The “King of Fetish” Revisits the Golden Age of Zines

The “King of Fetish” Revisits the Golden Age of Zines

A new exhibition and catalogue look back at a radical chapter of underground publishing which saw zines become the medium of choice for artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers.

Back in 1987, photographer Rick Castro got a copy of “Boy Tito”, a crudely made zine that came with a cassette tape with one bar: “I'm a bisexual punk rocker” screamed over and over. “I still have it,” Castro says, a testament to the zine’s unlikely staying power. For within this humble Xeroxed pamphlet lies something more: a network of communities connected through a shared love of DIY publishing.

Now in the new exhibition and catalogue, Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines, curator Drew Sawyer and educator Branden W. Joseph look back at this radical chapter of underground publishing. Taking root in the 1970s punk explosion, zines quickly became the medium of choice for artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers across the avant-garde.

Organised chronologically, Copy Machine Manifestos presents an expansive look at the ways in which zines helped shape creative practices and communities, bringing together works by counterculture icons like Castro, Raymond Pettibon, Mark Gonzales, Ryan McGinley, and Dash Snow, to name just a few.

Top to bottom: The Bondage Book #1- 1992; Fertile LaToyah Jackson Magazine #2- photo by Beulah Luv aka Rick Castro- 1990

Deftly blending concept and technique, zinemakers reimagined the printed object as a masterful assemblage that combined the anarchy of Dadaism and the glamour of Pop Art. Seizing the means of production via the rapid expansion of copy shops, artists forged a grassroots industry that soon found its way into independent bookshops like A Different Light and Tower Books.

The zine scene created an alternative space for those outside the mainstream. “The West Hollywood gay bar scene was very limited in the 80s,” Castro remembers. “It was basically the Castro (as in Street) moustache clone or preppy white boys that didn’t allow any other queer sensibility. Finding your fellow freaks was really difficult so zines became a way to meet like minded queers.”

Castro got into the scene back in 1991 at SPEW, the first zine convention in his hometown of Los Angeles. He got a booth and laid out Zack, an expression of his passion for street hustlers, fetish, and bondage, alongside fellow compatriots like Vaginal Davis and Bruce LaBruce. It proved the perfect place for Castro’s vision of male beauty and desire at a time when mere homoeroticism was derided as “pornography.”

“Initially, fetish really threw people off and I didn’t get any kind of mainstream recognition, which is fine” says Castro, who got his start as a photographer in 1986 while working as a stylist for legends like Herb Ritts, George Hurrell, and Joel-Peter Witkin.

G. B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce, J.D.s, no. 8, 1991. Picture credit: © the artists / Photo: David Vu (page 164, bottom) Editor: Bruce LaBruce. Photocopy, saddle stitched, 8 1⁄2 × 7 in. (21.6 × 17.8 cm) Collection Bruce LaBruce

“We just did it ourselves and took pleasure in knowing we didn’t have to worry about censorship,” he continues. “Each person was doing their own personality through their zine. What was exciting is we were all meeting each other.”

The connections sparked collaborations of their own, with Castro contributing to Davis’s Fertile La Toyah Jackson zine under the alias “Beulah Love.” Decades later, zines are finally being given their proper due, their ephemeral nature only adding to their value as rare works preserved by the most discerning of collectors.

Castro describes coming upon a perfectly preserved issue of Fertile La Toyah Jackson at the Brooklyn Museum‘s recent zine convention and marveling with delight, “It was like an heirloom.”

Anna Banana, Vile, vol. 1, no. 2 / vol. 2, no. 1 (issue 4), Summer 1976. Picture credit: © the artist / Photo: David Vu (page 51, bottom left) Editor: Bill Gaglione. Offset, perfect bound, two-color offset wrappers, 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.9 × 21.6 cm) Collection Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons (‘International Double Issue’)

Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines is on view through March 31 2024, at the Brooklyn Museum. The catalogue is published by Phaidon.

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