The zine publishing subculture

A band of dedicated people feed a subculture of zine publishing in Hong Kongbut it's a tenuous existence forthese laboursof love, writes Hans Schlaikier

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 11:04am

Hong Kong has its share of established publications to suit most walks of life. Readily available and well publicised, they fill the shelves of your local news stand with their glossy covers, colour photographs and chunks of advertorials.

What you may not be aware of are the smaller, lesser known DIY efforts that circulate around town. Although by no means a large industry, there is a small and dedicated culture of independent publishers in Hong Kong.

These "zines" are produced in a variety of formats with varying degrees of emphasis placed on aesthetics. These works are as diverse as their established counterparts and address topics ranging from local music and fashion to international politics.

What they all have in common, however, is that they are produced in small numbers, the result of countless hours of work and unrelenting passion by their creators, not for profit and more often than not produced at a loss.

So where is the drive to continue, week on week or month on month? Expat couple Ailee Slater and Ben Appleby, co-creators of Cloak & Dagger, a zine featuring illustrations and articles, started doing it for fun. Produced in small numbers in a black and white, photocopied and stapled format, and hand-delivered, Cloak & Dagger has built a cult following.

It takes up most of their spare time but Slater and Appleby enjoy the process of creating the zine, including receiving submissions and printing their own writing and artwork. Often humorous and always entertaining, it is clearly the product of their love for art and literature and DIY handiwork.

Another self-publication that was conceived simply for the fun of it is Anna Gleeson's Ha Wan Pao, a self-styled monthly paper about all things beautiful that has only been around for four months. However, it is already receiving plenty of attention, even garnering Gleeson an invitation to attend a book festival in Guangzhou. "People really like it … I feel like I have been doing it for five minutes and people have already heard about it," says Gleeson, who prefers the term "paper" or "magazine" for her creation. Ha Wan Pao certainly does not resemble a DIY production. With its unique aesthetic, owing to its printing process (coloured ink printed on newsprint), the paper is a reflection of the beauty and refinement Gleeson writes about.

Blackpaper, printed in colour and more recognisable to Chinese readers, is a weekly one-page zine full of exotic sentences that focus on a central topic or celebrity using a particular "word" or set of Chinese characters. Costing HK$1 and available at 7-Eleven outlets, Blackpaper is the brainchild of Roy Tsui, Bu Lu and Chan Keung, former Commercial Radio alumni and colleagues. " Blackpaper allowed us to reunite and gather … it will remain indefinitely as a symbol of our creative union, even if our company does not exist one day," says Tsui.

Having been around for two years (which in self-publication terms is almost an eternity), the paper has now reached a circulation of 80,000 to 120,000. However, the future looks bleak, even with the reach they have achieved. "Hong Kong is small and printing costs are unaffordable, making self-publication nearly impossible … if zines don't work with advertisers they cannot survive but advertisers are extremely stubborn," Tsui says.

So where does this leave our little enclave of self-publishers? Encouragingly there are those who are also dedicating their time to promoting zines and nurturing budding zine creators - an example being the "Zine Swap" organised by Leo Su, former manager at Future Industries gallery. With an RSVP list of 20 people, Su was pleasantly surprised by the 30 people who turned up, zine in hand, ready to swap their words for the works of others. Asked whether he feels there is a "scene" here, Su is not sure, although he would like to think there is a growing culture of independent writers and artists.

Another champion of future and current zine producers is Zinepotato, which calls itself "a platform to promote zine publishing culture and to facilitate its community", and regularly attends independent publishing gatherings and book fairs, helping to promote Hong Kong zines locally and overseas.

In this information age where technology has made our lives increasingly more convenient but perhaps shortened our attention span, it is heartwarming to know Hong Kong has this dedicated band of independent publishers.

Although many zines and papers are often here today and gone tomorrow, the fact that new ones continue to be born is a testament to their creators' passion and dedication, whether for love of literature or art, print or DIY.

Keep your eyes open for these publications and enjoy them however fleeting a read they might be, for one day they might be gone altogether.