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Fox Valley shares passion for zines

The topics zines vary so greatly some read like diary entries revealing personal thoughts anecdotes while others focus external interests.

The topics of zines vary so greatly, some read like diary entries, revealing personal thoughts and anecdotes, while others focus on external interests. This variety allows zine creators a freedom in their art to be vulnerable and color outside of the lines. | Submitted

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Updated: March 22, 2013 6:49AM

When something has been around for 100 years, it’s not exactly thought of as part of the subculture. But zines are that rare commodity whose creators stay below the radar by telling it like it is.

A zine (short for magazine) is a self-published booklet that is independently made and distributed, typically with small circulations.

Aurora native Don Picton is a part of this subculture. Picton, 38, began making zines with his friends shortly after high school graduation. The inspiration came from seeing zines at record stores in the 1990s, which connected Picton to new music, movies and scenes that he hadn’t been exposed to before.

“You used to get free records, comics and backstage passes to concerts if you had any zine back then,” Picton said.

Now, Picton makes and sells zines and art through his business, Friend Prices. Although Picton approaches the medium with a fresh zeal, zines date back almost a century.

The first zines appeared in the 1920s, when fans of science fiction and fantasy began circulating self-published booklets about their interests and personal lives. The circulation of these zines were limited to a small but devoted community.

North Aurora contributed to the zine scene in 1968, with the publication of “Nargothrond,” a JRR Tolkien fan zine created by Rick Brooks and Alan G. Thompson. A microfilm of Nargothrond can still be found at Marquette University.

In the 1970s, zines were used in the punk subculture to promote the scene, which was rarely covered in mainstream music publications.

Zines in the following decades were made to express strong socio-cultural ideas, particularly in support of feminism and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights. Many of these counter-culture ideals are still expressed in zines and are celebrated by those who appreciate a do-it-yourself philosophy and individuals who value print media.

The topics of zines vary greatly. Some read like diary entries, revealing personal thoughts and anecdotes, while others focus on external interests. This variety allows zine creators a freedom in their art to be vulnerable and color outside the lines.

“I had a strong sense of making something super lo-fi, with errors, black-and-white drawings, and lines that are not straight,” Picton said.

The community that Picton found through zines also appealed to Bridgitte Barclay, an English professor at Aurora University. Barclay, 38, doesn’t make zines but has been an avid reader since the 1990s.

“So much is packaged in our world, and there is something beautifully genuine about zines,” Barclay said.

“I love reading zines that give me a sense that other people see the same idiocies with the world that I do and the same dorky stuff.”

Barclay has taken advantage of the intellectual pursuits of zines by including them in the classes she teaches.

In a recent contemporary global literature course, Barclay discussed the sincerity and independence of zines, as opposed to relying on mass market books to understand a different culture.

“I stressed that by the time something is published by a big house, it’s accepted by culture at large often,” Barclay said. “By the time it’s translated and distributed in the U.S., it’s been through a number of ‘checkpoints’ that can dilute a real message from the underground of another nation, or prevent it altogether if it’s not deemed marketable.”

This fall, Barclay will teach an underground literature course where zines will be the primary focus.

Although zines will likely remain part of an underground culture, there is room for new fans and new creators. Distributors can be found in major cities and most are sold online.

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