No harm in looking too far ahead: Can the zine kill the online blog?
The zine is back in the scene, but does it compete with the ease and reach of blogs?
“[A zine feels like] something made by a friend, an IRL friend that you can call on for an emergency beer after getting dumped by
I can’t bring myself to praise zines at the expense of blogs. Many of the people I’ve spoken to—over the Internet, irony of ironies—have presented solid reasons for preferring the handmade book over the blog. Rob Cham said, “I feel, in the back of our [minds], we all know [that] if it is on the Internet, it can be lost,” citing the tender comic
Pictures for Sad Children, which no longer exists on its own website because the owner had “gone insane.” Moki Javier pointed out that “a blog exists, but it doesn’t beg to be read,” citing the proto-zines she had been part of once upon a time: membership newsletters for school organizations, or collected literature from a poetry group in college. “You give [zines] to people who will listen to you,” she added.
Clara Balaguer, who runs the Office of Culture and Design, said: “Precisely because everything is instantly accessible, the romance of a tactile experience is still relevant. Any printed form, and most especially the most traditional conception of the zine, is delightfully human.”
The Office of Culture and Design specializes in being human, and they’re doing it through books. Described by Clara as “a strange, science fiction weirdo in the cultural scene in Manila,” OCD is part-publishing house, part-design arm, part-art platform, and full-on advocate for humanity.
For almost four years, OCD was a thinkspace and workshop for socio-cultural experiments, all of which used forwardthinking design as tools to address Philippine issues. Some of these included knitted basketball hoops for depressed areas, redesigns of the alphabet posters found in underfunded public schools, creative relief responses to the typhoons that so often hit the country, and SAIAO: a line of products that espouse sustainability, such as sandals made out of recycled tires.
In the face of having gathered so much research and hankering to put it out in the world for review and response, Clara decided to set up a publishing arm and its necessary hand: a design studio. True to OCD’s grassroots nature, their “ghetto books” are printed in “small, cottage industry printing presses with usually less than 10 employees,” incorporating all the local glory of mimeograph, handpainted signage, and Jingle magazine. One of their first projects was a book of 30,000-year-old recipes and remedies from the Aytas.
“The brief for everyone is to start with Filipino vernacular aesthetics and ideas, and build from there,” Clara said, describing the process of design and production within Hardworking, Goodlooking—OCD’s imprint named after a taxi spotted on a Philippine street. Kristian Henson, one of OCD’s designers, puts it simply, though in the opposite direction: “I like to work bottom up, not top down, meaning a couple things: starting low, [and] being on the ground.”
Kristian would know about having to climb down from an ivory tower, having recently graduated from Yale yet still dealing with the niggling feeling that he was missing out on an essential part of his identity as a Filipino. He found Clara and OCD on the Internet. “I freaked out. Everything that [I felt] could be done in Manila, Clara was doing. Artist space, cultural work, [and all] with this very revolutionary attitude,” he said. He “closed all his books,” shot Clara an email out of the blue, and their first full project together under OCD was Wawi Navarroza’s Hunt and Gather:
Terraria. The book, a catalogue of critical essays, field notes, and photographs of soil and flora specimens collected from around Metro Manila, was officially launched at the New York Art Book Fair last month.
OCD is working on the Filipino aesthetic, and they’re doing it through books. Kristian hesitates to call OCD’s books “zines,” however. “Zines are more like guttural shouts,” mused the former L.A. punk. “[They’re] all emotion or expression. We make books. Maybe they are raw, but that’s because we insist on working with local printers and small shops with limited equipment in Manila.”
As Kristian clarifies that it’s these production limitations that give the work “its soul and a unique feeling and touch,” these are the same limitations that apply to the zines that have been made and are still being made around the world, even as 72 million Tumblr posts are created every day. From Moki’s poetry organization to Rob’s description of zines as “a secret club membership” to Clara’s statement that “[a zine feels like] something made by a friend, an IRL friend that you can call on for an emergency beer after getting dumped by your boyfriend” and right back to Kristian’s first email to OCD: zines, and print in general, are collaborative work. You have helped each other make pages, and in turn these pages reach out to others.
Blogs, on the other hand, are solitary efforts, lone soapboxes upon which you stand, trumpeting a message alone. One would think having an audience of hundreds—possibly even thousands— would make it less lonely, but the fact of the matter is that when you publish on a blog, you’re writing alone and machines do the rest of the work for you. However, because machines are machines and not a mailing system, what you create can travel at corresponding speeds, reaching people you never thought you’d meet.
Zines and “ghetto books,” on the other hand, just by virtue of their creation, are social creatures. They are made with a deep awareness of their roots and their audience. In the age of the reblog, we often forget whom we are speaking to, often writing only—after everything—to and for ourselves. Zines can’t afford that kind of insularity, and OCD’s work so far, plus all the zines you and I and everyone we know has ever made, prove that keeping print alive has social consequences. It’s in our hands to keep them good.
Yet I still believe in the blog, and I am loath to abandon my affection for the publishing equivalent of yelling in a corner of a vast stadium of chattering people. I’d like to think the zine and the blog are not opposed to each other but are merely versions of one another. They’re not interchangeable, but they carry each other every now and then. No matter their content, their production, or who’s listening, they were each born of that undefinable impulse: to affirm our existence within the world.