Just occasionally cliches end up being true. One is that every day is a school day. A couple of months ago, I was at a conference. It wasn’t that useful, as it turns out, with the main benefit being able to catch up with a friend. At one point in the proceedings, I chummed my friend outside so she could get a cigarette break and I could get a sensory break. There were others outside the building getting their nicotine fix but sadly no others just getting a straight hit of being out of the room like I was. I don’t promote smoking but a lot of times the best conversations end up happening when folk are having a cigarette break. This was a library conference and the conversation turned to zines. At that point, I didn’t know what zines were and out of ignorance I asked what they were.
A zine is a self-published, often handwritten or generally low-tech publication on any topic under the sun. They have become more popular in recent years with zine libraries emerging in Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as London. The Glasgow Women’s Library, which hosted the conference I was at, does a lot of work with zines and zine making. I think they have a fair collection of them.
A zine seems to be quite similar to a fanzine, particularly popular in the 1980s and 1990s and often about music or football. Indeed my first encounters with fanzines came at the football. When I was a kid, I went to the football with my auntie and she usually had the latest copy of the now sadly defunct Mass Hibsteria (Hibs Monthly), the riotously funny, irreverent Hibs fanzine. Some of its contributors, like Ted Brack and Sandy Macnair, have since written books about the Cabbage. The last issue was a special one published around the time of the League Cup Final in 2016, which I bought a copy of outside Easter Road before a home game around the time. I just unearthed it and on the front is a photo of Jason Cummings, who now plays for Nottingham Forest, giving a ‘Come on then’ gesture to Hearts supporters after just scoring against them, with the legend ‘The Angel of the East’. Nutmeg magazine, the Scottish football periodical, featured a fanzine special in its fourth issue, with articles by former fanzine contributors who had gone on to become sports journalists, like Alan Pattullo of The Scotsman. Most clubs had a fanzine or several in the case of Dundee and Aberdeen in particular, most now gone and replaced by fan message boards and the like. One notable survivor is When Saturday Comes magazine, which doesn’t have much about Scottish football but nevertheless covers the football experience well, tending to miss out the big clubs and corporate mess that characterises our game.
When I was in my late teens, I was incredibly interested in comedy writing, particularly for television. I read a lot about American talk shows and also how The Simpsons was written. One of the most influential Simpsons writers, George Meyer, had been hired partly for a magazine he had produced with a few friends in the 1980s, more like a fanzine than anything else with a few photocopied pages circulated in a samizdat style, called Army Man. I produced a sort-of similar magazine called Daydream, with a few similar sort-of one-liner jokes, typed on Microsoft Word in Courier New font, but didn’t do anything with it. No trace survives. I did write a blog based on it, now long deleted, at a point when comedy writing felt like something I maybe wanted to do. I don’t any more.
I like the idea of producing a zine. Writing a blog is sort-of similar but coming out with something tangible and printed appeals to me. The thing is I’m not sure what to do. I was thinking just now about a short psychogeographical zine, about a walk or a journey, with pictures glued on like a scrapbook. Something came to mind there from an Ian Rankin novel. One of the main characters, Siobhan Clarke, had a line in one of them whereby she doubted there would be a magazine for her, covering music, Hibs and murders. For me, travels around cities might work, maybe beaches, waterfalls or museums. If I come up with an idea, I will let you all know, perhaps offering it up here. At this stage, it’s just an idea, a wee sideline. We’ll see.