The Land of Friendly Zines

Like ragged scrapbooks of everyday life, zines reveal an alternative perspective not found at the local Barnes & Noble. Boosters of these homemade, small-print publications note that in an increasingly homogenized media realm, anyone -- including those without a lot of money or experience -- has the ability to create something tangible and unique. These DIY creations often consist of hastily photocopied pages of swiped paper stock filled with stories, articles, photos and art.

For many connoisseurs, the more raw a zine is -- the more off-kilter, the more visceral -- the better. Some titles develop global audiences; for example, Temp Slave!, Beer Frame and Cometbus are distributed by the thousands through a worldwide network of underground publishers. Others, made by hand, might have a circulation of as little as a dozen.

This literary laissez-faire motivated Stevyn Prothero to open the Iron Feather Book and Zine Shop in Denver nine months ago as a physical manifestation of The Iron Feather Journal, a cyberpunk periodical he's been plugging away at since 1987. The one-room storefront off 32nd Avenue and Tejon Street is crammed floor to ceiling with Prothero's collection of zines and used books, which he's amassed through years of mail-order swaps.

"That's how the zine world is," he says. "Everybody just sends stuff to everybody. A zine could have been made by a team of a dozen guys or a young high school kid." Also, many of them are conglomerations of the work found in other zines. Once, a European mag arrived on Prothero's doorstep; in it, several of his Iron Feather articles had been reprinted -- with attribution, but without his knowledge. And that was okay, he says, because most zinesters operate on an open-source basis.

In keeping with that communal philosophy, Prothero recently launched the Open Zine Project, in which creative types can contribute one page apiece to a shared publication. Participants can submit a page they've produced at home or take their ideas to Iron Feather, where a small workstation has been set up, complete with scissors, glue, a typewriter and a formerly abandoned Xerox machine. "I'm pretty sure it works," Prothero says of the copier, which he discovered in a nearby dumpster. "I just have to clean it up."

Right now the tract has 32 blank pages, and potential topics are unlimited. For his part, Prothero is doing an article on how to turn cheap, varnish-like vodka into top-shelf-tasting liquor by distilling it through a water filter. Although the Open Zine publication date is still up in the air, all contributors -- from hard-core-lesbian activists to crusty, comic-drawing punks -- will receive a copy of the finished product.

According to Prothero, the underground scene, which took a turn for the slow in the mid-'90s, appears to be on an upswing. He notes, for instance, that less than six blocks from Iron Feather, at 1644 Platte Street, the Denver Zine Library and its operators are digging into their new space, which contains a lendable collection of over 5,300 zines.

Prothero hopes his outreach will keep things fermenting, though he realizes from personal experience that there may be upheavals. The landlord of the building that he and two other tenants occupy is proposing to install a brewpub, and Iron Feather could be booted from its space by March. Regardless, the zinester vows to carry the Open Zine Project forward. He's searching for a new space and is confident the zine scene will follow.

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Jared Jacang Maher

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