Freedom of the personal press

 

HOBBY HORSE:Forget blogs and podcasts - zines are the way to go for getting your own unique message across, writes Eoin Butler

HERE'S A QUESTION for you. What hobby could the following motley assortment of individuals possibly have in common? An incarcerated felon who dreams of hosting his own chat show. A teenage girl struggling with bulimia and self-esteem issues. A self-deprecating communard with tips to share on self-sufficient country living. And an ex-heroin addict, whose years in pursuit of another fix he now recounts in a series of snappy comic book vignettes. The answer - as you will no doubt have known if you had the foresight to read the caption at the top of this page - is that they all create and publish their own zines.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a zine (the word is an abbreviation of magazine or fanzine) is a non-commercial publication; typically written, illustrated and distributed on an amateur basis to a niche readership. Its heyday came in the late 1970s when, fired by the DIY-ethos of punk rock, periodicals such as New York's Punk, London's Sniffin' Glueand Dublin's Raw Powerbriefly reached audiences as large, or sometimes larger, than the mainstream music press.

Inevitably, the most popular zine writers were lured into professional journalism and a majority of titles quickly folded. But the phenomenon nonetheless endured, with a smaller number of publications consolidating their position as intrepid chroniclers of the furthest reaches of alternative culture. The underground music scene and radical leftist politics have always been these publications' home turf. (One typical contemporary effort entitled What Do We Do When . . . ?, for example, debates how the anarchist/punk communities should deal with cases of sexual assault within its ranks. D'uh . . . Go to the police, you idiots.)

But even if you aren't a fire-breathing anti-capitalist, zines have a peculiar appeal that may sucker you nonetheless. One of Ireland's longest-running titles is Loserdom, a charmingly slapdash effort that has been appearing irregularly since its inception in 1996. Its staples include anti-war polemics and interviews with bands (such as Paranoid Visions, Quack Quack) that even the most hardened musos would struggle to place. But with no advertisers to appease, and no demographic to pander to, its creators, writer Anto (31) and illustrator Eugene Dillon (27), are also free to indulge their own whims and idiosyncrasies.

Chief among these are comic-book heroes The Loser Brothers; two lank-haired siblings, also named Anto and Eugene, who fret about the environment, get into occasional scrapes and time travel at one point. But more than anything else, they cycle their beloved bicycles.

In one utterly surreal adventure entitled The Tour de Punk, real-life characters from the Irish punk and anarchist scenes compete in a fictional multi-stage cycling race from Cork to Dublin. A highlight of this epic battle is the climax of the fourth stage, which features the Anarchist Food Co-op team racing the Fairview punks through Carrick-on-Suir, while locals line the streets shouting "Allez! Allez!"

Over afternoon coffee in a Dún Laoghaire pub, I ask Anto why cycling features so prominently in a punk magazine. He is shy and quietly spoken. "I suppose, the philosophy of punk is do it yourself," he says. "If you want to play music, you start a band. If you want to write, you start a zine. And if you want to go somewhere, you get on your bike and go."

With his brother Eugene now studying nutritional science in college, more recent adventures have even begun to incorporate nutrition-related themes. In the Punk Food Consumption Surveyadventure, for example, the brothers cycle the streets of Dublin in a quest to tackle a worrying upsurge in obesity among the capital's punks.

If it all sounds rather weird and wonderful, well, it is. Outside on the windy seafront, as he unlocks his bike to go home, I ask Anto what his family make of the whole thing?

"They probably think I should be furthering myself career-wise," he shrugs. "But it's something I enjoy doing. It keeps me busy. If I'm not working on the next issue, I tend to get a bit agitated." I switch off the Dictaphone and bid him farewell. At this stage, we've been talking for over an hour, but before departing he offers one last piece of advice. "You might want to edit the interview down a bit" he suggests. "It might be a bit long otherwise." I give him a cheerful thumbs-up as he cycles away.

For more information on Loserdom (including video footage of the torturous printing process), visit www.loserdomzine.com