Comstock, “Grrrl Zine Network”

Comstock offers reflections on the riot grrrl zine networks, focused twofold on (1) what researches and pedagogues of writing can learn about writing from such zines and (2) what the very nature of such everyday, vernacular writing makes possible or visible about a particular moment in feminist history.

Comstock, drawing from Gere, sees this zine scene in terms of “extracurricular” in that it is functions as counter to formal institutional education writing. As Comstock writes, the contemporary zine scene “comprises a significant extracurricular site of reading and writing pedagogy, where editors, writers, and readers learn the critical practices of countercultural production and distribution outside of formla institutional settings. Composed of ‘rants’ against the homogenizing effects of mass culture and popular media, zines forego the grammar, layout, content, and distribution methods of conventional publican” (384). The zine writer/editors are explicit that their writing community is intentionally in conflict with school contexts. Much like Goffman’s underlife, zine writers use the zine space in reaction to the paternalistic strictures of the institution. Not only that, but also in reaction to other scenes that are imcompatiable with some feminist zine writers. Comstock writes, such zine writing often uses “writing as a tactic for critical and alternative subject formation outside both the male punk scene and the mainstream feminist movement” (386).

Thus a central motive of these zines is the “rhetorical desire to network young women who are isolated in homes, high schools, and colleges, and provide them with alternative literacies (tools and knowledges) for self-expression and solidarity” (388). Such a network, as argued by the zine editors that Comstock sites, seems impossible to support from within school contexts. For instance, the zine provides an opportunity for women to share “’their stories with [each] other and [point] fingers at the accused’ [allowing] these young women to ‘express their rage, relieve their shame, and overcome the isolation that accompanies such an experience’” (Duncombe 67 qtd in Comstock 389) of trauma and abuse. As Comstock writes, “in high school and university writing courses, for example, many women are met with fear or confusion when they attempt to articulate their experiences of bodily trauma” (390). As such, “although many grrrl editors have spent many hours writing and reading in university classrooms, they have chosen the zine scene and not the academy as their vehicle for change” (390).

These zines also emphasize their vernacular and resistant nature through their mode of distribution and circulation: often shared through grassroots networks (e.g. independent bookstores, reading groups, rock concerts, and community centers). As such, the zine becomes a place “where writers learn how to produce and distribute texts outside of formal educational settings” (see Gere; 387). Grrrl zinesters often arrange, curate, cut/paste, fragments of popular and alternative cultures to participate and contribute to the zine. The emphasis is on creating a network made up, not only of an imagined audience, but of the intertextuality of mainstream and alternative. In online zines, such practices is replaced with hyperlinking. But the movement to digital circulation, reached a more diffuse mass audience, has thrown some of its everyday-ness qualities, and thus features of resistance, into some question. The potential for mass circulation goes against some zinesters’ desire to “control the spaces of authorship and audience and to root zine authorship and agency within a unified, physical sense of self and experience” (401).


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