had something professionally printed before, but I do know how to use a photocopier. I grew up around my dad's collection of early 80s punk/indie zines, so I knew that photocopying was a long-established way of making fanzines!

4. Cost – it's important to me that the Shrieking Violet is free, and if I got it printed professionally I would need the money to do so, which would probably mean applying for funding, or asking for people to advertise, which would be another stage in the process of making the fanzine that would hold the process up.

So, in answer to your question about why I continue to photocopy the Shrieking Violet 16 issues in, it is about momentum – I decided momentum and keeping the project going (firstly as a monthly zine then bi-monthly, now quarterly) was more important than worrying about improving the print quality.

I would love to produce the Shrieking Violet in colour, but I have struck a balance by having a pdf version online which is in colour – and the vast majority of readers are online, important as it is to have a paper version as well.

JT: I'm looking at the boundaries of different self-publishing formats and how we define them, so I'd be interested from a zine creator's point of view, what do you think makes a zine a zine? Would you say this sort of aesthetic and free distribution is part of what a fanzine is? Or is it the content and motivation behind the publication which you feel defines it?

SV: Regarding content and motivation, I like to think you could call the Shrieking Violet either a fanzine or a magazine. The distinctions between fanzines, artists' books and magazines are often a lot less clear than is made out. I would prefer for the Shrieking Violet to be defined by the content and the quality of the writing inside it rather than how it is delivered. The content and standard of the writing and range of contributors is always the most important thing and not the format it is made in. Just like blogs – I feel they should be judged by the quality of their content just like any other website and not by the medium in which they exist.

I don't know if I can define what makes a fanzine a fanzine as they vary so much. I'm not sure there is an 'aesthetic' that can be linked to fanzines as they range from the very, very basic – handwritten and photocopied – to more 'crafted' artists' books. I have thought about this a lot over the past couple of years, and I have come to the conclusion that 'self-publishing is a far more helpful word/concept than 'fanzine' because it is much broader and encompasses many different types of publications and many reasons for publishing, but the thing that often unites them all is autonomy and the freedom to be your own editor and maker.

Jenn's blog:


Sophie said...

Like the honesty of this post especially the part where you attribute lazyness as the reason that you haven't made changes - Is there anyplace I can go to pick up a copy of the Shrieking Violet?

The Shrieking Violet said...

Hi Sophie, the best thing is probably to email me your address to and I will send you a copy in the post (it's free!).