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Zine Pool

By John Sewell | Posted 2/21/2001

These days there seems to be at least one zine about each and every topic imaginable. How does a zine aficionado keep track of everything that's out there? Through Zine Guide, a zine directory.

When editor/publisher Brent Ritzel created the biannual Zine Guide in late 1997, he had no idea that Factsheet Five, then the reigning zine compendium, was quickly nearing its end. (Factsheet Five published from the mid-'80s until early 1998.) He only knew that he wanted to provide an alternative.

"I wasn't happy with the job Factsheet was doing because [publisher R. Seth Friedman] seemed to be getting kind of cynical," Ritzel says. "And I was gathering all of this information by networking with other zinesters with Tail Spins," a Chicago-based music zine Ritzel also publishes. "I had . . . this immense database and I felt kind of guilty just keeping it to myself. I figured, well, I'm keeping very accurate and current info on all the zines, their addresses, what kind of stuff they have inside them, so I wanted to share that. And I also wanted to grow beyond Tail Spins and be more information-oriented--something more useful for folks."

More than just a compendium of addresses and contacts for zines, Zine Guide slices the demographic pie of the self-publishing world in every conceivable way. A sociologist could have a real field day with its separate lists of favorite and least favorite titles among all readers, males, females, and zine publishers (Ritzel prints a survey at the front of each Zine Guide, from which he compiles these lists). And then there's the indexing and numerical ranking of articles about bands and musicians, persons, cities, record labels, etc. With each issue of Zine Guide, Ritzel presents a time capsule of the underground.

According to him, the average age of a female zine reader is 21 while the average male reader is 28. "I attribute that to the fact that men don't start reading until they quit playing Nintendo, which is usually around the end of college," Ritzel says. Male dominance in the field is dissipating, and Ritzel believes the success of personal-journal-type zines (which he calls "perzines") has served as a gateway for the inclusion of women into the zine world.

Ritzel, now 33, got into zines in the mid-'80s, when he discovered that era's popular punk zines at record stores in his hometown of Carbondale, Ill. In those days, President Reagan was the villain in every zine, providing an easy target for teenage vitriol. The prosperity and relative liberality of the '90s served to cool the scene's anti-authoritarian fervor. Ritzel feels that this relaxed period will end with the new presidential administration.

"We're gonna see a whole lot of new stuff with the election of George W. Bush and the appointment of John Ashcroft as attorney general and Gail Norton as secretary of the interior," he says. "I think we're gonna see a new explosion of political and socially oriented zines. Both Zine Guide and Tail Spins are going to take a more social/political focus because it's necessary now.

"I think we'll also see a new explosion of punk music because, in the last few years, people have gotten complacent. That's why we have Bush as president now, 'cause people got a little fatter in the pocketbook and forgot the rage. People forgot how bad things were in the Reaganomics era. And the Reagan era was the last great period for zines. I think we'll see a return to anger in zines."

Ritzel describes himself as being "a little bit old-fashioned" because he's never created a Web site for Zine Guide. "I'm in no hurry because I want to stay true to the printed medium," he says. "A couple of years ago, when the Internet explosion was first happening, people were saying zines were gonna die because they'd all go to the Internet. But people still want to read them on the toilet, read them on the train--to hold them in their hand. That's why the print zine is never gonna disappear."

Ritzel says he is able to make his living from the publication of Zine Guide and Tail Spins through advertising and subscription sales. He says that he puts in between 70 and 80 hours work a week on both zines combined.

"In 1998, I figured out that I'd made about $1.75 an hour," Ritzel says with a laugh. "Things are a little bit better than that now, but I'm not getting rich."

The big payoff for Ritzel is being able to chronicle the evolution of zine culture and keep the home fires of idealism burning. "Being someone that's getting older all the time, I love staying on track with what's happening with the youth," he says. "I've always been youthful and I still am in my perspective. For me, being in zines is an important tie to see what's going on with people who could be my children. Zinesters are from 12 to 70, and I appreciate that. But it's still primarily for young people, and I like that too because young people are still idealistic. And I want to stay in touch with the true idealism of youth."

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More from John Sewell

The Ex Factor (6/20/2001)
Holland's Punk Collective Improvises Anew

Beer Thousand (5/16/2001)
Will the Bottle Let Guided by Voices Down?

Zine Pool (3/28/2001)
In the primordial days of DIY publishing, the term "zine" didn't exist.

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