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A Closer Look -- Behind the Zines: Self-Publishing Culture

Behind the Zines
Behind the Zines: Self-Publishing Culture, edited by Robert Klanten, Adeline Mollard and Matthias Hübner and published by Gestalten, is a canny look at the self-publishing industry, covering small indie publishers like Rollo Press, to periodical publications like 200% to prolific self-publishers like Erik van der Weijde. Opening with an understated preface, the body of the book is divided into five sections -- Gallery, Laboratory, Kiosk, Archive and Theater -- Gallery representing those zines that are little artistic ventures in and of themselves, Laboratory being those more experimental in nature, Kiosk representing the zines that are actual magazines, Archive describing those that are constructed from collections or found material, and Theater speaking to those books that aim at telling a story or narrative. As the book editors note, there are "plenty of overlaps."

Visually fascinating, Behind the Zines presents covers and interior pages from an enormous number of books, showing innovative layouts and use of space. Thick and with cloth covers, but without cover boards or cloth-covered spine (which shows the beautiful guts of the book), the book lays satisfyingly flat when opened, an important feature considering the detail in these pages. Each page captures a variety of photographs, illustrations and text, all notable for their graphic design. It's a treasure trove of resource material for anyone looking for design inspiration. Real credit is due to the book designer who didn't get tired of the possibly mundane task of showing similarly sized rectangular objects over and over again -- the book is dynamic in its layout, making each page lively. Yet Behind the Zines doesn't treat its subject matter as something too precious -- the books are an art form, a mode of expression to be explore and investigated. Judging from some of the publishers interviewed in this book, the general mindset of self-publishers seems to be focuses around design more than object, doing the most with limited means and notoriously finicky printers.

from Behind the Zines
from Behind the Zines
 Behind the Zines is not just an interesting look at the interiors of books, it's also filled with engaging commentary on the practice of zine-making itself. As clearly evidenced six months ago in our Best Books of 2010 feature, the self-published book has exploded, a fact that Behind the Zines engages, bringing up the aspect of self-publishing as a trend. "While it's very comforting that self-publishing, small publishing, independent publishing, or whatever you want to call it is experiencing a healthy boom right now, it brings back memories of a certain phase in the mid to late nineties when everyone became a DJ for a year or two -- and swapped their MK2 for a skateboard once they lost interest," says Rollo Press' Urs Lehni. Behind the Zines can be seen as an early formal attempt to separate the wheat from the chafe -- a protohistory of the movement -- but perhaps just before the bubble bursts in 2012, as Lehni predicts.

from Behind the Zines
from Behind the Zines
The five sections all open with an interview: Urs Lehni of Rollo Press for Gallery, Christopher Jung & Tobias Wenig of Jung + Wenig for Archive, Freek Lomme of Onomatopee for Laboratory, Thierry Somers of 200% for Kiosk and Erik van der Weijde of Rollo Press and 4478ZINE.COM for Theater. Each book featured includes a brief description and is accompanied by general publication information, and also includes the occasional publisher bio, giving a bit more background on featured projects. The book closes with a comprehensive index, providing the name and contact information for each book featured. Four of the books presented in Behind the Zines were selected as part of photo-eye's Best Books of 2010 -- Blindschleiche und Riesenblatt by Anne Schwalbe, Coney Island Baby by Anna Haas, See You Soon by Maxwell Anderson and Der Baum by Erik van der Weijde. Cabin and Woods by Coley Brown and Cristiano Guerri are also featured, as well as a number of titles from Erik van der Weijde. -- Sarah Bradley

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