Go into any independent printed paraphernalia shop that stocks photocopied, haphazardly hand-stapled zines—from Printed Matter in New York City, to Motto in Berlin and Books Actually in Singapore—and you’re sure to come across Erik van der Weijde. Since 2003, the Dutch artist, photographer, and prolific publisher who now lives and works in Brazil, has produced over 50 different zine title, some of which have five or six issues. Do the math: it’s a lot of zines.
There’s been plenty of conversation about how magazines have had a revival in recent years, but less conversation about how changes in the self-publishing landscape have affected zine makers.
Historically, zines are known for being rough, amateurish efforts, apparent in their deliberately scruffy, cut-and-paste aesthetic. So when van der Weijde started out in 2003 with 12 different zine titles that were piling up, unsold, in boxes in his bedroom, he decided to professionalize the famously unprofessional genre. The way he did it was still entirely DIY, though. By taking advantage of cheap local printing and diving into a tattered copy of Dreamweaver for Dummies that taught him to build a website, he set up a publishing house, 4478zine, so he could legitimize his zine business and start distributing online.
“Zines have evolved from being solely underground to an accepted medium for showcasing and selling work to a slightly larger audience,” says van der Weijde when asked how the medium has changed over the past decade. Turns out that zine makers have reaped the benefits of the changes in self-publishing in the same way that magazine makers have. “An online presence has helped a lot in professionalizing the format. Also, offset printing has become more accessible, so large print runs have made the whole thing more financially viable. It’s not that zine makers are becoming rich, but at least we don’t lose that much money nowadays!”
As a result of online distribution, van der Weijde’s Subway (now proudly onto its seventh issue) is now one of the most well-known contemporary zines around, to the extent that you can often find it sitting alongside the Kinfolks and Lucky Peaches of the world on independent bookstore shelves. So what’s inside? Most of Subway’s content is mined from eBay and Wikipedia; van der Weijde’ randomly chops and pastes together the material to create what he calls a “five-minute fun ride” of facts, art, poetry, and fragmented photographic imagery. “Subway’s content doesn’t seem to be linked, but everything is similar in the same way that trains and tunnels link different parts of a city,” he explains. “You might not see the links, but if you look closer it’s all there.”
The latest issue showcases the work of three artists (Jason Polan, Thales Pessoa, and Gerry Johannsson) with the color pink, chinchillas, and family ties as the mysterious train tracks connecting the ideas together.
The other zines that van der Weijde produces are more elusive. Birds of Paradise is a photocopy of a three-ring binder filled with images of tanks found online. Teddy Bear, like many of van der Weijde’s zines, is based on a book found at a flea market; the pages were re-photographed so that bears could be placed in a new context. Then there’s Foto.zine, a striking collection of van der Weijde’s documentary pictures.
Although the way zines are being distributed and printed has radically shifted since the early days, looking at the work produced by 4478zine makes it clear that the original cut-and-paste spirit is still alive. Only now, in addition to cutting out images from magazines and encyclopedias, van der Weijde also drags and drops them onto his InDesign screen.