A brief history of print: typewriters, kitchen sinks, and the 2011 Milwaukee Zine Fest
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In a world where blogging websites offer writers and commenters the chance to publish with a click of a button, it can be hard to fathom why people still make zines. Laying out an issue, reproducing and binding them, and the continual trouble of distribution make zines a labor and cost-intensive undertaking. Still, there’s something about the unique, handmade nature of these publications, a personal touch, that communicates something blogs can never attain. The outdated production methods aren’t a hindrance, but a celebration of work, personal passion, and the feeling of posterity that comes along with ink on paper. In anticipation of the 2011 Milwaukee Zine Fest, which takes place Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Polish Falcon and brings together creators, distributors, and fans of every stripe to discuss and share their work, The A.V. Club takes a look back at the Milwaukee area’s contributions to this still-thriving subculture.
Christopher Latham Sholes invents the first practical typewriter
Relocating from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin in 1837, Sholes was something of a renaissance man, acting as a senator, journalist, and even as Milwaukee’s Postmaster General. His most lasting contribution, however, came in 1872, when, with the help of partners and investors, Sholes presented the prototype of the world’s first practical typewriter. No longer were heavy, complicated printing presses required to print legible, reproducible text, and Sholes’ invention became the go-to tool for generations of self-publishers—until home computing came along and made editing and laying out text even more user friendly.
Denis Kitchen founds the Bugle-American and Kitchen Sink Press
Underground publications were an important part of the fabric of the 1960s counterculture, and in Milwaukee, things were no different. Inspired by the many radical weeklies and other self-distributed magazines and leaflets, Denis Kitchen helped launch the Bugle-American in 1970, which featured cartoons, music coverage, and political commentary. While less inflammatory than some of its peers, that didn’t stop Bugle-American’s Riverwest offices from being firebombed in 1975, a crime that remains unsolved, although many have voiced suspicions that members of the Milwaukee Police Department were involved. Kitchen also founded the influential Kitchen Sink Press in 1970, which highlighted underground comix artists like R. Crumb while also revisiting important classics of the genre. Kitchen Sink published the first complete, full-color reprinting of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, among other titles, before the company shut down in 1999.
Massive Magazine puts the focus on Midwest rave culture
While the slick futurism of rave music is probably most associated with cosmopolitan centers like New York and London, the Midwest—and Wisconsin in particular—quickly picked up on the movement, with our beloved state even hosting the first U.S. Daft Punk gig in 1996. Fueling the scene (you know, in addition to the ecstasy) was Massive Magazine, founded by Matt Massive in Mayville, Wisconsin in 1993. Originally, Massive’s plan was to compile and reprint other rave zines from his, er, massive personal collection, but the publication soon began focusing on original content, including early interviews with the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy. Eventually, Massive transformed into a more traditional glossy magazine, attaining a circulation of 50,000 before folding in 1999, but its underground spirit lives on.
The Queer Zine Archive Project documents a movement
Zines have historically been voices in the wilderness, championing music, film, or political views that are largely marginalized by the mainstream press. Sadly, LGBT issues often figure prominently on the list of things the media likes to ignore, and accordingly, zines reflecting the community’s voice became celebrations of the struggle for acceptance and lifelines to isolated LGBT youth. Since most zines eventually get tossed out and forgotten, Milwaukee’s Queer Zine Archive Project undertook the mission of preserving and sharing these important documents, and since its inception in 2003, has saved and scanned hundreds of publications, ranging from the personal to the polemical, creating an invaluable resource for researchers and fans.