I don’t know how to begin with this one. How do I describe Zine? How do I drag all of you back to 1990, and a strange, niche, pre-Internet movement? I guess I’ll just yammer on about it and lose half the audience at around 200 words, but that’s okay. I don’t want the audience that quits at 200 words. This is the new SFWP! The new era. We’re going for the audience who quits at 250 words.
Zine. It’s 1990. There I am at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, MD. A wealthy community, the proto-one-percenters. Even our mascot — the Battlin’ Baron — was an old white dude.
I was a troubled youth. My family had recently collapsed rather dramatically (and very publicly). My dad was gone, my mom was well on her way down a road of extreme insanity. I was an only child, introverted, unsocialized, and generally adrift in a strange and horrible world. B-CC had an open campus so, at lunch, I would wander the streets of Bethesda and explore. It was a very different town back then. Where now there are high-rise condos (starting from “the several millions”) there used to be shifty little headshops and other bizarre places. Perfect for a rebellious teenager. It was in one of these shops where I stumbled across a display of free zines in all of their Xerox glory. These things were full of crude pencil drawings, bizarre suicide poetry, insane rants, and a few instances of truly remarkable prose. I kept reading. I was instantly addicted, and ran home with an armful of zines to devour. I’d follow certain people, waiting anxiously for the next issue which may be a week, a month, or a year away. Kind of like my current subscription to Modern Drunkard Magazine. It’s ready when it’s ready.
There were tons of zines — by 1991 I even had my own, Splinters. I’ve often compared that era of Zine-culture to the blog culture of today. Anybody could put one together. You could say whatever you wanted — thousands of voices screaming in the wilderness about…nothing in particular. You run off a hundred copies of your sad little writing and you drop it off at record stores, headshops, bars…wherever. And maybe you get a name for yourself. There was a hierarchy in the zine world. There were leaders of the pack. People like Dame Darcy, Lisa Carver, Jim Goad, Donna Kossy, and Pagan Kennedy…
For my impressionable, troubled mind, the outlet that these homemade zines represented probably saved me. I read them and they taught me important lessons. The most important of all being that I wasn’t alone. If you are one of those thousands of voices screaming in the wilderness, then you know that, despite all of that company, in your head it sounds like it really is just your lonely voice screaming away. Zines taught me how to express myself. Pagan’s zine was the slippery slope that led to the development of my own writing, an early publishing company, and a literary dream that would eventually coalesce into the Santa Fe Writers Project. Pagan, and others like her, taught me not to be afraid. Write, shout out, experiment, question, rebel, reject, improve. You are reading this now only because I sat on the steps behind the gym at B-CC, hiding from everyone, eating my lunch, paging through a copy of Pagan’s Head 24 years ago.
It’s taken me this long to do Pagan Kennedy justice. Pagan’s Head was eventually collected by St. Martin’s Press and published under the title Zine in 1995. A few years later, as I was founding SFWP, Zine — and most of Pagan’s zine-inspired backlist — was out of print. That was a crime. It took 13 years to avenge that crime, and I did so with the Pagan Kennedy Project. It’s all coming back. Zine, Living, Platforms… Pagan’s early days. A voice that should never be out of print, ignored, forgotten, or lost to history. On June 1st, Zine will be available everywhere online and at your local bookstore. As with all SFWP titles, this is a worldwide release. Everyone on the planet can now go back to Pagan’s Head.
As an added bonus, I found some embarrassing low-quality Youtube footage of Pagan from 1987. Enjoy!