Factsheets, Funny Folks & Freaks: Christopher Becker recalls his DIY days in the '80s and '90s zine scene
This essay is related to the Ann Arbor District Library exhibition "'Sorry This Issue Is Late...': A Retrospective of Zines From the '80s and '90s," written by curator Christopher Becker, former editor of Factsheet Five and now a library technician at AADL.
Let me start at the end.
I was living in San Francisco in one small room of a shared apartment. Piles and piles of zines—self-made, usually photocopied publications—surrounded my bed and computer so that they were the first and last thing I looked at every day.
And every day there were more, threatening to spill into the narrow walkway I had created in the room.
I worked at Factsheet Five, a magazine that printed reviews and contact information for over 1000 zines every issue, and a year earlier I had taken over the day-to-day operations of the magazine and moved it to my bedroom.
In the mornings, I rode my bike to the post office to pick up the mail, sometimes up to 50 pounds. Through a combination of multiple messenger bags, panniers, and bungee cords, I brought the mail back, looking like an overburdened caricature of a tuktuk driver from Thailand. All the mail—the zines, so many zines, the letters, the issue requests and subscriptions, the packages of books and CDs, had to be sorted and then the day’s work began: reviewing.
It was a dream come true to work at Factsheet Five and I’m sure I’ll never have such a rare experience again in my life. It felt thrilling and important to be at the heart of so much creativity and live vicariously through all the lives of the zine publishers.
But lately, staying on top of the flood of zines and the reviews was overwhelming and I was exhausted.
I began to understand why Mike Gunderloy had left the magazine he had founded, why Hudson Luce had only published one issue after he got it, and why R. Seth Friedman, who then took over, had handed the daily operations to me after several years.