"Z" Is for Zine

"V" Is for V-Search

You've all seen the RE/Search series of books, RE/Search series of books, haven't you? Those guides to various facets of pop culture, often burdened with adjective-heavy titles? Unless you were living in a mall when they came out, you saw the huddled masses demanding that their local video mart begin carrying the full Ed Wood catalogue after reading Incredibly Strange Films; you watched the hip and pseudo-hip brawling in thrift store aisles over Les Baxter albums after Incredibly Strange Music hit bookstores and head shops everywhere. Now, even mall-dwellers can no longer escape the RE/Search series or the fallout from its existence, as the act of being a weirdo becomes ever more mainstream.

Little has changed with the advent of Zines Vol. 1, though it is published under the "V Search," imprint, RE/Search co-publisher V. Vale's half of the now-split company. The physical format remains the same as the easily identified previous books (minus the adjectives in the title) and the cultural phenomenon that the California-based Vale has taken on this time is the ultimate meeting of copy machine and D.I.Y. ethic: that publication once called a fanzine and currently known simply as a zine.

"[Here's] a personal definition -- it may not be universal," posits the enigmatic Vale. "It's a publication that you do -- not for money. You do it because there's something you've got to get off your chest -- something you really believe in -- something you've got to say so you do it without any regard for profit or living off it or anything. That's part one. Part two is, it's not supported by ads. In my mind, I do not see how it's possible to maintain the purity of what you want to do and take ads. Sooner or later, one of those record companies that takes out ads is gonna say, `Hey, why don't you do an interview on one of our bands.' It's just got to work that way."

Vale's books themselves fall more or less into the category of "World's Largest Zines." Over the years, the RE/Search series grew from tabloid format to book form, yet his two prerequisites are still met in the obsession he seems to possess pursuing the off-beat and his claim that only after years and years of publishing has he become able to support himself through his tomes. The 11 zinemakers he has chosen to focus on in Zines Vol. 1 run the gamut of all that could fit into his definition; from the comical (Beer Frame, which reviews household objects like soap the way music zines review albums) to the political (likeOutpunk and Housewife Turned Assassin). He offers in Zines a few other definitions that support his own, for instance this one from Weird Flower #6: "What separates a zine from a magazine is not only budget, but the quirkiness, the individuality, the spirit and, yes, even the unavailability that made finding a good read make your day."

"I interviewed several people for Volume 2 who were doing zines way before the word [existed] and before there was a Factsheet Five [a periodical that attempts to list as many existing zines as possible]. They were just doing it because they had something to get off their chest and it was an outlet for them and a way to communicate their point of view and their graphics and their sort of art and I think that's valid. Of course, everything has changed now because we do have a Factsheet Five -- but you know I still get a few zines from people who really aren't aware of that, like the Slot Car Racing Journal which just goes to 100 or 200 people who are heavily into slot-car racing. The guy that does that is an older guy with a straight job -- you know he's clueless about the zine movement. He certainly doesn't know he is part of the `zine revolution.'"

Just what does that revolution entail? Will Zines the book(s) lead to the same clamoring over zines -- perhaps the ultimate limited edition collector's item -- that plagues the world of comics books, records, and seemingly any object that can be remotely defined as "collectible?"

"Oh, we are at that point absolutely this is definitely going to be an auction at Sotheby's -- but it's going to be complicated by the fact that it is just so easy to Xerox a zine," states Vale. "It's going to be really hard to identify the first generation but everyone is going to want the first generation, but then again the first generation is definitely better quality than the Xerox from a Xerox. So it's going to get complicated just ID-ing; a lot of my favorite genres are the zines, you know, associated with the quote-unquote Riot Grrrl movement from '91 and I have got a number of them now and they are actually Xeroxes from Xeroxes. I don't know what generation they are! But yeah, the first pressings, there's probably a way to tell. I've thought about this: Everything that can possibly [be] commodified will be commodified, especially if I do a book on it, it seems to instantly make it into something which is ridiculous but it's the way it happens. It certainly happened with this Incredibly Strange Music fad -- every single record whose jacket I reproduced just zoomed way up in value."

Keep in mind that Vale's books have never actually started a trend -- rather, they haveheld certain obscure joys up to the light for many people who might never have noticed them. After all, the RE/Search series would have gone belly-up long ago without at least a small but eager audience awaiting each new volume. Vale clearly is proud of providing such light, but he adamantly denies any feelings of guilt about its attracting the collector like a moth, turning what once were the delights of the "quarter bin" into overpriced double-bag untouchables, fit for keeping under lock and key.

"Actually, thanks to me, a lot of these records have been brought back as these pristine CDs that have been remastered and they don't have the scratches that my records have and I am happy to get them re-released rather than to have them die -- just have a dozen copies left in the hands of collectors and also preservation of culture completely and now, thanks to my projects, hundreds of records and CDs have been re-released as a consequence -- and you know if zine archives can be set up at universities and every zine that ever was can be reclaimed and preserved -- it's fine with me!"

Is it in the realm of imagination, then, that one day it will be status quo for Joe Six-pack to get home from work, plop some Yma Sumac or Mallet Mischief on the turnable, pull the handle on the La-Z-Boy and kick back with a copy of Meat Hook while waiting for the spouse to come back from the video store with a stack of John Waters movies? No, fortunately. If such is your bag, you can rest assured that you're not soon likely to find yourself fighting with Blondie and Dagwood over the last copy of Multiple Maniacs, even though nods in the direction of the odd and the individual are cropping up more and more in mainstream media (major labels signing neo-lounge bands and TV networks running "reality" programs like COPS are good examples of big corporations trying to take advantage of people tiring of the same old entertainment fare).

"It's not really true that everyone is after it because I honestly believe that the number of reading, thinking people with energy to send for things through the mail is certainly under 6 figures -- it's probably 5 figures in the whole country of 270 million. I know my Incredibly Strange Music books are highly influential but, really, the numbers we are talking of is like, 10,000 people bought copies -- that's like nothing compared to the vast influence they have had, so I can only conclude the movers and shakers read and everyone else follows but don't even know where the primary source was. The underground has always fed the mass media but the mass media serves up a phony diluted version that all the real blood has been drained out of -- or it's reduced to shock value."

Oh, and there's one other thing that should guarantee zines in particular the "quirkiness, the individuality, the spirit, and yes, the unavailability" that lends them their special magic....

"It takes a lot of energy to send for a zine -- you know," Vale ponders, "like you should really write a personal letter and enclose, like, $2 and stamps, and chances are at least 50% that you'll never hear from the person because people move so much -- these letters get lost with your $2 bills cause a lot of people that do zines don't even have bank accounts." n

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