April 29, 2015 – Art, Culture

Zines used to be a necessity for subcultures. They were a means of spreading information about upcoming gigs, protests and other events as well as a way for those outside of the conventional media to spread their opinions, art and politics. Although this role is now mostly fulfilled by social media and other websites, many artists in Dublin are still keeping the zine alive – partly because it offers certain things we don’t get from any other medium and partly because of the romanticized view many people still have of the humble zine.

Traditionally, the construction of the zine was a simple but tedious process of cutting, gluing and arranging a master copy and then photocopying, guillotining and stapling, or sometimes sewing, each individual issue. While this meant that many issues had some imperfections, it really only added to the charm. These days, with most artists being handy with computers, the bulk of this work is done digitally. Despite this, many still keep the gritty, rough-around-the-edges, “cut and paste” aesthetic. Another change in recent years, which has eliminated much of the grunt work, has been the founding of independent art presses, such as Baby BEEF, which specialise in publishing zines and other artist books.


One of the main appeals of creating a zine is the opportunity it gives to people who would otherwise have no medium to share their work.  Not only can artists bypass the hassle of finding a publisher, they can also do so completely free of any censorship or restrictions. The end result is a zine that is completely unique and 100% in the artists own voice. It’s also more flexible than traditional publishing. No doubt, many artists creating zines find themselves against the clock in the run up to deadlines (getting printed in time for zine fairs, launches, etc.) but in the meantime, it’s their call how much they do, and when. This makes it easy for people to support themselves with a day job while still satisfying their creative itch at night. Were getting more artistic output, which otherwise might have gone unseen. Giving everyone a voice means that zine culture is not only incredibly inclusive, but also incredibly diverse.

The scope and content of Dublin’s Zine scene varies wildly. Some tackle broad topics like politics, culture and history, while others deal with more specific or experimental subjects like bikes, sharks, records and fire. The most esoteric of Dublin’s zines has got to be “The Busman” a monthly zine that ran from the late 70’s into the 80’s (although eventually changing its title to “Busworker”). It was created by Dublin’s bus drivers, for Dublin’s bus drivers and its contents, in one issue at least, included “Assaults on Busmen”, “The Road traffic Act” and “An Interview with Ruairi Quinn T.D.”

Many artists say what appeals to them about creating a zine is that it’s an artefact they can share and swap with others  in (and outside of) the community. The finished product is a tangible piece of art they can hold, show to friends and – importantly – sell. There are plenty of vendors around Dublin selling zines and unlike its spiritual sister the “graphic novel”, most zines are very affordable (generally around €3 – €6). Anyone looking to find zines in Dublin can try Freebird Records, The Winding Stairs bookshop, Tower Records, Connolly Books or The Dublin Food Co-op, as well annual events like Independents Day and the Dublin Zine Fair


Another place to find zines in Dublin is the Forgotten Zine Archive on the first floor of Seomra Spraoi, just north of Parnell Square. What had been an unorganized collection of zines became an archive when a group of seven UCD students doing a Masters in Library and Information Science jumped at the opportunity to use it for a project. The work being done with this archive is not only incredibly interesting but also important. Because many zines are handmade, difficult to catalogue and sometimes anonymous, there are very few places around the world keeping archives of them. However, they zines us a snapshot of what was happening in counter-culturally around the world, something it’s very difficult to find in traditional, mainstream media. The Forgotten zine archive currently has over 2000 zines, mostly from Dublin, the UK and the USA spanning many decades.

Some of Dublin’s more well-known zines include The RAG, distributed by Dublin’s Revolutionary Anarchofeminist Group which looks at feminism in a modern context, and Loserdom, which has been running since June 1996 which covers an array of interests from anti-war politics and independent music, to cycling and D.I.Y. Another well-known Dublin zine is The Runt, a collaborative zine which looks to showcase Dublin’s poets, writers and artists by inviting them to submit content relating to a specific theme.


On Thursday the 2nd of April Dublin Zine “The Runt” launched its 7th issue themed “Dreams and Nightmares”. The event, titled “Night of the Runt”, took place in The Vintage Room upstairs in The Workman’s Club. This room, already pretty dreamlike with its retro wallpaper, framed old school posters, mismatched ceiling lights and misshapen mirrors, was even more surreal on the night. The walls were covered in handwritten cards where people had written down abridged versions of particularly strange dreams they had had. Playing cards were hung from the ceiling on long pieces of string around the room. And throughout the night Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s 1928 surrealist short film “Un Chien Andalou” played silently on an overhead projector.

The first piece of the night was an essay by Gareth Stack titled “The Mighty Tenets of Post-Reasonablism”, described as “The Philosophy that Chooses you” which the author was inspired to write after realising philosophy was wrong. Accompanying Gareth with his piece were his two … sidekicks? Or possibly his minions? It was never clearly explained, but they dressed entirely in black, wore gasmasks and played static sounds on a Kaossilator Pro, slowly increasing the volume as the piece went on. Post-Reasonablism itself promised to make all our wildest dreams come true – To tell us how to live, how to get laid, and to make us rich “not only in money, but also jewels and shares”. Or, as it was pitched later, “make you a warlord in the boardroom and a slumlord in the bedroom”. The piece started as a weird essay, became a strange sales pitch and ended as a bizarre manifesto explaining why it’s in our best interest for mankind to work in the salt mines of Zanthar until we can eventually destroy the universe and, if were really lucky, God himself.

If this piece sounds confusing or erratic that’s because it was. But its dreamlike flow and intangibility really set the scene for a night whose theme was “Dreams and Nightmares”.  Throughout the Zine there are stories and poems, some documenting the authors strangest dreams, others showing us a better world the author dreams of. Then there are some very high concept pieces where the characters don’t realise they are dreaming and even pieces written from the perspective of a background character within a dream, and the existential crisis that accompanies that realisation.


As well as the pieces being read on the night, the launch also had a second hand book fair and a bake sale. Like everything else on the night, this bake sale also had an unusual, dream-themed twist. People were encouraged to pay not with cash, but by writing a brief, anonymous account of their weirdest dream. Later in the night, these dreams were read out and analysed by the evenings host Colm Kearns who had bought Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” earlier that morning and, by his own admission, “briefly leafed through it”. Spot prizes were given for the most debauched dreams, and by the end of the night, through Colm’s expert analysis, most of the crowd learned we were either narcissists or sexual deviants. After trawling through the depths of the audiences “filthy subconsciouses”, we were again invited take part in the festivities by collaborating on an “Exquisite Corpse” (where a sheet of paper is passed around, and everyone is invited to add one sentence to the story, but only able to see the sentence that came immediately before theirs) The end result, as described by Colm, is “something incoherent, but weird and wonderful”. Again, this added nicely to the theme of dreams as, just like in a real dream, your contribution seems to make sense at the time, within the limited context of the previous sentence, but when you look at the narrative as a whole, it’s all over the place. The story we all created on the night began playfully enough, with the narrator trying to get some” tang” off President Clinton but ended with the nightmarish image of the same narrator shrieking and putting shards of glass in their ears. And somewhere in the middle a Tesco self-service machine was telling them there was an unexpected item in the bagging area.

Obviously the internet has changed the zine game, with pretty much anyone being able to create a Tumblr or Blogspot about anything in the amount of time it takes to get the bus home from town. While this is certainly a neat feature of living in 2015, it has also led to an overabundance of all types of blogs, meaning trying to get your work seen or heard can be a bit like shouting into the void. Zines on the other hand, are more of a labour of love, which can be shared, traded and sold at launch nights, zine fairs, and many other events in Dublin. The time and dedication that goes into each zine is understood by all those within the community, as well as their importance as a historical artefact. This has led to a zine community in Dublin which is very close and vibrant today.

  • Words: Shane Murphy
  • Photos: Clare Lyons
  • Zines provided by Saul