Preserving the Underground: Zines in the MSU Special Collections

Zines (pronounced “zeens”) are self-published, small-circulation, handmade magazines, usually published by an individual or small group. They have been a mainstay of underground popular culture for the last four decades. The term originated as a shortened form of magazine or fanzine. They descend from the science fiction fanzines of the 1930s, in which science fiction fans and clubs would share stories and commentary.

The Punk Zine Explosion

In the late 1970s, zines became an integral part of the punk rock music scene. Punk rock embraced a back-to-basics “do-it-yourself” mentality – it was a youth subculture defining itself against the tastemaking dictums of mainstream culture industry “elites.” This applied to music and the printed word, as punks began to hand-make and self-publish their own magazines, relying on cheap, easy photo-duplication made possible by the availability of Xerox machines. Early punk rock zines like Sniffin’ Glue and Chainsaw bore witness to the punk scene with stories of concerts, commentary on their own life of poverty, calls for racial equality and social justice and bold, vivid graphics that came to define the punk aesthetic. Today, these serve as important primary sources on an underground culture that was underrepresented in its own time but contributed greatly to an awareness of the value of democratized, grassroots cultural production, which one might take for granted in the online age.

Zines in Special Collections

The core of Special Collections’ zine holdings is a collection of British punk fanzines from the late 1970s and early 1980s, the heyday of punk. For many of these titles, MSU is the only library in the nation to hold them, providing unique access to primary source material from this important chapter in the history of underground culture. Further collecting has grown our collection to cover up to the present day, documenting more recent generations of underground culture, including hardcore punk in the 1980s, the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s and the proliferation of zine publishing from a huge variety of marginalized voices throughout the 1990s.

Zines Get Personal – or, The Revolution Will Be Self-Published

Zines have been an outlet for many who are marginalized by mainstream culture. Personal zines, or “perzines,” provide especially intimate access into the thoughts and lives of everyday people – punks, vegans, midwives, single parents, squatters, gay, lesbian and transgendered persons – whose individual voices and perspectives are largely absent from traditional media. Anyone can make one and be empowered by telling their own story on their own terms, disregarding any assumptions about what or who is and isn’t “worth publishing.” Zinemakers tell their own stories rather than relying on others to do so. Today, zines defy the seductive ease of digital self-publication by continuing to be a popular print medium of underground cultural communication. Many major cities have healthy zine scenes and even annual zinefests featuring hundreds of zinemakers who still find it important to transmit their thoughts and ideas on paper. Zines transmit meaning not only by their text, but also in the visual, textural and other physical aspects of the zine as an object.

Zine Cover Zine Title and Description
cover for Search & Destroy zine: three hands holding binoculars

Search and Destroy

no. 1, (1977). Punk fanzine launched by V. Vale in San Francisco with money given by Allen Ginsberg. In addition to articles and reviews of East Coast and UK punk bands, Search and Destroy documented the San Francisco punk scene as it emerged.

Londons Outrage! cover with text saying Sex Pistols on stage!! at last!

Londons Outrage!

[no. 1], (1976). Published by Jon Savage (famed cultural critic and author of England’s Dreaming) and one of many British punk zines that emerged in late 1976. Londons Outrage featured early philosophizing on the roots and meaning of the angry brand of punk in the UK. “The cult of the powerful, the ‘I want it now & am gonna get it’ attitude & the generational dogmatix of the punx (I want everyone to be me) is just too right for the vacuum following failed hippie / acid mysticism & ethos – Hate & War takes over from Love & Peace …”

cover of Sick Teen

Sick Teen

unnumbered issue, (1981). Frenetic, absurd humor coupled with punk and hardcore album reviews filled the dense, micro-printed pages of Rev. Norb’s Green Bay, Wisconsin zine. Zines like Sick Teen and Lansing’s own Touch and Go galvanized the early 80s punk and hardcore scene in the Midwestern U.S.

cover of Cometbus with a sketch of a child


no.27, (1991). Aaron Cometbus’ personal zine, published off-and-on since the early 1980s, has morphed from documenting the Berkeley, California punk scene to featuring Aaron’s fiction, travel diaries and memoirs. The zine is often completely handwritten. No. 27 from 1991 contains 6 months’ worth of journals, interviews and stories during Aaron’s travels through 40 states, “mostly on a zillion different greyhound busses.”

cover of Short and Queer - shows a person at a microphone with a cartoon balloon saying I'm a boy!


no. 4, The Coming Out Issue, (2005). Kelly Shortandqueer documents interactions with family and friends upon his coming out as transgendered.

Giant Robot cover for issue no.1 1994 made in the USA $4 Sumo wrestlers sleep after a hefty meal

Giant Robot

no. 1, (1994). An example of rising from underground to mainstream, Eric Nakamura’s Asian and Asian American pop culture zine started out with punk roots but transformed into a nationally distributed, professional magazine.

Angry Black-White Girl cover shows woman looking up

Angry Black-White Girl

(2007). Nia Diaspora reflects on the complexity of living as a mixed race individual with personal and family stories of “passing” as black or white. “To say my dad is black and my mom is white makes it sound so simple buy my racial identity is anything but.”

MadWoman cover for Dec. 1997: INCLUDES: The Diary of a Radical Feminist with a Bun in the Oven! Shows drawing of pregnant, naked woman


, no. 9, (1997). Helena (aka Madwoman) takes queues from the Riot Grrrl scene and third-wave feminism in her zine. No. 9 features the story of her miscarriage “because I feel it is a common story that is seldom told. After my miscarriage, I discovered nearly every woman I talked to had either a similar experience or knew someone close who had. I wanted to tell this story so that miscarriage could cease to be a secret pain, but an event to be recognized and mourned.”

Factsheet Five cover from 1988 #26 shows dude putting on sleaveless shirt with zine logo on it

Factsheet Five

no. 26, (1988). Mike Gunderloy’s Factsheet Five played a key role in establishing the zine subculture of the 1980s and 90s. As a zine that reviewed other zines (Gunderloy reviewed every zine sent to him), the project served as a hub for zinemakers to network and for the uninitiated to discover a whole new world of underground communication.

First issue cover of Arthur picture of butterflies and dude saying pretension, pressed and printed for your pleasure


no. 1,(2009). East Lansing’s own Arthur was started by a collective of MSU students as both “a way to make people aware of good art in a world oversaturated with bad art” and “nothing but a small, student run magazine, funded with the founder’s grocery money and (against their wishes) her parents’ American Express card.” A not-too-serious literary and art zine.

Poly Oly Oxen Free! cover for issue 1 published in October 2012; a zine about polyamory; shows 4 oxen and heart shapes

Poly Oly Oxen Free!

no. 1, (2010). An amusing and constructive introduction to polyamory (i.e. mutually consented non-monogamy). The editor, Tops, feels “that there is a dearth of accessible information in the (radical/DIY) community about polyamory and nonmonogamy, and yet a lot of friends and comrades are in the thick of it, trying to navigate complex relationships.”

Ready for Love cover has a hot pink background

Ready for Love

(2007). Tyler Hauck documents responses to his Boston Craigslist “casual encounters” ad in which he masquerades as a “well-adjusted woman looking for a little straightforward physical gratification.” A hilarious and frightening window into the world of hooking up online.

Abrupt Lane Edge issue 1 cover cost $1 shows a photo of 2 cars done in blue in black

Abrupt Lane Edge

no. 1, (1992). A self-described queer punk zine by Christopher Wilde (who went on to co-found the Queer Zine Archive Project). With punk ethics and aesthetics, Christopher confronts homophobia: “Why are people afraid of homosexuals? Easy. Our love crosses the rigidly defined, religiously based ideas governing love and sexual intimacy between human beings.” He continues: “I seek … a dude whose love for me and my love for him will be a brick thrown in the face of oppressive societies everywhere.”

Sniffin' Glue... and other Rock'n'Roll Habits for Deptford Yobs! June 1977 cover shows 3 guys

Sniffin’ Glue

no. 10, (1977). Mark Perry (pictured in center) launched Sniffin’ Glue in 1976 shortly after seeing the Ramones perform for the first time in the UK. Filled with reviews of punk shows and records, Perry’s zine was the first punk fanzine in the UK, but was followed by dozens more in the final months of 1976 and into 1977. This first generation of UK punk zines established the aesthetic that would persist in zines for years to come.

Temp Slave! cover for issue 5 shows cartoon of man chained to a wall saying I'm free to go at anytime... It's just that I need the money

Temp Slave

issue 5, (1995). Editor Keffo assembles rants and firsthand stories from employees of temporary employment agencies, like Manpower, Inc. Ironic and angry, Keffo and company lambaste the temp industry for exploiting workers.