Zines: curators vs auteurs

   There seems to be two main camps in the field of zeening (new word, gonna catch on) . One group primarily collect and put out work as an anthology with varying degrees of their own and others' work - we'll call these curators - while the other consists of single authors, or auteurs if we wish to be needlessly fancy (we do).

   Anyone that has followed The Undercroft knows that the first issue is more-or-less an auteur work, whereas for the second I trawled the OSR (quite successfully) for contributions. The second issue isn't out as of the time of writing, but it is finished for all intents and purposes. From this I can tell you that I enjoyed making #2 an awful lot more. I met good people and got good work from them, I even got a collaborative Mystery Top Secret side-project out of it that I'm just itching to get done. I also believe that #2 is the superior work in terms of pure content, my own and that of the writers and artists, but that's yet to be confirmed so we'll ignore that for now. The change in production has spurred me to thinking about the future of the zine, what I want and where it needs to go.

   In a world of rampant blogging it's hard to decide on a place for a zine. Where does one draw the line? Do you pull back from vomiting your brain onto the internet so as to save it for print? For the auteur the decision is obvious: you need to keep your mouth shut sometimes. As a curator you can continue to give it away for free like the slutty little writer you are. I know I can't keep my creative legs crossed, it's why I keep getting knocked up with side projects.

   You could of course just take your blog as a collection of first drafts, which it probably is in most people's cases. Even the best blogs aren't putting out publishable content, it takes a whole new level of work to get something clean and tight enough to charge money for. I'm certain there are people that disagree, that rough raw ideas from your blog are worth publishing, but I don't buy it. Ideas are cheap, tortured artists are two-a-penny. Anyway, I've stolen from myself a couple of times now with, I feel, good results. Like all second (3rd, 4th, 5th...) drafts it reveals more about that nugget of an idea you had one late night of attention whoring some months back. Is this good enough though? Does the nugget have to be new to be worth selling? Does anyone even read or care about blogs that much? It's easy to forget that the OSR is pretty damn small, well read and inbred, expecting outsiders (hisss!) to be familiar with your work is pretty silly.

   Should a zine and a blog happily step on each other? I know I don't keep up with everything everyone makes but I do buy your zines. The instant it's on paper it's permanent and important. The magic of the printed word, can't avoid it.

   The Undercroft will continue as a collaborative work, if only so I can interact with people in a productive environment. You learn a lot about folks when you work with them and have to produce a finished product, you can't just faff and waffle like the internet loves to do. You need results, you create a mini parenthood and raise a horrible monster to set loose on the world. It's a thrilling shared experience that can lead to bigger things.

   Another important distinction between curators and auteurs is that one needs to define their working relationship. From the beginning I didn't want it to be a fuzzy"do me a favour" situation, I wanted there to be definite compensation for work. Yes, I pay awfully (as much as the zine can afford, which will hopefully raise if things go well), but I pay. It's a token with no ambiguity, it defines a relationship and creates an exchange. This is not a favour, you are being rewarded for being good at something, as you should. I know some people do it for the joy of it, which is great, but that's a risky situation for a curator to be in. People help you because you are popular, well respected, or their friend. You can't enter a scene from out of nowhere and expect to get free help, at least not of any great calibre. Maybe you aren't the most personable guy? You don't have to be a good person to make good stuff, arseholes are arguably better at it even. How do they get help before they've attracted their groupies? Maybe when zines were novel you could just roll up and thumb the back of your truck, but today you're tripping over new zines. You could say "I don't care if no one reads my zine (or blog, or whatever)" but that's a big old porky, isn't it? If you don't care if people don't read your work, don't present it to them. Have the decency to care and believe in what you're putting out.

- ~ -

So there you have it. A rambling insight into my zine-related thoughts as of the last week or two. If you look carefully you can pinpoint the exacpt moment I started to stumble into "And another thing!.." territory. Please feel free to assist in sifting through them or add your own.


  1. I'm a control freak and I know I'm hell to work with, so I doubt I'll have many opportunities to balance the auteur or curator question for myself! All your points are tallying up with my own, though - and I definitely underline your last point about 'Don't care who reads it'. If you don't care, keep it to yourself! For me, however, when something is presented to the prospective audience - that's the moment I turn from solid self-assured control freak into nervous self-concious kid, and suddenly develop the wonderful magic power of recognising all the grammatical and spelling errors I missed in 27 proof-readings...

    1. It boils my blood when people say they don't care what people think of their work. "Then why am I reading it!?" says I. Glad I'm not the only one being grumpy about it.

      If you ever need new eyes for proof-reading don't hesitate to ask around. Plenty of nice folk out there in the zine scene.

  2. I'd love to have some articles by other people in my theoretical zine, but man, I don't have enough money to pay them for it, and I am not confident enough in my writing skills to offer to pay in kind.

  3. I'm heavily, emphatically, and intentionally on the side of auteur with Secrets. It's specifically intended as an outgrowth of my blog. I wouldn't mind/would like to contribute to other zines, but a year and 4 issues editing the Oerth Journal curing me of ever wanting to work in an editorial/coordinator capacity ever again. I would love it if someone wanted to contribute, but that contribution would have to really work with my vision, not set up a new one.

    Secrets is a way for me to collect, relate, and expand on blog material. It's also a larger stage than a blog post. There's greater continuity of thought possible in 20 pages than there is in 20 blog posts.

    And I want Secrets to be as good as I can possibly make it. I want to be proud of it; I want it to be professional. And I very much care what people think.

    1. You're doing great so far, I've got issue two sitting next to me.

      I think it was getting #2 through the post that got me thinking about auteur stuff. I admire that unified vision, a little bit jealous even. If my experiences with collaborating this issue weren't so positive I would have snapped and copied you.

    2. I'm happy collaborating from the contributor perspective; and I have no issue taking editorial feedback. I just refuse to be the coordinator. I know my limits. :)

      There's a lot of change that goes on even with the "unified vision". I, at various times, intended Strange Races to have a lot more and a lot less information on the Feathered Realm, which was itself born out of a desire to ground the races _somewhere_. With a few exceptions, they don't fit into the "core" Shadowend setting, and I didn't want them all to just be freakadelic tribes from the mountains. I thought it might be a little more interesting if I flipped it and made the freaky races common instead. I wanted to include a map and one-page intro to the Feathered Realm, but I couldn't settle on a map that clicked and was too tired of the project to spend much energy on it. Plus I'd already added 4 pages.

      My hope going forward is to overproduce material so I can pick and choose as I assemble each issue, and get a variety of material. Some "substantive" articles (races, classes, gazetteer stuff), some "plug-n-play" (spells, magic items, monsters), and some ...I don't want to call them space-fillers, but tables and random generators suchlike. I've also got different concepts to explore, but I'm not going to promise any of them until the work is done. Nor am I likely to do preorders again. Too much pressure to produce what I promised rather than follow a whim.

    3. I enjoy organising stuff. I'm sick, I know.

      It's brave to commit to a setting idea like you have, I couldn't imagine having the discipline to keep myself on one track for so long. The concept of a zine that is gradually unveiling a setting, bit by bit, is great though.

      Is the zine representative of the world you run games in?

    4. I go through periods of expansion and contraction. I generate a lot of ideas, the setting or settings grow, and then I take the best ones and integrate them into the Shadowend. The whole setting is just second nature for me at this point; it's easy for me to be interested in it because it reflects what I find interesting.

      The two specifically Shadowend pieces (Intro/Welcome to the Shadowend and Elves of the Shadowend) are the only two specifically Shadowend pieces so far. It's very high fantasy/fairy tale/folklore-oriented, with early Arthurian/Celtic, Norse, Germanic, and Slavic influences. The material in issue 1 would fit into Shadowend without a problem; the Feathered Realm would not. The leshii are the only race in Strange Races that I had created for the Shadowend; there are others (jotunar, troldfolk, roane, domovii) that I'll run at a later date.

      I'm going to slide more Shadowend content in as time goes on, but I don't want to turn Secrets into just a multi-part gazetteer, so there's a balance to be struck.