Magazines and fanzines concerning graffiti and street art, have always had an undeniable fascination for me; I think it is the effect of the paper product, which, representing this world, becomes filled with colors, writings, collages and is certainly aesthetically very appealing. From very low-budget home-made ones to those that can be called real magazines, these products are often made purely as a matter of ego, to further spread one’s name, but that is, after all, the purpose of graffiti itself, isn’t it?
Sometimes unknowingly, however, through these pure objects of “worship” the history of a movement is written, especially if it is a movement that remains alive in time only through its documentation.
For example, not many know this, but it was thanks to the first graffiti magazines that a paint brand specifically designed for writers was born. We are talking about Spanish Montana Colors. As also mentioned in an article on the brand’s blog, BGOM (Barcelona Game Over Magazine) born in 1992 from an idea of Mookie and Kapi, was fundamental in the process of creating this brand. In fact, to finance the zine’s second issues, the two 22-year-old founders devised an innovative strategy: getting money from big brands and not just advertising local stores or friends’ projects that provided little support.
Through this, they managed to attract the attention of Jordi Rubio, who worked for Felton, the Barcelona-based spray paint brand. That surprising collaboration led to the birth of the Montana spray paint brand.
Covers of BGOM issues 3 and 4, before and after Felton’s funding, 1993/1994. (Souce: montanacolors.com)
This, however, is just a small anecdote. Anecdotes like these, however, make us the importance that fanzines and magazines have had in the evolution of a culture like that of Writing. Documentary material is of fundamental importance for constructing the history of non-commissioned urban interventions, which by their very nature are ephemeral due to exposure to the elements, deletions made by the authorities and interventions by other authors who modify existing works.
Graffiti writing itself is now an institutionalized and historicized phenomenon worldwide: it has generated a market of fans, collectors and former writers who are interested and curious about every publishing product that comes out. Rather, it is important to highlight how publications and documentation about it have evolved in tandem with this phenomenon.
But let’s start with the basics: the history of fanzines (especially with regard to more underground niche) begins from the late 1960s, with the spread in the world of different countercultures using print zines to express their own unique peculiarities. Fanzines existed within the subculture of punk music where the homemade A4, stapled and photocopied fanzines of the late 1970s fostered the ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) production techniques of cut-n-paste letterforms, photocopied and collaged images, hand-scrawled and typewritten text that create a recognizable graphic design aesthetic.
As always in the world of hip-hop, the first graffiti fanzines began to appear in the US, specifically in the South Bronx in the 1980s. At that time, hip-hop culture was just beginning to form in large musical gatherings called jams that took place in abandoned buildings. It was there that early writers began to meet and paint, develop their techniques, influence each other’s styles, and form the first crews. It was also there that the mutual exchange of the first photos, the first blackbooks, and the first sketches began among graffiti writers.
The transition from the exchange of photos and sketches to the publication of fanzines was almost a natural phenomenon. Many precious photographs of graffiti works from New York City were used for the launch of the first graffiti fanzine ever made, called International Graffiti Times (IGTimes) , founded by David Schmidlapp , which already in 1986 featured international graffiti art works from Venice and London.
In the first year of production, the fanzine found itself in places such as London, Zurich, LA, Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam. When IGTimes spread around the globe, he had gained status as a reference point for all the graffiti zines that would appear next in Europe. Publications like Zulu Letter, born in Paris in 1986, 14K (Zurich, 1988) and Bomber (Nieuwegein, 1989), began to appear relatively quickly in the major cities of Europe.
Fanzines, especially during the 1990s, became cult objects, sought after and obsessively exchanged between writers. The first generation of European fanzines were divided into two categories in terms of content: those that associated graffiti with the Hip Hop movement, and those focused on the stylistic evolution of the pieces, which considered graffiti an independent phenomenon. In this period, in addition to the photograph showing the finished work, reproductions of the sketches and small texts appeared in the early fanzines, and the collage technique was widely used by many zinesters. Collage was essential since, being these publications made purely by hand it was it the only way to make content-rich pages, photographic and otherwise, adding a personal style. A few examples were the Italian magazines Collage, released between 1996 and 1997, and Maccaroni Magazine, also with first issue released in 1996.
From Collage, issue 1, 1997 (scan by me)
From Maccaroni Magazine, issue 0, 1996 (scan by me)
Among the early 90’s graffiti magazine pioneers, four are still published with approximate regularity today: Bomber Magazine from Holland, Graphotism from England, Xplicit Grafix from France and then Underground Producctions (UP) from Sweden. Several hundred titles, probably thousands, have come and gone over the years, mostly with one or perhaps two issues. Because making a magazine is hard work, and in most cases this work meets with absolutely no financial reward.
Swapping magazines was one of the tricks that allowed this graffiti magazine sub-culture to spread so fast during the 90’s, but they were often found moreover in the first streetwear shops and skater shops.
Since the 2000s, the experience and practices of writing and, more generally, of street art have been spreading around the world through the Internet; in several cases, the more classic paper zines went digital, in some cases even years after their production ended, like Spraydaily that is a blog but, in a certain way, an online fanzine itself, born in the 90’s as a paper fanzine, and digitized in 2012.
Let’s jump ahead and get to the contemporary, where we can often see an attempt to emphasize the importance of actions, precisely preferring photos that portray not only the piece itself, but the context in which it was made. In recent years, in fact, in the context of the graffiti world and hip hop more generally, we often hear about “lifestyle.”
Especially in the realm of photography dedicated to graffiti, it has become very important to represent precisely the context surrounding the practice of graffiti itself. When speaking of lifestyle, the intention is to portray not only the behind-the-scenes making of a piece, but what characterizes the actual way of living created around it, often reckless and bordering on the legal.
An example of this kind in the field of magazines, could be represented by the English “Analog Delinquents,” not exactly a zine representing graffiti per se but very much focused on the lifestyle of those who live the world of graffiti every day.
Lately, at least here in Europe, the practice of fanzines seems to be very much back in vogue, even in the community of new writers who increasingly like to experiment on printed paper with photography and graphics.
It is very common, for example, to have “author” zines, created, often independently, by writers and artists and tending to elevate the culture of writing to a true artistic product. “They don’t hate us, they just hate their lives” (2023) , a paint-remixed photography zine, created by the Italians T.Cities and Francesco Barbieri, relatively an analog photographer and a painter, is the perfect example of this case; here, the mix of graffiti photography and painting results in an aesthetically excellent and innovative product.
Source: @telling_cities Instagram
What we are seeing and what we all have before our eyes is that, in fact, the internet has by no means killed print media on the contrary, accomplice to the fact that printing costs are much more affordable than they used to be, the production of magazines, fanzines and books has multiplied exponentially, and the market is vibrant. These kinds of publishing products, today more than ever, are needed to give depth to the things that pass by on our smartphones every minute and lock them forever, and to give our senses a chance to enjoy such an aesthetically satisfying physical product.