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Are '90s Zines Going Through A Revival In Singapore?

They tackle obscure topics, are a little rough around the edges, and can read like an incensed manifesto. So why are so many in Singapore taking to this counterculture craft? Keng Yang Shuen talks to the folks making zines great again.

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Naturally then, for much of the scene’s long history (the first zine in the world is often said to be The Comet, a fans-for-fans work published in 1930 in Chicago that focused on the then-burgeoning genre of science fiction), zines have had a strong counterculture association — from the ’70s punk movement to ’90s feminists. Says Queer Zinefest’s Virk: “People have a lot to say, and zines are a way to get their voice out there without worrying so much about censorship.”

Zines have long had a counterculture association, thanks to their ground-up approach and anything-goes mentality.

Today, its resurgence can in part be seen as a bulwark against the world’s 24/7 stream of digital content — and not simply because you can start one armed with just paper, a pair of scissors, staplers and found images. Photographer Christopher Sim, 24, said he started creating his own after repeatedly hearing his subjects ask for the pictures that don’t appear on his Instagram feed @zalindrome.

“You get to curate what goes into your zine, which saves the audience the trouble of sifting through the gallons and gallons of visual vomit spewing out of their screens for something worth looking at,” he says. “It’s a nice little record of our lives that won’t get lost in the iCloud.” (For the record, his zine Wah Jialat, How Now? — showcasing youth culture as he and his friends see it — was part of the line-up in the Zine Room at last year’s Singapore Art Book Fair. All 30 copies sold out on the first day of the event.)

Squelch Zines, a local collective comprising of (from left) Alif Seah, Janice Chua, Nicholas Loke and Hafiz Syukuri, has more than 300 zines in its collection.

Zines — an analogue alternative to the so-called all-inclusive and empowering space that is social media? The fact that Gen Y and Z zine-makers have splintered beyond the cliche of the art and design crowd is a positive indication. “The great thing about zines is their accessibility, and while there are certain groups of people who are more clued in to the existence of zine culture, there is no mascot — it’s anybody who wants to make one,” says Virk. Nicholas Loke, co-founder of the four-member Squelch Zines collective, which has more than 300 titles in its library and counting, holds a similar opinion. “The misconception is that one has to be creative in order to make a zine, yet we’ve met many makers who are not designers or artists by training who still create wonderful works.”

This story first appeared in Female’s January 2019 issue.