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Zines, fanzines, alternative comics, and graphic novels (Part 1)

Zines or fanzines are magazines written by enthusiasts, "fans". They have various forms but are typically self-published, designed, written or edited by a single person. They tend to use inexpensive production techniques such as photocopying, and are distributed through local and personal networks and specialised distributors ("distros"). Although zines usually have more than one issue, some are one-offs. Some have a highly visual quality and use the conventions of cartoon strips and film animation for more adult themes. These are also known as alternative comics, adult comics, or comix, and, when telling a complete story in one volume, they are known as graphic novels.

Definition and background

There are significant sub-genres within the zines world with varying degrees of overlap. Typically, zines support a particular sports team with an independent viewpoint not necessarily sanctioned by the club itself (football zines are probably the largest category of sports zines), a literary genre regarded by some as outside of the mainstream notably science fiction, or a particular aspect of the contemporary music scene, again with a preference for alternative forms of expression.

Zines have also developed which connect broadly to political issues through personal testimony, comment, and literary and artistic expression. Women's zines, many of which developed from music zine environments, are an important example of this.

Some zines, and especially alternative comics and graphic novels, may nevertheless have no clear allegiance to an ideology, literary genre, or sport, but exist as entertainment or art in their own right.

The recent history of zines is related to historical shifts in both technology and society. One factor was the increased availability from the 1950s onwards of self-publishing technology: the mimeograph (a form of printing from a typed stencil), the photocopier and, finally, the desk-top computer. Another factor was the series of parallel social changes stemming from this time, for example, counterculture, second wave feminism, and punk. However, alternative forms of expression using pamphlets and periodicals have a very long history and one which continues to this day alongside zines.

In this way, zines are distant relations to the oppositional and discursive publications of, for example, the Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts and they are closer relations to Little Magazines which continue to publish short fiction and poetry from an independent and personalised base. Adult comics and graphic novels can also be related to the traditional comics of the first part of the twentieth century, such as those held in the Library's British Comics Collection. From further afield, the Library's French Collections house some 20,000 caricatures and illustrations produced at the time of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune.

The Library's collections of zines and alternative comics

The Library has a growing collection of British counterculture, music, and women's zines, and a substantial collection of British football fanzines. The Library has a large number of graphic novels published in Britain, as well as alternative comics which complement the traditional comics collections.

Although the Library is strongest in British material, it also has some graphic novels and alternative comics from the United States, as well as studies published in America (and largely concerning America).

Zines, alternative comics and graphic novels have entered the collections through one of three ways. Firstly, through Legal Deposit, the law which requires all books and periodicals published in the United Kingdom to be deposited with the Library. Secondly, through purchasing items retrospectively. Lastly, individual authors and editors have kindly donated their work.

Donations of British zines which are not already in the collections are welcome and initial enquiry should be made to Debbie Cox,

Links and further reading

Do it Yourself: Punk Fanzines, Riot Grrl, and Factsheet 5

Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, London: Phaidon, 2001. Originally published 1996. Shelfmark: LB.31.b.21989

Roger Sabin and Teal Triggs (eds.), Below Critical Radar: Fanzines and Alternative Comics from 1976 to Now, Hove: Slab-O-Concrete, 2000. Shelfmark: YD.2004.b.1150

Paperback, Pulp & Comic Collector Magazine. Westbury: Zardoz Books, 1991-[1994?]. Issues no. 2-8,. shelfmark ZC.9.a.2769

Counterculture zines

The British Library has a number of counterculture magazines, such as the satirical Private Eye (Cup.702.d.1), which began in 1961, Alexander Trocchi's Sigma Portfolio (Shelfmark: RF.1999.c.15), which began in 1964, and Oz (Shelfmark: Cup.805.k.1) whose London publication began in 1967. The latter titles are not complete sets in hardcopy, lacking several issues each, and this is a reflection of the general holdings of counterculture material in the Library: the collections are generally good, but gaps do occur. The term "zines" would not normally be applied to many of these periodicals, but they are arguably part of each others history. The Library also holds a run of The International Times as part of its Newspaper Collections; this title is also available digitally at and a copy of this digital archive is held by the British Library for long term preservation.

The Library has recently acquired a number of titles which continued or developed counterculture ideas from the last two decades of the twentieth century. These include the anarchist-leaning Acts of Defiance, Ferment, and Hell and Damnation, and the anti-vivisectionist Spectacular Times. One gay zine, Swedish Nurse, promoted pride festivals and outed stars of mainstream punk rock. Zines which differ radically in their view on race are also held by the Library, which tries to represent all aspects of British culture in its collections, even extreme views. Recent acquisitions include Crophead (which describes itself as the voice of the "oppressed, criminal class") and the anti-racist zines Crop-Top and HAGL.

Women's zines are perhaps the largest contemporary manifestation of counterculture zines, although all the zine genres are in some sense part of a continuing counterculture.

Links and further reading

Counterculture (British Library Learning Page)

Gerry Carlin's Page

Elizabeth Nelson, The British Counter-culture, 1966-73: a Study of the Underground Press. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989. Shelfmark: YH.1989.a.925

Alternative comics and graphic novels

Alternative comics, also known as adult comics and comix, have a highly visual quality and use the conventions of traditional cartoon strips for more adult themes. When they tell a complete story in a single one-off volume they are known as graphic novels. The subject range varies greatly and includes, some works very rooted in a fantasy and science fiction approach, others using anthropomorphised creatures to tell very human fables. The international artistic movement OuBaPO (Ouvroir de Bande dessinée Potentielle) seeks to use the comic format in a deliberately rules-based way, drawing inspiration from the earlier non-graphic work of writers such as Raymond Queneau and others.

The works of Raymond Briggs exemplify the cross-over nature of the genre. Briggs's Fungus the Bogeyman and The Snowman can be categorised as Children's Literature though they are enjoyed by all age groups. However his apocalyptic When the Wind Blows (Hamish Hamilton, 1982, Shelfmark: YK.1993.b.967) and the elegiac memoir of his parents Ethel & Ernest (London: Cape, 1998, Shelfmark: YK.1998.b.7273) can more firmly be seen within the adult graphic novel tradition. Posy Simmonds's True Love (Cape, 1981. Shelfmark L.49/1140) is an early example of the modern British adult graphic novel.

The underground nature of British alternative comics has meant that the Library does not hold a comprehensive collection, but it has received some via Legal Deposit e.g. Vanessa Wells's Cyberage (Shelfmark: ZK.9.b.13163), and continues to do so.

Commercially published graphic novels are well represented in the collections. As well as well-known international works such as Joe Sacco's Palestine (Jonathan Cape, 2003, Shelfmark: YK.2003.b.7223), Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen (Penguin, 1989, Shelfmark: YV.1989.a.1239), and Art Spiegelman's Maus (Deutsch, 1987, Shelfmark: YV.1990.b.725), the legal deposit of graphic novels produced by publishers such as Titan means that the Library's British collections are especially good in this area. Through kind donation, the Library also has a good collection of works by the American alternative artist Robert Crumb, catalogued individually. Japanese manga in English translation are also held.

To fill alternative comic gaps retrospectively, several hundred separate titles were purchased in the early 1990s. These were published in the UK and in the United States, largely from the previous two decades. Many are catalogued in their own right, but where only small numbers within a run were acquired these have been put together in two main sequences for the two different countries (UK, Shelfmark: Cup.821.dd.150; USA., Shelfmark: Cup.821.dd.274).

The changing nature and adoption of classification schemes has meant that there is no single way to identify these genres of publication within the Library's catalogue. However, subject or general keyword searching using "Strip Cartoons", "Graphic novels", "Comic Books", or "Caricatures and Cartoons" will give an indication of the wealth of the collections.

A finding list of the uncatalogued British alternative comics collection is given in the list of links below.

Links and further reading


Martin Baker, A Haunt of Fears: the Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign, University Press of Mississippi, 1992. Shelfmark: YK.1993.a.5669

Mark Bryant, Dictionary of Twentieth Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists, Ashgate, 2000. Shelfmark: YC.2000.a.6089

Mal Burns, Comix Index: The Directory of Alternative British Graphic Magazines, 1966-1977, Brighton: Boyce, 1978. Shelfmark: YK.1994.b.4762

Alan Clark, Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors, London: The British Library, 1998. Shelfmark: HUS.741.5092241

Mike Chinn, Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel: Everything You Need to Create Great Graphic Works, London: A & C Black, 2004

Denis Gifford, The Complete Catalogue of British Comics, Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1985. Shelfmark: X.622/24978

David Huxley. The Growth and Development of British Underground and Alternative Comics, 1966-1986. PhD thesis, Loughborough University, 1990. Shelfmark: DX177439

Roger Sabin, Adult Comics: An Introduction, London: Routledge, 1993. Shelfmark: YC.1993.b.5315

Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, London: Phaidon, 2001. Originally published 1996. Shelfmark: LB.31.b.21989

Stephen Weiner, The Rise of the Graphic Novel: Faster than a Speeding Bullet, London: Turnaround, 2004

Music zines

The British Library has a number of earlier general Counterculture magazines, such as Oz (Shelfmark: Cup.805.k.1), which arose as part of the increasingly pop-oriented culture of the 1960s, and it has a comprehensive collection of the books and magazines published by relatively well-established publishers, e.g. the many studies and biographies of The Beatles. However, its growing collection of music-related zines generally starts with the era of punk rock, the late 1970s.

Punk as a music movement, using publishing to spread news of its events, products, and musicians, combined a strong graphics orientation with affordable printing, e.g. the extensive use of the photocopier, allowing fans to produce their own magazines. Zines might follow a particular band, such as Strangled (Shelfmark: P.443/554), produced by the Stranglers Information Service, or respond to a broader scene, such as Sniffin' Glue (Shelfmark: HUS 789.4009), regarded as a key magazine of the period. Feminist Zines also often have a music element.

Recent acquisitions include New Blackbeat: Soul Magazine, Pressure Drop: The World's Reggae Read, 007: The Fanzine for Mods, which promoted the 1960s stylistic revival in the early 1980s, and Charred Remains, which hailed the heroes of the heavy metal genre.

The Library's Music Library contains sheet music for many pop and rock songs, while the Sound Archive has one of the largest collections of British popular music recordings in the world. The Library has a comprehensive range of music magazines and newspapers produced by British commercial publishers.

Links and further reading

David Laing, One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985. Shelfmark: HUS 789.4009

Roger Sabin, Punk Rock: So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk, London: Routledge, 1999. Shelfmark: YC.1999.b.4201

Women's zines

Unskinny imageWomen's zines are generally independent small-circulation self-published magazines and are characterised by a striking do-it-yourself aesthetic and attitude. They are diverse, covering topics from music, art, politics, parenting, ethnicity, sexuality, class issues, religion, feminism and much more. Distributed at concerts, record shops, and at ladyfests, weekend music and discourse festivals devoted to women performers, they complement and derive from the punk-related feminist rock music scene, particularly the Riot Grrrl movement with its immediate origins in the early 1990s music scene of British Columbia, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The Library has a small but growing collection of British women's zines, as well as periodicals, books and other research which documents and discusses them. Many of these have been added to the collection through donation. Recent additions to the collection include issues of Cazz Blasé's Aggamengmong Moggie, Lucy Sweet's Unskinny, Helen Kitson's All That Matters Is What Makes You Happy, Sophie Scarlet's Antisocial Scarlet, Riot Girl London, and Chica. Although the Library's collection is likely to be one of the largest in the country, in many cases the run of zines is incomplete and the intention is to fill gaps in due course. Donations of zines not yet in the collections are welcome.

The Library also has an extensive collection of British popular music newspapers and magazines published commercially. Academic studies of the punk and Riot Grrrl movements, and of feminism in general, are contained in the Library's comprehensive collection of research-level books and periodicals, and British and United States theses are also available. The Sound Archive contains many recordings by the performers concerned, including bands such as Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, and Huggy Bear.

Links and further reading

Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (eds.), Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. Shelfmark: m01/11693

Lauraine LeBlanc, Pretty in Punk: Girls' Gender Resistance in a Boys' Subculture,
New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999. Shelfmark: 99/27685

Allyson Mitchell, Lisa Bryn Rundle, and Lara Kariain (eds.) Turbo Chicks: Talking Young Feminisms, Toronto: Sumach Press, 2001. Shelfmark: YA.2002.a.8141

Trina Robbins, From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of [female symbol] Comics from Teens to Zines, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999. Shelfmark: YA.2003.b.353

Lillian S. Robinson, Wonder Women: Feminism Zaps the Comix, London: Routledge, 2004

Sheila Whitely, Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity, and Subjectivity, London: New York: Routledge, 2000. Shelfmark: YC.2001.a.12315

Sheila Whitely (ed.) Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, London: Routledge, 1997. Shelfmark: YC.1997.b.5664

Football fanzines

The Library's collections are especially strong in British football fanzines, with over a thousand separate titles held. These unofficial periodicals often take an irreverent view of the team in question and have titles that reflect this sense of humour, such as 4 bleats to the baah (about Tamworth Football Club; Shelfmark: ZK.9.a.6189) and Dial M for Merthyr (about Merthyr; Shelfmark: RH.9.x.591). Others, including the relatively well known When Saturday Comes (Shelfmark: Zk.9.b.3118), cover football in general.

Together, these fanzines form a substantial resource for researchers in sports history, cultural studies and social history, and for all with an interest in football. Some fanzine writers and editors may also go on to be journalists, editors, and authors in more mainstream publications, or have other distinguished careers.

The fanzines in the Library date from at least the 1960s, an early example being Zigger, originating in 1967 and devoted to Barrow Football Club (Shelfmark: P.441/105). Most in the collections were published in the 1980s and after. A number of electronic fanzines are also held, e.g. United on CD (about Manchester United; Shelfmark: CD.2001/86). Through Legal Deposit new issues continue to be added for current titles, and completely new titles are added in the same way.

Football fanzines are found in Explore the British Library by searching on title or, since some smaller sets are not catalogued by title, by searching under the name of the club.

Links and further reading

A Select List of British Football Programmes, Club Magazines and Football Periodicals in the Newspaper Library

Richard Haynes, The Football Imagination: The Rise of Football Fanzine Culture
London: Avebury, 1995. Shelfmark: YK.1995.a.9745

Martin Lacey. El Tel Was a Space Alien: The Best of Alternative Football Press. Sheffield: Juma, 1989. Contains a history of fanzine publishing. Shelfmark: ZK.9.b.3873

Peter J. Seddon, A Football Compendium, London: British Library, 1995 (Shelfmark: 2725.g.1995). Many fanzines, within and beyond the Library's collections, are listed here.

Peter J. Seddon, A Football Compendium, London: British Library, 1999. 2nd ed. (Shelfmark: HLR 796.334). Expanded content on football in general, but without the fanzines section of the 1st edition.

Phil Shaw, Whose Game is it Anyway? - The Book of Football Fanzines, Hemel Hempstead: Argus, 1989. Contains a history of fanzine publishing. Shelfmark: YK.1991.b.7298