Radical gay rags: AA Bronson’s Queer Zines

Queer Zines
Straight To Hell cover, from Queer Zines

Earlier this month, AA Bronson launched the Queer Zines Volumes 1 & 2 box set at Berlin’s Pro qm bookstore. This compendium of radical gay rags, created together with Philip Aarons and Raymond Cha, is certainly comprehensive enough to deserve its boldly definitive title, comprehensive of a sexually defiant DIY publishing world that has spanned decades. Yet the impact sparked by the first volume from 2008 led Aarons and Bronson to realize that they could be even more exhaustive. After digging deeper, the duo published a second volume late last year, in conjunction with the exhibition The Temptation of AA Bronson at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. Largely comprising excerpts and images from influential titles like Straight to Hell and J.D.s along with more obscure lo-res musings and art, Queer Zines is also bolstered with synopses and new essays. The result contextualizes queer zines amidst their historical precursors, through the height of punk, to third-wave feminism (although the page count does favor men) and into today.  

Homocore cover, from Queer Zines
Homocore cover, from Queer Zines

AA Bronson, a Vancouver native who moved from New York to Berlin earlier this year, offered some thoughts to Sleek in between signing copies of the books. “I think the interesting thing about queer zines is how they stand outside mainstream society and mainstream gay society. They represent voices that are completely unique – and not necessarily in agreement with each other.” Bronson considers these radical self-publishers “trailblazers” as he laments how mainstream culture and gay culture have become so corporate and homogenized. Sure, a Xerox copy will lose quality in comparison to the original, but zines conjure their own honest quality, and compared to the manufactured gloss of mass media publications, many of the zines in this collection are absolutely seeping originality. They can be both personal and political, smutty and thought-provoking, all at the same time. 

Although things have evolved, queer zine culture is alive and well. For the occasion, AA Bronson was joined by a younger generation who contributed to Queer Zines: Yusuf Etiman (Basso), Dean Sameshima (Young Men at Play) and Vincent Simon (Dildo, GayHouse). But as printed media is tumbling and tumblr is rising, can websites and blogs carry the torch of what zines did in the past? Bronson gave his humble opinion: “I don’t know whether blogs are really the same thing. There are a million amazing queer blogs that have very individual voices—and some, of course, that don’t. But with zines, maybe it’s a nostalgia thing, the fact that you feel the hand of the maker. There’s something special about zines that I don’t find in digital media.” He’s no purist, though: “At the same time, I am a big consumer of digital media myself.” As a publisher (and artist and curator) active since the late 60s, Bronson seems pleasantly unjaded. Pulp or pixel, he even remains optimistic about both forms. “The two coexist very nicely. They work in tandem with each other. Digital is definitely replacing the traditional publishing world, but I don’t think it’s replacing these kinds of idiosyncratic, individual projects. If anything, they’re multiplying.” Now it’s your turn – do you copy?

See more pages from Queer Zines below

Text by Joey Hansom

Read a longer interview with AA Bronson from Sleek 38


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