Zine Corner is an occasional series in which I talk about individual issues of zines I have come across on my travels. Some of these will be about RPGs, some of them will be about horror, some of them will be about folklore, and some of them will just be weird and cool. The rest of the series can be found here.
It is fascinating to me (as someone who has long had an interest in the worlds of science-fiction, horror, RPGs, punk rock, and photography) to see how the world ‘zine’ is used in different sub-cultures.
For example, the annual Hugo awards have long had a category honouring the year’s best fanzine and this category has long been a site of conflict: Nowadays, fans get unhappy when professionals use their clout to get nominated in fan-related categories. Before that people who published amateur digital magazines with distinct issues got unhappy when people started getting nominated for their blogs. I suspect before that there was an issue regarding whether or not your amateur magazine had be available in the form of a physical copy.
In the worlds of roleplaying games and photography, people have been quick to reach for the term ‘zine’ to describe self-published work because ‘zine’ has counter-cultural credibility but the steep prices of these zines combined with their larger print runs, expensive papers, and upscale production values suggest that when people in RPGs and photography talk about publishing a zine, they are actually talking about putting out a chapbook. The TNHC zine is named for The Nottingham Horror Collective and while it is printed on nice paper and has really quite incredibly high production values, the brevity, casualness, and personal nature of the articles all speak to a zine-making tradition that is a lot closer to what the worlds of punk and SFF used to call a fanzine.
Zine Corner is an occasional series in which I talk about individual issues of zines I have come across on my travels. Some of these will be about RPGs, some of them will be about horror, some of them will be about folklore, and some of them will just be weird and cool.The rest of the series can be found here.
I grew up in the interregnum between two eras of fanzine creation: On the one hand, I am a bit too young to remember when mimeographed amateur zines were the only way that fans had to communicate aside from face-to-face meetings. On the other hand, I had drifted away from the hobby when online payment infrastructures and improved access to on-demand and off-set printing began to make zines a popular means of getting your stuff out there while also by-passing professional publishing.
Having returned to the hobby to find a flourishing (some might even say over-heating) market for zines, I am now playing catch-up and this series will give me an excuse to actually do some thinking about both the format and the kind of stuff that is being put out there.
My memories of RPG zines are dominated by two very different sets of titles. The first was a Nephilim fanzine I got based on an advert in the back of a magazine and that included a load of weird stuff about the author’s local cathedral and an absolute head-fuck of a campaign in which the PCs wound up inhabiting the bodies of the players. Despite not being able to remember the name of said fanzine, I remember being blown away by the complexity of the ideas and the fact that the whole thing felt intimately personal to one person’s vision of the game. My second set of memories is of The Unspeakable Oath. While that particular Call of Cthulhu fanzine was resurrected in the early 2010s, I can remember buying a few copies of the original Pagan Publishing run in which John Tynes laid out a vision that I now realise has since become not only the default understanding of Call of Cthulhu but of all Lovecraft-inspired games of investigative horror.
Billed as “a magazine for Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games”, Jared Smith’s Bayt al Azif first appeared in 2018 and has since seen four separate issues. I got my copies in the form of a PDF from DriveThruRPG but you can also use DTRPG’s print-on demand service to get it in the form of a hard-copy.