Samizdat: Fanzine from Yugoslavia Until Present Days

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From Samizdat to Crnoslovlje: The Enduring Spirit of Fanzines

The original story was published here.

‘Nothing is more intolerable than freedom,’ wrote James Baldwin, among other things because freedom abolishes comfort, brings loneliness. It doesn’t include a budget, a hot meal, or a monthly transportation pass, and demands complete responsibility – “A free person is entirely responsible for everything they do or don’t do.” Nevertheless, we chase after it – it’s sweet because it promises endless expanses where there is no censorship.”

In those expenses, we can express what we carry within us, without fear of being controlled by anyone.

Structure

When I hear the word “freedom,” a fanzine is one of the things that come to mind. It’s about the samizdat printed format that is easily made and even easier to duplicate. It usually comes out in small print runs, is sold for pennies, exchanged for goods and other fanzines, or offered for free. It can be glued, stapled, sewn, folded, tied with string, chopped up and reassembled, like some mutant assembled from the desires and dreams of artists that have not yet been realised in a commercial sense (or have been, which ultimately doesn’t matter for this story).

They are diverse when it comes to content – comics, poetry, prose, diary entries, photography, cartoons, scribbles, memoirs, aphorisms, erotica, pornography, fashion, collage, horror, thoughts on politics and ecology, everything can fit into a fanzine because the rules are created by the one who makes it. Ideas can be clear, but also entirely abstract, so every fanzine is like hidden treasure waiting to be found. Everything previously mentioned is just a sketch; the only rule is that there are no rules.

Those who love and create fanzines are rarely motivated by profit because there is no profit. The desire to express something in a world limited by rules is sometimes stronger than the desire for security – when a fanzine finds itself in the wild, the creator can spend hours imagining everyone who reads/watches/devours what they have printed, copied, and put together. Statistics on the number of copies sold/given away/exchanged are generally not available, so those readers can be equally real or fictional.

History of fanzines

When talking about the first fanzines, it usually refers to the 1930s and science fiction enthusiasts from Chicago. In the desire to discuss their favourite genre, they began to create pamphlets that we now call fanzines. They created a space for what couldn’t fit into the formats consumed by mainstream culture consumers.

Some argue that we can go even further – samizdat booklets and pamphlets in the 1930s were not a new idea, so some consider precursors to the fanzine format to be instructions on practicing witchcraft from the 15th century. Alongside these booklets were those intended for witch hunters, with titles like Instructions for Catching Witches.

Such booklets also played an important role in showing resistance throughout history, at a time when the word “fanzine” didn’t even exist. Poor Richard’s Almanack was published once a year, created by scientist Benjamin Franklin under the pseudonym “Poor Richard”. It was published from 1732 to 1758 and contained an annual weather forecast, poetry, a calendar, quotes, horoscopes, and occasionally maths problems. It was translated into French and Italian, and many things from this grandfather of fanzines in language (primarily American English) still live on today. 

A yearly almanack published by Benjamin Franklin

There are so many examples that it’s almost impossible to list them all, and by the beginning of the 20th century, these booklets began to resemble what we consider a fanzine today. In the 1920s, they began to be called ‘little magazines,’ and they became most popular during the Harlem Renaissance – an intellectual movement aimed at popularising African American art and culture.

The term “fanzine” was finally born during the Great Depression in the United States among fans of science fiction. It was created by combining two words: fan (enthusiast, admirer) and zine (short for magazine). Fans of this genre were not satisfied with what they called “bad literature,” so they decided to take matters into their own hands and publish what they considered quality stories. One of the first fanzines of this type was The Comet, which began to be published in 1930.

When the first commercial photocopier was created in 1958, everything changed. It became easier to duplicate texts, and over the next two decades, the fanzine gained momentum. In the 1970s and 1980s, it became an important ally of punks in London, Los Angeles, and New York, and in the 1990s, of feminist punk scenes. Anyone could write, draw, and print whatever they wanted, without permission from any “higher authority.”

Fanzine in Yugoslavia

It didn’t bypass us either. It flourished in former Yugoslavia, playing a special role in the 1990s when the region was cut off from the world due to wars and sanctions. Cultural collaboration with artists from other countries was almost impossible, so more and more creative citizens took matters into their own hands.

Yugoslavian fanzine map in 1990s

The editor of the fanzine Zips and Chains, Dario Adamić, writes for the blog Stražarni lopov that “the punk scene in Yugoslavia in the early eighties gravitate around major cities (such as Ljubljana, Zagreb, Rijeka, Belgrade, Novi Sad), so it was natural for the first punk fanzines to appear right there (between 1980 and 1982). While documentation from the western parts of the country is scarce, it was easy to find fanzines made in the eastern parts. The first fanzines in Yugoslavia were: Zagrebački Trubač (Zagreb), Pank (Ruma / Belgrade), Urbana Gerila, Bez Naslova, Alternativa, U Ognju Strasti (all from Belgrade), Kult (Rijeka), Punk Problemi, Fanzin (both from Ljubljana), Pankzija (Maribor), Bla Bla Bla (Trate), Autopsia, Indigo, Bankrot, Rose Sélavy (all from Ruma), Kvazimodo, Kreten, (both from Pančevo), Besplatna Diploma and Ego (both from Sarajevo).” Most of them came out once or twice. The only zine with several issues (five) was Urbana Gerila.

Fanzines began to emerge more massively in Yugoslavia in the early 1980s, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before. The artistic group Mediala from Belgrade, which included Leonid Šejka, Olja Ivanjicki, and Milić od Mačve, was publishing a publication in the 1950s that can be freely considered a precursor to fanzines in our region.

Director Slobodan Šijan was producing a film fanzine in the 1970s, which was collected into the book “Filmski letak” in 2009. Once a month, enthusiasts of this art were offered a graphic-textual expression about films, which would surely still be interesting to cinephiles today.

It seems like the list is endless…

The first Yugoslav fanzine for glamour appeared in 1977, published by the Student Cultural Center. It showed the influence of Andy Warhol, focusing on fashion and photography, although it also covered music.

Comic book artist Saša Rakezić, better known as Aleksandar Zograf, published his first fanzine in Pančevo. “Kreten” came out for the first time in the late seventies.

The most popular were the music fanzines, whose content didn’t differ much from what could be read in music magazines – interviews, concert reports, columns. They were mostly A5 format, printed in black and white, so they differed from magazines in that aspect, but also in circulation. The longest running one is “Oprem dobro,” which has been coming out since 1986.

Oprem dobro fanzine

According to some data, around 300 fanzines were being published in Yugoslavia until 1991. The golden age began in Serbia in the mid-1990s – “It was that period after the wars and everything, when the hardcore music scene in Serbia livened up a bit,” says Miroslav Stašić for the BBC. They were sold on-site at concerts, festivals, but could also be obtained by mail – “Every fanzine had a mandatory contact address, as well as addresses of other fanzines, so some call them ‘social networks of that time’.”

The main centres were in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Smederevo, Kraljevo, and Kragujevac, and they were also published in Kruševac, Raška, Kosjerić, Smederevska Palanka, Kovin, Lučani, Pančevo, Kovačica, and other places,” writes the BBC. Among the more popular ones were the Novi Sad fanzine “Tri drugara,” the Belgrade “War Pigs” and “Beograde, dobro jutro,” and “Oops!” from Smederevska Palanka. “Anarchist” from Smederevo, “Protest” from Kula, and “Kontrapunkt” from Kraljevo were the most significant representatives of political fanzines of that period. In Belgrade, there were also “Nagravžne” and “Shaved Women” dedicated to the English anarcho-punk band Crass.

Fanzin Warsaw

I spoke about the fate of fanzines in former Yugoslavia with a man who goes by the pseudonym Krikus (from “krik” and “cirkus,” as he says – a combination of painful and entertaining), who today publishes the webcomic “Ilustrovana propast” (Illustrated downfall). He has been involved in this art for a long time, and in 1996 and 1997, his fanzine “Warsaw comics” was also released.

* When someone mentions “Yugoslav fanzine,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

The Yugoslav fanzine scene was very diverse, and it’s hard to pinpoint one fanzine that would be the best association. However, I would highlight Alas comics, which was published by Aleksandar Zograf from Pančevo during the nineties.

* You also had your own fanzine?

That’s right, I published the Warsaw comics fanzine and several other small editions.

* Why did you choose this format back then? Because of freedom?

The freedom provided by fanzines and the fact that they are devoid of any censorship is crucial, but that wasn’t my only motivation. The reasons also stemmed from specific social circumstances and the desire for our voice from the margins to be somehow documented.

* That was, if I’m not mistaken, a comic fanzine? Were there other contents – texts, interviews?

Exactly, it was a comic fanzine. I focused on alternative comics and wanted to publish my own works, but I also left space for other authors, so each issue featured a guest illustrator.

* Was it possible to publish those comics in another way? So that something can be earned from it?

Alternative comics, by their nature, are hermetic and have difficulty reaching a wider audience. On the other hand, the social circumstances were such that there was no space in the mainstream media. I don’t think earning money was a motive for any author. At that time, as well as today, authors sought income abroad and from large publishing houses, and some were very successful in doing so.

* What do you think about this format today?

I think the printed fanzine format is largely outdated. Today, authors publish their works on the internet, through social media, websites, and blogs. Interestingly, sometimes it seems to me that the entire internet is actually based on ideas that existed among fanzine authors; it seems like the internet was invented by those very people.

* What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a fanzine?

A friend told me that he had the opportunity to show high school students a fanzine at an art workshop. He didn’t expect such great interest and such positive reactions. I think a fanzine is an interesting and creative way to express ideas and articulate a message. It doesn’t matter how limited the number of people reached by that message is because, if nothing else, the voice will remain recorded no matter how thin it may be.

Fanzine Today: Crnoslovlje

Although it seems like a thing of the past, the fanzine still lives on. The World Science Fiction Convention still awards the Hugo Award for the best fanzine, and there are festivals dedicated to this format around the world. People have moved long ago to the internet, but there are still those who rejoice when they hold a real fanzine made of “flesh and blood” in their hands.

Photo: Jadranka Stanić

One of my favourites is Crnoslovlje, a horror fanzine for enthusiasts of horror literature, comics, film, and all things eerie. It’s crafted by Yog, Milan Kovačević, and Daniel Tikvicki, so I spoke with them about the present and future of this format.

* If you were to try to explain what Crnoslovlje is in three sentences, what would it look like?

Crnoslovlje is a project that deals with the darker side of art. The eponymous horror fanzine is one aspect of this project, but we also explore other forms of expression such as music, painting, comics, primarily operating and creating within the underground and DIY environment. Crnoslovlje is made up of the Crnosloveni, a term we use for our occasional or regular collaborators, while the core of this project consists of the fanzine’s editorial team

* Why horror?

Why not? Although we’re not limited by genre, in terms of how the mainstream perceives it when it comes to selling a film or a new novel by Stephen King, because we understand horror both as an atmosphere and as a feeling that stories or music can evoke. We delve into existentialism, philosophy, and social horrors, but also enjoy entertaining pulp and splatter. Perhaps if we rephrase the question as ‘why this kind of horror?’, we can answer more easily. Because no one here has done it this way before.

* Is there any fanzine that served as direct inspiration?

Yes, although here we’re going to stretch the concept of fanzines quite a bit, so let’s close our eyes to the fact that they don’t look like fanzines, but the way of creating them is fanzine-like. Firstly, there’s Emitor, the newsletter of the Lazar Komarčić association, then the magazine Znak Sagite, which was extremely significant for domestic authors in the 1990s. On the other hand, metal and punk fanzines were also read, if I’m not mistaken, everyone in the editorial staff was involved in creating a few. Long before the internet became ubiquitous, there was even a virtual (possibly the first of its kind) fanzine, Screaming Planet, which was released on a CD! Today, there are fanzines that we follow, like Black Syrup, The White Japanese Lapot, but also long-established (and virtual) ones like HellyCherry, Dotkom, and Abaddon…”

Photo: Jadranka Stanić

* Are there any other horror fanzines in our region?

Purely or shall I say primarily horror, not as far as I know, but there are a large number of fanzines that flirt with horror. For example, Emitor has reached its 500th issue, which is incredible, and they often have genre authors as guests. But in the manner of Crnoslovlje, no.

* Did the Kikinda festival of short horror films, Noći ludaje, stem from this story? How is that story progressing?

Thank you for the question, it’s progressing. After the trial edition, we’re preparing something slightly larger and slightly better, although I’m absolutely satisfied with the first festival and could easily repeat it – an exhibition of horror posters from the time of the SFRJ, craft beer, about 3 hours of screenings… But we always strive not to repeat ourselves, which can also be seen in the fanzine itself, which differs and improves with each issue, although we are very satisfied with all the previous issues. This year, Noći Ludaje will be held earlier, to make use of the summer garden… but without revealing too much, those who come can expect a mini spectacle.

* In the fourth edition of Crnoslovlje, you claim again that it is the last issue. That’s not true, of course?

Actually, we claim that Crnoslovlje is dead. Like Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers, the villain has to die in order to come back even stronger and deadlier. The subtitles of each issue of the fanzine are primarily a homage to slasher films of the 80s. Which means we can choose whether the next issue will be Crnoslovlje Živi (Lives) or Crnoslovlje Početak (Beginning).

* Where can interested individuals find (order) the fanzine?

We have active pages on Facebook and Instagram, an email [email protected], as well as the website crnoslovlje.rs. We’d like to emphasise that we upload all issues for free download because we produce micro print runs and don’t do reprints. Everyone who wants to see what Crnoslovlje is about can download the first three issues today. We upload the fourth issue as soon as the physical print run runs out. Additionally, we support self-printing of these issues, and people don’t even have to ask us.

* Can authors contact you and submit stories/texts, or do you choose the content yourselves?

So far, we’ve operated on an invitation basis, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in authors sending us stories. However, so far, there have been only a few. We even wanted to publish a special issue called ‘Firstborn’ where we would feature stories by authors who haven’t been published anywhere before, as a kind of first chance.

* What advice would you give to someone trying to create their own fanzine today?

Anyone who wants to try fanzine-making, whether they succeed and publish a few issues or give up, will have a top-notch, fun, and educational experience behind them. Our advice would be to find your theme and approach it unusually, originally, differently. How many times have we heard ‘a fanzine that combines horror themes and metal aesthetics, how did nobody think of that before,’ but here we are. Ideas are all around us, they just need to be realised – a metal fanzine that covers bands that play and sing in Serbian, a feminist punk fanzine, a film fanzine that thematically covers Yugoslav films by year from World War II onwards… Personally, I’d do a fanzine that covers trash movies with ratings of 3 or below on IMDb, but I don’t have the time.

Many fanzine creators cite willpower and desire as their main fuel. A fanzine is not an isolated concept, nor can it be defined in isolation – it seeks breadth, demands expansiveness, lives for and with the audience. The underground is equally important, if not more important than the mainstream, because it harbours the seed that can be used in case of apocalypse. From it will grow everything that has flourished on the fringes of society, some new fanzines that will ignite the imagination of those growing up on the internet.

 Author: Milan Živanović

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