March 14, 2002

B.B. (Before Blogs) One oft-heard complaint about bloggers in the post-9/11 growth period is the lack of any sense of history, the belief that the world began they day they first found Instapundit, Kausfiles or Andrew Sullivan, and only really became mature the day they signed up for Blogspot. I’m as guilty of it as anybody, having been made aware recently that several styles and formats I thought were unique to the current spate, such as the practice of breaking down an article into bite-size chunks in order to destroy it, in fact have a long and successful history on Usenet and beyond. This complaint, of course, isn’t unique to blogs, as anybody who has ever been a part of something that suddenly boomed can attest to.

In my case, one of the steps that led me to blogging wasn’t Usenet, message boards or anything else online, but rather zines, a precursor that I have yet to see anybody discuss. During its height (which, much like most people’s view of music, I consider to have taken place during my 18-25 years), the appeal of the self-published magazine was extremely similar to today’s blogs: the sheer joy in being able to make yourself and your opinions heard without the obstacles of editors or corporate media. Angry that a band, TV show or political issue wasn’t getting the attention it deserves? Just grab a typewriter or computer and find an unguarded copy machine and the situation is rectified.

In the case of my group of friends, we simply wanted to put out our own humor zine. There was, and still is, a dearth of quality humor magazines, and we wanted to rectify that fact. We all loved writing, considered ourselves pretty darn funny, and thought we could create the zine that we all wanted to read.

Unfortunately, despite our lofty plans and the decent quality of the zines, we only put out two issues. The writing, as predicted, was a lot of fun and went well, but the sheer effort and time involved in the layout, printing and distribution phases drained us a bit. I remember when the first issue finally arrived from the printer we had spent so much time on each page and article that nothing seemed funny anymore, and my first feeling was that we had done nothing but waste an enormous amount of time and a somewhat less enormous amount of money. To put it in perspective, using the time frame we were dealing with back then, the first Donk posts I wrote back in October would just now be reaching people, one reason why the idea of a "news zine" was somewhat unimaginable back then.

[On at least one level there was a similarity between our zine experience and some later online ventures: payment structure. There were two issues of our zine. We had the first issue professionally printed, at great cost and hassle, and set a $2 price. When this turned out to be a failure on pretty much all levels, not to mention the fact that it put us in the uncomfortable position of charging our friends and family, we ended up running off copies of the second issue at work then handing them out for free. We never got to the point of pretending that we could charge for advertising.]

Looking back, it’s clear that what stopped us wasn’t the writing, but rather the huge process of taking that writing and turning it into a format and medium that others could read. Obviously, there have been millions of sites created by people with the same desires that we had back then, but to me Blogspot is the next evolution of the zine ideal, of being able to write something and have it almost instantly available to everybody, with a minimum of hassle or technical skill. I'm curious to know if other bloggers share my zine background, and if they also see any connection.

Update: Gary Farber writes to inform me that he has discussed the zine/blog connection no less than a dozen times on Amygdala, including a link to this collection of zine history articles.
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