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Behind the zines

24 October 2009 | Posted in: Media


SUSY Pow’s tale of the life journey of her favourite typewriter from op shop to its end as rusty flotsam of the Pasha storm in 2007 embodies her other serious occupations as a creator and distributor of zines.

Zines are not magazines, or books or newspapers.

They are hand-made publications, perhaps a one-off, designed to be enjoyed at leisure.

“Small and slow, yeah,” says Pow, 22.

A young person who likes slow?

“Everything my generation likes is fast,” she says.

“I look at 50 to 100 blogs per day. I flick over them, whatever is there I hardly read it, whatever my interest.

“To read a zine you have to sit there and pore over it.”

Pow’s story of her lovely little machine is just the sort of life experience that suits a zine format, and thousands of other people want to tell similar intimate tales in the same way.

Pow is also a zine distro, or distributor, and takes a commission from her zine authors.

People from all over the place send her their zines for sale and distribution worldwide.

Her base in King Street is called Bird in the Hand.

A passer-by will notice that the rather grim little place, that used to be a watchmaker’s for many more years than Pow has been on the planet, now has a typewriter in the window.

A collection of other interesting little things surround the machine.

It is enough to make a curious citizen stop, press their noses up against the glass and wonder what this place could possibly be.

Inside is Pow’s collection of other people’s zines, lots of typewriters and old suitcases and enough space for workshops to make new zines.

She shows me one zine that can fit into the palm of my hand. The way it is folded and cut, once read and enjoyed, the zine could sit on a mantlepiece and be admired from afar.

“The main focus for me is to get people to come in here and stay a little while, and make something new,” she says.

“They write or they draw.

“That’s what this big table is here for.”

A magazine is a glossy, large publication with a big circulation.

A zine might have a maximum circulation of about 1000 but mostly creators make between 50 and 100 copies.

They are hand-made, then photocopied.

“It is usually made by one person, people make things on typewriters and they draw straight onto the page.

“It is also about the paper stock. A friend makes her own paper.”

Typically, the price is between 50 cents and $5.

“They are a snapshot of somebody’s life,” Pow says.

“I have a friend who writes about roller derby, or there are people who write about their love of shoes.

“It’s about that addiction being transferred on to paper.”

The State Library of NSW has a zine collection from what its ephemera librarian, Colin Warner, loftily describes as “a community of the pen and the heart”.

The National Library of Australia has a collection of fanzines from which the more modern zines evolved.

“People collect zines and you don’t give them away,” Pow says.

“You would be completely shunned if you threw them out.”

The NLA says fanzines were produced originally by science-fiction fans in the early 20th century.

More brutally, a zine has been defined as a self-published work of minority interest but they have a revolutionary history and are not dissimilar to pamphlets such as The Rights of Man, written by Thomas Paine.

The Newcastle Region Library ran zine workshops during the recent school holidays. University of Newcastle academic Anna Poletti has written a book about zines called Intimate ephemera: reading young lives in Australian zine culture.

Pow, who says a large proportion of Australian zines are made in Newcastle, started making zines in her bedroom.

“I started making zines when I was 13 and then slowly I got more involved.”

At age 18, she organised the zine fair at the 2005 Young Writers Festival.

Then she got into distro.

“That went on and got bigger and bigger.”

Pow was the woman behind another recent zine fair in a King Street car park as part of the This Is Not Art festival earlier this month.

“They wondered around the turn of 2000 if the zine would survive.”

Pow says there are electronic versions but it is a zine’s physical presence and the time spent reading it that makes it a zine.

Some might consider zines intensely personal stories as part of the “tell all” phenomenon, a printed version of the trivialities of Facebook but they are probably wrong.

Pow says they can be an important way of communicating between friends, including one of hers.

“She had a strong story to tell about her father passing away,” Pow says.

“She had that outlet for that information and was able because she is quite shy to share that information with us without having to tell us.

“It is the community, the involvement.”

Pow moved back to Newcastle from Sydney to start her venture.

“Renew Newcastle drew me back, otherwise I would still probably be running this out of my bedroom.”

Renew Newcastle is a project that uses art and art-related ventures to breathe new life into the city centre by using vacant building owned by property developer GPT, the company with plans to redevelop the former Hunter Mall.

Pow’s zines website is at