The last party I threw was in 1994.
That’s because I hate parties. I hate going to them, and I hate hosting them. Just as molecules are made up of atoms, parties are merely a collection of cliques.
Seldom does anybody from one click venture across the room to strike up a conversation with somebody in a rival clique. Mostly, the cliques stake out a territory, stay there all night, and make fun of what the other cliques are wearing.
Of course, it’s entirely possible I’ve been going to the wrong parties.
Then again, I’ve been invited mostly to newspaper parties. You’d think reporters who interview sources all day would be witty conversationalists all night. Instead, they’re as tight-lipped as Penn State pedophile protectors.
So in 1994, I threw a party with a purpose.
I called it a “zine party.” The only rule: Get to work or get out. The goal: publish a zine in one evening.
Even back then, at the height of zine culture, I was surprised how many journalists had never heard of this much-maligned art form. A zine (pronounced “zeen”) was the underground alternative to a magazine. It perished as a pursuit when blogs became popular, and now all that’s left is this Wikipedia page that defines it as…
a small circulation publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier.
No one ever accused Wikipedia of being particularly well-written. So here’s a definition by example…
In 1990, I was a reporter at the Sun-Sentinel, a Top 50 U.S. newspaper at the time. (Who the hell knows today.) I covered a medium-sized city. And I was bored.
My best friend Mark was a copy editor at the competing daily, The Palm Beach Post. And he was bored.
So we started a zine called iCE.
We used pseudo-pseudonyms (our middle names as last names) and wrote about all the local culture the Sentinel and Post didn’t understand and wouldn’t touch – alternative nightclubs, underground artists, loud music, and disturbing news.
Looked like this…
…and it was a pain in the ass.
Back then, there were no digital cameras, and I had only recently been introduced to Pagemaker 3.0 – imagine InDesign as a wrinkled premature baby with an IV sticking in its head, writhing in an incubator.
So Mark and I would beg and borrow photos and use my IBM PC (text-only monitor, a whopping 128K of RAM) to spit out columns of text. We’d paste together little bits of paper with rubber cement and print issues using any photocopiers we could find, with or without permission.
We stapled each issue in my apartment and distributed them at alternative nightclubs, coffeehouses, clothing stores, tattoo parlors, and head shops.
iCE grew so big we needed to pay a legit printer. Fortunately, we had advertisers to cover the cost. But we were no longer a zine. We were a small business.
We were big enough that Mark and I feared getting fired from our day jobs, and we got nervous when Post and Sun-Sentinel reporters started questioning our readers and advertisers.
But instead of busting us, the reporters wanted to join us.
At the height of iCE, we had a staff of a half-dozen reporters who were risking their careers so they could write what they wanted, instead of what they were assigned.
Mark and I were caught a few months later – but not by reporters.
Ad reps for the two dailies started seeing us as competition for commissions, so they tracked us down through investigating reporting techniques that would shame most journalists.
Mark and I were almost fired. He got demoted, and I quit to do iCE full-time. On my last day, the Sun-Sentinel bought it.
Our zine went corporate.
The Sun-Sentinel is owned by the Tribune Company. My salary nearly tripled, Mark’s nearly doubled, and we hired a staff. But we also had to follow an “office cleanliness policy” and faced constant pressure to be “advertiser-friendly.”
Goodbye, zine dreams.
So I was real pleased when a fan of “indie iCE” created his own zine to protest “sell-out iCE.”
A slightly brain-damaged itinerant waiter (he fell out of a tree and hit his head, it’s a long story) published FLO irregularly. But I supported him and even granted him an interview that irked my corporate overseers…
But I had already started another zine.
I didn’t tell anyone except Mark – who wanted nothing to do with it. All he said was, “Jesus, you’re crazy.”
He was right. And the zines were the only thing keeping me sane. (I’ve tried hobbies, charities, and alcoholism, but nothing has stuck.)
The weird truth is, even when you’re the friggin’ publisher, there’s stuff you can’t run in your own magazine. That’s because a magazine is all about your audience. A zine can be all about you – and if no one reads it, well, who cares? That’s not the point.
Talk about burying the lede…
Eventually, iCE folded into another Tribune magazine, and I became the entertainment editor. I attended lots of parties, and I was as bored there as I was in the Sun-Sentinel newsroom.
Someone asked me why an entertainment editor never threw a party of his own. So I threw a zine party. Worked like this…
I provided an old PC and an even older black-and-white printer, plus stacks of plain paper, pens, white-out, X-Acto blades, and old magazines (for creating collages of images). Attendees brought their own adult beverages and promised to stay until a zine was finished.
It took till damn near daylight, but we completed a zine we named One Night Stand. I wish I had saved a copy. But all I have is this illustration, which a guy named John (don’t recall his last name) created by pouring white-out and ink in his mouth and spitting the sick mixture onto a piece of paper on the floor, then swirling it around with his finger…
I wanted to reprise the zine party.
We had distributed the first issue in downtown Fort Lauderdale and heard good things from the pre-hipster and pre-emo crowds. (“You assholes did this all in one night? What the fuck?”)
But life got in the way of a second issue. I got fired, started another zine, and sold it to the one-armed heir to the Listerine fortune. (Another long story.)
Now I’m married, and my wife isn’t eager to have 20 people crowd into our townhouse, spitting ink and white-out on the floor. So I’ve convinced SPJ to do it.
The South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gave me enough money to book a couple rooms at a beach hotel – with a tiki bar out front…
And when I say “beach hotel,” I’m being literal. This is the view from the tiki bar (where I’ll buy you a drink)…
If you’ve read this far, working the actual zine party will be easy.
Of course, the big question is: What the hell will you actually do at a zine party? Who makes the assignments? Who decides the page count? Who edits? Who designs?
The answer is: You decide.
The funnest (and funniest) part of the first zine party was watching talented and respected journalists struggle with a brand-new concept: Their zine was nothing but a bunch of blank pages, and they could fill them any way they chose.
It took quite a few legal and illegal intoxicants before they could embrace this freedom.
One wrote a short story. Another simply listed all the S&M material you could check out of the county library. Four women brought some pizza to the local homeless hangout and fed the men in exchange for anecdotes.
(I vividly recall the headline: “Three Blondes, One Redhead, and Half a Pizza Go to the Homeless Tent on a Saturday Night.”)
Maybe you’ll consider doing whatever with us. Or maybe you’ll host a zine party wherever you happen to be. If so, I’d greave to help. Email me.