‘Zine it all before?

Rebellious youth has staying power

When Luis Jacob, curator of The JDs Years: 1980s Queer ‘Zine Culture From Toronto at Art Metropole, suggested that Jane And Frankie, the fanzine I co-published with my (now ex-) sister Jena von Brücker should be shown alongside JDs, I must admit I was a bit skeptical.

I mean, JDs launched a small international movement; Jane and Frankie, I thought, was just a bit of cut-and-paste for my own amusement. What’s more, Jane And Frankie was not especially well written and was painfully didactic on the political front (“homos good, hets bad” was its underlying message).

I was a little embarrassed at the thought of seeing my own naïveté displayed for all the world to see. Ten years ago, I thought I was changing the world with a photocopier; now I see that I was just telling the story of my first blowjob in fairly dull prose.

But when I saw the show, I was struck by Jacob’s brilliance in understanding what it is about ‘zine culture that is enduring. He managed to capture a spirit that cannot, perhaps, be seen in any single issue of any one ‘zine.

The political stance of JDs has, in fact, aged no better than that of Jane And Frankie. In an age where punk really is dead, and the cutting edge of queer thought is, in fact, “anti-gay,” it seems rather quaint to champion “putting the gay back in punk’.”

Still, there are many aspects of JDs that do stand the test of time – in particular Bruce LaBruce’s Butch stories and GB Jones’s Tom Of Finland-inspired TomGirls. It also provides vital evidence of the activities of a certain gang of 20-somethings doing their thing a decade ago – activities that might be otherwise forgotten.

The most enduring elements of the ‘zines, though, are those that are the least self-conscious – those that take an almost innocent pleasure in language or images, for their own sake.

Us Fish, the group of high school friends (including myself) that produced Salmon Hut, for example, was drawn to the rhetoric of revolutionary slogans and manifestoes. These forms were emptied of meaning and used to produce nonsense phrases which pepper the pages of the ‘zine (and, incidentally, were often shrieked in the halls of the school. “Pus kills! Boil your water!”).

Dr Smith, a ‘zine that predates JDs, is dated – but only in the way old copies of Teen Beat are dated. Co-publisher Candy’s intent was to put into print things that she herself wanted to see, with the assumption that the ‘zine would find its own audience. Thus, reviews of Shaun Cassidy concerts, lifted from local newspapers, are found next to interviews with Bunchofuckingoofs (a local hardcore band). The juxtaposition of the two stories sends a different message than either one on its own.


Candy also co-produced Fist In Your Face, a ‘zine about getting beaten up. This is perhaps the most enduring of all the ‘zines, in part because its subject is always topical. But the ‘zine also remains interesting because it cleverly avoids being victim-oriented. It suggests that the storyteller, always the loser in the fight, is nonetheless partly responsible for the conflict’s escalation from harsh words to fisticuffs. Violence loses its victim, and becomes rather more insidious.

And Jane And Frankie has its moments, too. Advice coyly stolen from the pages of sex ed books from the 1960s and from Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex And the Single Girl still makes me laugh in its new context. And the interviews which Jena and I conducted show a certain wit without which I’m sure I would never have made it to 30.

Finally, the show made me realize that my own work did, indeed, belong there. I may not have changed the world, but I thought I could and I set out to prove it. Being reminded of that is a little embarrassing – but better that than never to have wanted to in the first place.

The JDs Years at Art Metropole (788 King St W; 416-703-4400) closes Sat, Aug 28.

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TV & Film, Books, Music, Culture, Toronto, Arts

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