The fanzine producer Chris Wheelchair (sic) remarked in the editorial of Ruptured Ambitions (1992) that his Plymouth-based fanzine is ‘all about helping promote the DIY punk/alternative/underground movement, which is, at present, extremely healthy in many areas, and certainly improving.’ From the early 1930s, fan magazines or ‘fanzines’ have been integral to the creation of a thriving communication network of underground culture, disseminating information and personal views to like-minded individuals on subjects from music and football to anti-capitalism and thrift store shopping. Yet, it remains 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 texts, to create a recognizable graphic design aesthetic. The employment of such techniques and technologies has had an impact on an overall idiosyncratic and distinctive visual style affiliated with punk fanzines. For fanzine producers, the DIY process critiques mass production through the very handmade quality it embraces, but also in the process of appropriating the images and words of mainstream media and popular culture. Arguably, the DIY approach reached its peak in the 1990s and still continues today, having been co-opted into the worlds of commercial mainstream lifestyle magazines and advertising which trade on its association with punk authenticity. The intent of this essay is to explore the development of a graphic language of resistance and to examine the way in which the very use of its DIY production methods reflected the promotion of politics and music of 1970s' punk and DIY underground activity. In addition, this piece will, through interviews with fanzine producers, attempt to recover from history an area of graphic design activity that has largely been ignored. This will be achieved by focusing on three punk fanzine titles that were initiated during the first wave of the punk period: Panache (Mick Mercer, 1976–1992), Chainsaw (Charlie Chainsaw, 1977–1985) and Ripped & Torn (Tony Drayton, 1976–1979). These examples will be measured against a discussion of Sniffin' Glue (Mark Perry, 1976–1977), which has been acknowledged by the punk community as the first punk DIY fanzine in Britain.
What is a fanzine?1 The American writer and academic Stephen Duncombe describes fanzines as ‘little publications filled with rantings of high weirdness and exploding with chaotic design’ where the producers ‘privilege the ethic of DIY, do-it-yourself: make your own culture and stop consuming that which is made for you’.2 For Duncombe, fanzines represent not only a ‘shared creation’ of a producer's own, often alternative, culture but also a ‘novel form of communication’.3 In particular it is worth noting Duncombe's reference to the ‘chaotic design’ of the fanzine page and use of the term ‘chaotic’ in relationship to the development of a graphic language of resistance. Later he refers to the layout of the fanzines as ‘unruly cut-n-paste’ with barely legible type and ‘uneven reproduction’, drawing comparisons between ‘professional-looking publications’ and the fanzine as amateur, falling somewhere between ‘a personal letter and a magazine’.4
A plethora of fanzines emerged during the first wave of punk in Britain (1976–1979). This was a period of substantial cultural, social and political change where punk reacted against the ‘modern world’ and the absorption of ‘hippy culture’ into the mainstream. According to the cultural historian Roger Sabin, ‘Although punk had no set agenda like its hippie counter-cultural predecessor it did stand for certain identifiable attitudes. Among them an emphasis on working class “credibility”. A belief in various hues of class politics [notably anarchism] and an enthusiasm for spontaneity and doing it yourself’.5
Punk also reacted against the mid-1970s ‘hit parade’ rock music scene. The writer Henry Rollins reflects in his introduction to one punk musician's memoirs, The Andy Blade Chronicles, that at this time ‘rock was boring, rock was damn near dead’.6 Punk music was seen as an alternative to the mainstream music industry and provided something new and liberating through its independent and ‘do-it-yourself’ approach. In addition, Julie Davies, writing in her 1977 book Punk, argues that ‘Punk Rock is a live experience; it has to be seen and heard live. Playing a record at home just doesn't communicate the sheer energy, excitement and enthusiasm which are the hallmarks of the music.’7 Punk fanzines attempted to recreate the same buzz visually—an ethos encapsulated by the Sex Pistols who famously remarked in the New Musical Express ‘We're not into music…we're into chaos’.8
Fanzines adopted the DIY, independent approach that punk musicians had espoused. With the rise of newly formed bands came the establishment of impromptu clubs, small, independent record labels and record stores, including the London-based shop Rough Trade (which also distributed fanzines). In the same way, fanzines offered fans a ‘free space for developing ideas and practices’, and a visual space unencumbered by formal design rules and visual expectations.9 As one member of the community reflects ‘our fanzines were always clumsy, unprofessional, ungrammatical, where design was due to inadequacy rather than risk’.10 As the plethora of punk-inspired fanzines materialized, a unique visual identity emerged, with its own set of graphic rules and a ‘do-it yourself’ approach neatly reinforcing punk's new found ‘political’ voice. The Sex Pistols single release of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ (1976) summed up punk's radical position where Malcolm McLaren, the self-proclaimed punk creator and Sex Pistol's manager, was quick to point out, ‘“Anarchy in the UK” is a statement of self-rule, or ultimate independence, of do-it-yourself’.11 As if to punctuate this point graphically, the producer of Sideburns (Brighton, 1976) famously provided a set of simple instructions and a diagram of how to play three chords—A, E, G—alongside the punk command ‘Now Form a Band’. As with its music and fashion, punk advocated that everyone go out and produce fanzines. As independent self-published publications, fanzines became vehicles of subcultural communication and played a fundamental role in the construction of punk identity and a political community.
As cultural mouthpieces for punk bands, fanzines disseminated information about gig schedules, interviews with bands and reviews of new albums alongside features on current political events and personal rants. They fostered an active dialogue with a community of like-minded individuals often evidenced through the readers' pages of fanzines and also at the gigs themselves. As the American writer Greil Marcus suggests, punk was ‘a moment in time that took shape as a language anticipating its own destruction…it was a chance to create ephemeral events that would serve as judgements on whatever came next’.12 Fanzines formed part of this fleeting cultural performance. Each in their own way contributed to the development of a distinct and enduring DIY graphic language of punk.
The first punk fanzine to reflect the punk movement visually in Britain was Mark Perry's Sniffin' Glue (1976–1977) . Mark P.'s Sniffin' Glue is credited as the first British punk fanzine amongst punk historians such as Jon Savage, who writes: ‘Perry's achievement was to unite for a brief time all the tensions—between art and commerce, between avant-garde aesthetics and social realist politics—that eventually tore punk apart, and write them out in a sharp mix of emotion and intention that still makes his words fresh’.13 Others writing at the time, including Charlie Chainsaw, producer of the punk fanzine Chainsaw, who altered the form of his production just to differentiate his fanzine from the multitude of Sniffin' Glue ‘look-a-likes’ that had appeared so soon after its first issue.14 These attributes were the way in which the typewritten text was used with mistakes in spelling as well as cross-outs, all caps, handwritten graffiti text, photographs of bands used on two-thirds of the cover, and so forth.
Tributes to Mark P.'s success were even witnessed in the way the fanzine itself was referenced graphically. Murder by Fanzine Nr. 2 (c.1983, Ross-Shire, Scotland) for example, pastes a flyer promoting issue 6 of Sniffin' Glue and overlays it on the head of a guitar player thereby rendering him anonymous . Despite this Mark P. is ‘clear about refusing the “first fanzine” tag and is careful to credit earlier rock-n-roll publications such as Greg Shaw's Who Put the Bomp!, Crawdaddy and Brian Hoggs’ Bam Balam. He comments, ‘I would like to claim that the idea of doing a fanzine on this new music was my own, but I can't because it wasn't. At the time there were loads of fanzines knocking about. Mostly on country music, R&B and the like’.15Sniffin' Glue soon established itself as part of the evolutionary line of fanzine publishing by taking on what would become a characteristic approach to fanzine production with its A4, stapled, photocopied pages and layouts using handwritten and typewritten texts.
The title, Sniffin' Glue: And Other Rock'n'roll Habits was inspired by the Ramones' London gig and song ‘Now I wanna sniff some glue’—a verse that is reprinted in Issue 1 (1976). Mark P. remarks that ‘In this issue we lean heavily towards being a Ramones fan letter’ and promises in future issues to cover ‘other punks who make and do things we like’.16Sniffin' Glue was often abbreviated to SG and, while drawing upon earlier formats and content of the rock'n'roll publications, it did differ from its predecessors in that it defined itself from an insider's and working-class perspective on the burgeoning punk music scene in Britain. Issue 1 defined itself as ‘for punks’, as a mouthpiece for their music and anger. In Issue 4 he signs one review as ‘Mark “angry young man” P.’. Also in Issue 4, collaborator Steve Mick writes ‘…punks have been telling us we've got the best mag around. Well, of course we have ’cause we're broke, on the dole and live at home in boring council flats, so obviously we know what's goin' on!’ Mark P. left his job as a bank clerk and home in Deptford to start the fanzine. In true punk spirit, Mark Perry even shortened his surname to the letter ‘P’ in order to avoid the attention of the dole officers (as did many other fanzine producers at the time, including Tony Drayton (Tony D.) of Ripped & Torn). Produced initially in Mark P.'s back bedroom, Sniffin' Glue found a gap in the ‘market’ with an audience of like-minded punk music enthusiasts. His initial photocopier run was 50 but by the end of Sniffin' Glue in 1977 up to 10,000 were in circulation. Perry stopped producing Sniffin' Glue with number 12 (August/September 1977) about the same time that he suggests punk had been assimilated into the music industry.17 Like punk itself, fanzines moved from positions of independence to rapid co-option into the mainstream.
Sniffin' Glue was a true DIY production. Mark P. first put together the fanzine using a ‘back to basics’ approach with the main text typed out on an ‘old children's typewriter’—a Christmas present from his parents when he was ten.18 Texts were used as they were written with grammatical and punctuation corrections made visible in crossing outs. This stressed the immediacy of its production and of the information, but also the transparency of the design and journalistic process itself. Mark P. advertises subscriptions at ‘£1.40 for four issues and paid with postal orders only’ (Issue 3 ½: 4), although this was not a cost effective measure when the cover price of each issue was 10p. At the time the cost of photocopying was 3 pence per sheet and most issues average 12 pages. Mark P. and other producers obtained free copies by using copiers found in their workplace or through friends' jobs. Sniffin' Glue, for example, was produced on Mark P.'s girlfriend's office copier.19 Unlike publishers of some of the later fanzines, Mark P. kept production simple, using only single-sided copies, with an occasional inclusion of a pin-up page of punk band members (e.g. Chelsea or Brian Chevette of Eater), double-sided and backed by an advertisement for a Sex Pistols gig or an independent record shop.
Mark P. had developed his own brand of DIY ‘punk journalism’ and encouraged others to participate actively in ‘having a go yourself’. Sniffin' Glue's readership was primarily other fans who purchased copies, amongst other places, in London's Compendium bookstore (Camden) and through Bizarre Books (Paddington). Mark P. was also very much aware of his new found position as punk provocateur and of the influence he had on other fanzine producers. Even in Issue 3 of Sniffin Glue, Mark P. comments that the back issues had already ‘SOLD OUT! Collectors items already?’ In a special edition of Q magazine (April 2002), Mark P. reflects that ‘Sniffin' Glue was the best rock magazine in the world bar none, because it was so connected to what it was writing about’.20 Mark P. also speculates that his fanzine was successful because it was unlike other fanzines, in that Sniffin' Glue was ‘more discerning than the others’. He felt that other fanzines said what was fashionable rather than being honest and telling readers exactly what they thought.21
A Graphic Language of Resistance
But what does the DIY aesthetic that emerged in fanzines such as Sniffin' Glue actually represent? Before turning to a more detailed discussion of other punk fanzine titles, it is worth exploring what a ‘graphic language of resistance’ in contemporary Western culture means: is it even possible to characterize it in any systematic way? Language, according to cultural historian Mikko Lehtonen, is essentially abstract and exists only through certain material forms such as ‘writing, photographs, movies, newspapers and magazines, advertisements and commercials’.22 These are conduits through which meaning is conveyed and where signs which stand for ‘mental concepts’ are arranged into languages. Just as grammars and syntax are created through written or spoken language so too might be the structures of visual language. The semioticians Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen observe a shift taking place in the ‘era of late modernity’ from a dominance of ‘monomodality’, a singular communication mode, to ‘multimodality’, which embraces a ‘variety of materials and to cross the boundaries between the various art, design and performance disciplines’.23 Language may be communicated through verbal or non-verbal means, or a combination thereof. The grammars of design operate in the same way as the grammars of semiotic modes and may be codified. The music historian Dave Laing, for example, comments that punk language drew upon discourses found in the areas of pornography, left-wing politics and obscenity. Explicit sexual words such as ‘cunt’ and swearing such as using the word ‘fuck’ permeated the lyrics of punk songs, performances on stage and in the pages of fanzines.24 All these facets incorporated an explicit and violent use of language as part of a general shock tactic strategy meant to offend and draw attention to punk itself. The DIY approach to fanzine production ensured the menacing nature of the words in the use of cut-up ransom note lettering.
For punk fanzines, language is communicated graphically through a system of visual signs and specifically in the conveyance of a message of ‘resistance’. In the essay ‘Retheorizing Resistance’, Beverly Best examines the way in which the popular cultural text functions on ‘behalf of oppositional cultural and political practice’. Best argues in a similar way to Michel Foucault that there ‘cannot be power relations without resistances, and that the latter are real and effective because they are formed at the point where power relations are exercised’.25 Punk fanzines are sites for oppositional practice in that they provide a forum for cultural communication as well as for political action, which should be included in any broader political discourse. George McKay observes that British punk may be considered as a ‘cultural moment of resistance’ and part of a DIY culture that ‘activism means action’.26 It is the self-empowerment component of a do-it-yourself culture where direct action begins.
Yet, what of a ‘graphic language of resistance’? The Oxford Modern English Dictionary defines ‘resistance’ as the ‘act of resisting’; a ‘refusal to comply’, for example as might be defined as in resisting authority.27 Duncombe, editor of the Cultural Resistance Reader, suggests that through the process of resistance we are freed from the ‘limits and constraints of the dominant culture’. In turn, ‘cultural resistance’ allows us to ‘experiment with new ways of seeing and being and develop tools and resources for resistance’.28 This may be represented either through content, graphically or both, where rules and prescriptions are disregarded intentionally. Michael Twyman establishes that the ‘language element in graphic communication’ is the relationship between information content and visual presentation, which he suggests must take into account a number of factors including the ‘users of language’ and ‘the circumstances of use’.29 Twyman is also clear in his argument about the role technological developments have in relation to the ‘language of the messages that need to be communicated’. He suggests that the three major means of production—the manuscript age, the printed age and the electronic age, provide different forms, and, ‘we have, therefore, to ask ourselves how each of these different forms can be made to respond to our needs’.30
Such a distinction is useful for a study of fanzines. In this case, the use of handwriting or typewritten texts maintains a similar function in terms of language while the ‘graphic treatment responds to the particular technology being used’.31 ‘Graphic language’ is a visual system incorporating not only image-based symbols but also a typographic language. The way in which graphic language is depicted will add value to its intended meaning. For example, Stuart Mealing, writing in Visible Language, has observed that ‘font styles and parameters such as size and color are selected to lend additional interpretive potential to plain text message.’ This is formalized by using salient elements including italics, bold, underlined, capital letters, fonts, size and weight, etc., but also through the way images and texts are juxtaposed and presented in order to extend visually ‘the semantic potential of a message’.32 Such acts of resistance are normally ‘shared’ and in the process provide a ‘focal point’ and help to establish a community of like-minded individuals. Such a community is often considered as subcultural, borne out of a resistance to a dominant or parent culture, and seen as ‘subordinate, subaltern or subterranean’.33
The ‘Art’ of Punk
Punk arguably represented the politics of the working-class experience,34 but also the more ‘artful’ ‘aesthetics of proletarian play’, and was also middle-class in that there was significant art school input.35 Malcolm Garrett, for example, states that he was introduced to techniques of collage, stencilling, use of Letraset and the photocopier while at college. His own fanzine Today's Length (one issue, 1980), concocted with Joe Ewart and others, reflects this. He was also associated with punk performer and artist Linder, whose own collages were profiled on the cover of the Buzzcock's first single Orgasm Addict (1977), and Peter Saville whose own references were visible on OK UK Streets, a single for Manchester-based punk group The Smirks (1978). Garrett remarks ‘punk really stood out, there was a sense of hostility on the street, and you felt a sense of energy which was aggressive in expression’.36
Out of this connection emerged a language of graphic resistance steeped in the first instance in the ideology of punk and its anarchical spirit and in the second instance, that which emerged from their position in a continuous timeline of self-conscious Dadaist and Situationist International ‘art’ practices.37 According to Guy Debord, Situationist International promoted the notion that contemporary society had become the ‘society of the spectacle’, opposing this by employing strategies such as that defined by détournement (diversion) and of ‘recuperation’ (recovery) including commandeered comic-strip imagery and other popular culture forms. This is exemplified by fanzine producer and Pogues' frontman Shane MacGowan, who admits in his publication Bondage (Issue 1,1976), ‘this whole thing was put together…with the help of a box of safety pins. All the photos are ripped out of other mags’.38
The Sex Pistols' art director Jamie Reid had an interest in Situationist International and its antecedents including Dada and Futurism. Along with self-proclaimed punk historian Malcolm McLaren, Reid was a member of the English Situationist group King Mob while an art student at Croydon College of Art in the late 1960s. His early affiliation with Situationist International writings was established and, in 1974, Reid and McLaren helped to publish Christopher Gray's anthology Leaving the 20thCentury. Reid's own publication (co-produced with Jeremy Brook and Nigel Edwards) titled Suburban Press (Issue 1, 1970) played tribute to the agit-prop collage-style illustrations, cartoons and DIY production techniques he had been exposed to in the flyers, handbills and early Situationist works. Such techniques had become synonymous with the radical politics of student protests of 1968. Reid's approach, and those of subsequent punk fanzine producers drew upon these techniques in order to establish a specific visual immediacy to their message. Ultimately this process provided an identifiable DIY aesthetic unapologetic for its raw and amateur production quality.
Many producers, whether knowingly or not, often combined a graphic language of ‘resistance’ instigated as a result of Situationists' King Mob Echo (c.1968), Jamie Reid's Suburban Press (1970) and Mark P.'s Sniffin' Glue's seemingly fresh punk attitude. Richard Reynolds, for example, in his ‘post punk poetry’ fanzine Scumbag (1980–1981, 1988) drew on Sniffin' Glue as well as Wyndham Lewis' BLAST! and the language of concrete poetry.39 On the other hand, it would be misleading to suggest that all fanzine producers were aware of these specific traditions. Panache (London 1976–1991) producer Mick Mercer comments, ‘I started in ‘76. There was only Sniffing [sic] Glue and Ripped and Torn, and I hadn't seen either. I just kept it simple and did what I liked’.40
Writer and fanzine producer, Mick Mercer was nineteen years old when he began Panache in 1976 as a twelve-page, A4, stapled, photocopied fan publication whose audience comprised like-minded individuals with interests in punk bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Adverts . Copies of Panache sold for 20 pence. Fifty-five issues of Panache were produced by the time Mercer discontinued its irregular publication in 1992. This was despite its growing popularity with larger print runs numbering in the thousands. Mick Mercer worked with regular contributors Neil Sherring and Jonathan Rawlings who ‘helped with writing photography and sales’.41 From 1982–1988, Mercer produced the publication by himself with occasional contributions from Kim Igoe, bassist for the punk band Action Pact. Panache, according to Mercer was ‘Not like any other fanzine’ and was also considered the ‘King of the Fanzine Frontier’. These slogans ran on the front covers of Issue 13 and Issue 20 respectively.
In addition to its feature articles, Panache published interviews with band members, critiqued club gigs and reviewed the current album releases. Although Panache was distributed primarily in London, Mercer was acutely aware of the lack of press coverage for bands based outside main cities including Stanwell-bred band Dead Man's Shadow and Action Pact from Bristol. Mercer felt these bands were on a trajectory to becoming well known nationally and that Panache could not ‘pass up a chance to document such success’.42 As a producer of an alternative press mouthpiece and as an enthusiast for punk rock music, Mercer negotiated a mutual ‘trust’ between himself as a fan writer and the bands he featured. This, he suggests, gave him access to ‘better and more natural interviews’. He explains, ‘the question of interest in particular bands that often gets called favouritism is often that. Ha ha—it is why fanzines have those first three letters as inspiration. I can write about bands but still be objective. I am an objective fan’.43
Although this is an oxymoron, Mercer and other punk fanzine producers were often critical of a band's performance or album recordings. The cultural critic Thomas McLaughlin proposes ‘that in zines we can find the fans seeing through the ideological operation itself, practising a vernacular cultural criticism.’ In addition, he suggests that it is producers (makers) working at the local level and with local concerns who provide a valid line of questioning and critique of the dominant paradigm. Punk fanzines operated against the mainstream. They were self-regulated with complete editorial control that made ‘theoretical reflection’ possible.44 Ironically, it is such an approach to fanzine writing where many producers who wanted to write about music professionally could practise ‘fringe journalism’. This often led producers such as Mercer to move into the mainstream publishing industry, where he eventually became a freelance journalist for Melody Maker and Record Mirror and later editor of the popular UK music magazine Zig Zag. While this provided professional success, Mercer writes that for him Panache was ‘integrated into my personal worldview. It was what kick started my brain, which lay dormant at school’.45
As amateur DIY publications, fanzines were produced on an irregular basis, without concerns for formal publishing conventions. This ‘do-it-yourself’ punk ethos manifested itself visually through low-budget graphic techniques enhanced by the production qualities offered by the use of the photocopier. Mick Mercer explains his methods used in creating Panache: ‘It was exciting enough to eventually learn about reduced type on a photocopier!! I always kept it simple but tried to cram each issue full. Type it up, reduce it, loads of cut-outs (relevant to a theme) and as many photos as possible’.46 The use of the photocopier as a means of production further strengthened the visual relationship between fanzines and the flyers as did the lyrics of punk bands . The photocopier and the subversion of copyright was recognized by Adam & the Ants in their song ‘Zerox’ (1979),
‘I may look happy, healthy and clean
a dark brown voice and suit pristine
but behind the smile there is a
In the process of drawing upon low-value production techniques, such as photocopying and Letraset, employing the graphic elements including ransom note cut-outs, handwritten, stencilled, scrawled or typewritten texts, or collage images, a specific graphic language began to emerge which shared similar visual characteristics from fanzine to fanzine. This approach went some way to establish a set of commonly used principles and a way of creating a distinctive graphic language, which ultimately mirrored the particular aesthetic of punk music.
Mercer, along with the other first wave British punk fanzine producers including Mark Perry (Mark P.) of Sniffn' Glue and Tony Drayton (Tony D.) of Ripped & Torn, was among the first to break the rules of conventional practices in the use of grammar and punctuation. He flaunted typographic mistakes and employed an eclectic mix of typographic styles, preferring the visual aggressiveness of the ‘punk attitude’ created by visually overcrowded pages and grainy black and white photocopied images. For Mercer, such an approach mirrored visually the fanzine's punk content. He remarks, ‘The punk attitude prevailed, in so much as the editorial tone was always, if you're not enjoying this there's something wrong with you’.48
One element of the graphic language of punk fanzines may be defined by the way it featured the co-option of popular media images and typeset texts from national newspapers and magazines. In a similar way to the Situationist's notion of ‘recuperation’, co-option in this context means to knowingly take from one source and reposition the image and/or text in a new context. Margaret Thatcher's cut-out head, for example, was collaged on top of a buxom female body  while cut-out newspaper headlines were re-contextualized and ironically juxtaposed with new images . Gee Vaucher of the anarcho-punk band CRASS also used photo-collage techniques for the image of a poster insert for the single Bloody Revolutions (1980). She represents four band members based on a publicity shot of the Sex Pistols from their single ‘God Save the Queen’, and the statue of Liberty. George McKay, in Senseless Acts of Beauty, writes that the ‘modes of juxtaposition and subversion are so entwined in punk; the safety pin and the Queen, the bin liner on the body…the bricolage of CRASS is a patchwork of ideas, strategies, voices, beliefs and so on’.49
Jon Savage, writing in 1983 observed that ‘we are inundated by images from the past, swamped by the nostalgia that is splattered all over Thatcherite Britain’. He continues to suggest that ‘Punk always had a retro consciousness—deliberately ignored in the cultural Stalinism that was going on at the time—which was pervasive yet controlled’. Savage cites a number of key examples in fashion, including Vivienne Westwood's use of 1960s' Wemblex pin-collars to ‘mutate into Anarchy shirts’; The Clash wearing winklepickers; and in music the Sex Pistols cover versions of 1960s' bands, The Who and Small Faces.50 Greil Marcus writing in Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century defines punk as a ‘load of old ideas sensationalised into new feelings almost instantly turned into new clichés…’.51
Record covers were perhaps the most visible use of images taken from the past. For example, the layout and use of typography of The Clash's London Calling (1979) album drew directly from Elvis Presley's eponymous 1956 album. The choice of photographic image of a single artist with his guitar is mimicked, although Elvis is seen in a frontal pose and looking upward, the guitarist for The Clash is caught in motion striking the guitar on the stage floor.52 Such intentional plagiarism demonstrated punk's disregard of established publishing traditions and in this way may be interpreted as a political act. The way in which this was achieved visually is ‘symbolic’ but also subcultural ‘plundering’. Panache for example, reproduced frames from mainstream comic books such as DC Comics' Batman and used still images of the puppets originating from the British children's television show, Thunderbirds. Issues of the fanzine were also themed including those using reproduction 1960s bubblegum cards for studio film stills .53
Despite these popular cultural references, however, punk fanzines remained decidedly underground and Panache, during its time of publication, was no exception. While Panache shared a similar status with punk fanzines Sniffin' Glue and Ripped & Torn, it was unique in that its sheer longevity allowed Mercer to reinvent the publication as his own musical interests shifted. By the early 1980s, Panache had transformed itself into a fanzine for Britain's Goths, and later established itself as a fanzine for the emerging Indie music scene. In both cases it retained the ‘do-it-yourself’ aesthetic for which the fanzine had become known.
Ripped & Torn and Chainsaw
Despite an emerging set of punk ‘conventions’, which included the A4 stapled format, page layout, the production values of the photocopier and mixture of typographic elements such as cut-n-paste, ransom notes and handwritten and typewritten letterforms, each fanzine maintained its own individualized approach. The techniques of DIY encouraged this to occur. The manner in which the graphic marks, visual elements and their layout were presented not only reflected the message but also by default the individual hand of the fanzine producer. This we can see in a comparison of covers from Sniffin' Glue, Chainsaw and Ripped & Torn [7, 8, 9]. Charlie Chainsaw, for example, in his first issue of Chainsaw (No. 1, 1977)  used stencil letters for the title and a series of cut-out newspaper texts collaged with photography of the Sex Pistols and reference to its namesake, an image from the poster of the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Mark P. of Sniffin' Glue (No. 1, 1976)  on the other hand, employed his own quickly produced handwriting scrawl where letters were all caps and visually presented in the same weight. Alternatively, Tony Drayton's Ripped & Torn (Issue No. 1, November 1976, Glasgow)  took a more formal approach combining one photographic image of The Damned with handwritten caps and lowercase letterforms in a hierarchical sequence from the title, the stories promised inside to the smaller, self-effacing tag lines ‘This is too fantastic…buy it now’.
Ripped & Torn also enjoyed a long run—from Issue 1, November 1976 to Issue 18 September 1979, and it is important in that it covered the punk music scene in both London and Glasgow. This fanzine attempted to broaden out an understanding of punk's political agenda. As Tony D. himself explains in a rant titled ‘Politics and Punk’,
‘The whole idea of politics is enough to put anyone off it, and therefore the closest most of us get to it is either signing on once a week, or filling in a tax return form once a year. But that's the way the government wants it, so they can get on with their business of running us the way they think we should be run’.54
Despite its exclusion from most academic histories of punk,55Ripped & Torn was considered one of the key publications of the period by both the underground and mainstream press. As Jon Savage offers in a review of fanzines for the British music paper Sounds (1977), Ripped & Torn was ‘…again one of the very first, and now important—set to take over from SG should the latter fold. As such, could be more broad-minded on occasions, but ish 7 is well laid out and contains material not covered elsewhere: ants, chars and reviews of the Pistols/Clash bootlegs. Full at 25p’.56 Savage co-opts the punk abbreviations ‘ants’ and ‘chars’ often found in the pages of the fanzines meaning ‘rants’ and ‘charts’ respectively.
Ripped & Torn also provided an alternative model to that of Sniffin' Glue and one that influenced the types of production decision made by other producers. Tom Vague, for example reveals that he adopted colour for his fanzine Vague (1977–79, London) in order ‘to be like Ripped & Torn’.57 In the same review as Ripped & Torn, Jon Savage finds fault with our other example Chainsaw, ‘New, little criticism—most things are “bleein’ beaut”. Maybe its unfair to compare this with 30 or so others but it just doesn't stand up very well. No pix (bar one collage from music press/record sleeves) and identikit articles. No fun. 20p'.58
Despite Savage's criticism, however, Chainsaw is important to include in any discussion of punk fanzines. In the first instance this is because of its relative longevity and consistency of production. Chainsaw ran irregularly for 14 issues covering a seven-year period. In the second instance, its later issues demonstrated an innovative use of colour not found in other fanzines of the time. It was also through the efforts of Chainsaw that lesser-known punk bands were recognized. Charlie Chainsaw acknowledges that his fanzine began as a ‘Sniffin’ Glue and Ripped & Torn clone, but it quickly developed its own distinctive style by concentrating on (then) totally unknown bands and featuring seriously sick cartoons, articles and newspaper cuttings'.59 Kid Charlemagne (Hugh David) as well as cartoonists Willie D. and Mike J. Weller (the latter known for his work in the School Kids issue of OZ and in Cozmic Comics in the early 1970s) occasionally produced work for Chainsaw. These contributors also established a visual link between 1960s' countercultural activity and 1970s' punk. Phil Smee, who did the cartoons for Ripped & Torn and occasionally contributed to Sniffin' Glue (1976), was a graphic artist and designed album covers for 1960s psychedelic bands. He was founder of the independent record label Bam Caruso and also coined the term ‘freakbeat’ in 1980 to describe mod and R&B bands.
In the first issue of Ripped & Torn, eighteen-year-old producer Tony D. asks in the first sentence of his punk fanzine editorial ‘What's in it for me??’ By the top of the second column he has found the answer admitting ‘My excuse for this self-indulgent escapade…it's the only way to read my views on punk’.60 Fanzines are self-indulgent productions and in the view of one ex-fanzine producer, ‘elitist’ in the way they focus on their own individual interests in bands, gigs and records. While this may be true, the autobiographical narratives established both in the content and its visual form provided an interesting, if not useful, history of punk experience. The question of narrative in contemporary historical theory is worth considering in terms of the way in which it may be used to explain the literary and visual construction of the fanzine. Ripped & Torn, for example, is a historical narrative formatted as a series of accounts—editorial, interviews, gigs, reviews, charts, etc. Skid Kid, for example, acts as a foil to Tony D.'s editorship in Issue 1 and is made visually evident through the use of different handwriting to reflect the process of banter. Kid's hand rendering is measured and methodically realized; whereas Tony D.'s aggravated interjection is represented in a scrawled and hurried cursive hand. On a later page of the issue, Tony D., who even typed out Skid Kid's contribution, continues his discursive practice in his seemingly jealous complaint through the headline, ‘The SKID KID PAGE (HOW COME HE GETS A WHOLE PAGE?)’.61
The typewriter text is also unique to the machine from which it was produced. In the case of Chainsaw the punctuation marks appear darker (as if double strikes) from the main body of text, which is uneven in weight but also in line, thereby reflecting the type of pressure that was used to hit individual keys. In addition, the typewriter he used from Issue 5 had dropped the letter ‘n’ throughout. He writes ‘the missing “N” was filled in by hand—a laborious process!’, but also that he did not have the funds required at the time to repair the missing key.62 The typographic treatment mixing a handwritten ‘N’ with the typewritten forms, establishes Chainsaw's trademark or ‘signature’ .
Chainsaw developed a house style for his fanzine which reflected his individual approach but also an awareness of standard ‘professional’ typewriter and printing conventions. Alistair McIntosh has written of house styles that ‘each express the personality (and often the haphazard variations in what they were taught at school) of its originators’.63 For example, Charlie Chainsaw tabs two spaces after the punctuation marks, indenting by two spaces the first word of each paragraph opening and without line separations between paragraphs, standard use of correct quotation marks, and establishes a hierarchical structure for headlines with body text justified, ragged right. His word breaks also follow the convention of breaking words between syllables. And in keeping with convention, he uses the two columns with adequate margins, which is deemed preferable for a standard A4 page.64 Ironically, Charlie Chainsaw is using conventional practices in an unconventional artefact.
Whether fanzine producers were recounting their experiences inside or outside London, the notion of resistance remains a key element in the construction of a punk identity. Fanzines are democratic in that they provide accessible forums for writing through their ‘anyone can do it’ production strategies. They also encourage participation (e.g. readers' letters) and suggest reflexivity (or reflectivity in this case) in terms of their autobiographical manner of communication.
The art critic Michael Bracewell writes ‘In terms of contemporary culture, therefore, punk has become the card which cannot be trumped; and the reason for this enduring reputation must lie in punk's unrivalled ability to confront the processes of cultural commodification; or rather, to play cultural materialism at its own game, by creating a culture which was capable of pronouncing its host environment exhausted and redundant’.65 Like the music and fashion of the first wave of punk, fanzines continue today to display many of the early graphic characteristics and aggressive rhetoric associated with punk publications. My analysis of fanzines emphasizes their position as ‘political’ forums and mouthpieces for expressing the views of individuals and also punk collectively. It demonstrates how such resistance was defined by the graphic language, which had emerged not only from a punk ‘do-it-yourself’ ethos, but also from the use of symbols, photographic images, typefaces and the way in which they were laid out. It is as much the graphic language that differentiated fanzines from the mainstream as the content of these publications.