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

your boyfriend."

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.

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