One of the founders of the zine The local rebel (TLR) were boarding a public train in Singapore one evening when they noticed someone was rushing towards them. They didn’t know who it was, but the stranger recognized them and exclaimed how LRT is, while quickly jotting down a note to pass on to the independent publication’s editor-in-chief, Irie Aman.
“I never even had time to receive the letter,” Irie, 22, told VICE. “But hearing about it moved me so much. I felt recognized for the work we are trying to do.
LRT started in 2015 with the aim of telling the stories of those who are routinely under-represented by the island’s mainstream media. The zine, made of heavyweight paper and adorned with minimalist graphics, has the slogan “Educate and Empower” on its cover. Everything is done in-house by Irie and her teammates Dhya Syarah, 22, Qis, 23, and Myrah, 21, who have chosen not to give their full names.
The four take care of everything from production to writing and photography. “It’s all very DIY, as most fanzines are,” Irie said.
The first fanzine would be a science fiction publication from the Science Correspondence Club of Chicago published in the 1930s. They are often political, unapologetic and niche. In Singapore, they started in the 60s but are experiencing a revival today, with the common motivation to cover topics that Singapore’s mainstream media does not cover.
LRT, for example, focuses on intersectional feminism and interweaves it with topics such as race, sexuality, mental health and other issues facing young Singaporeans. Its writers don’t hesitate to work on stories like “Gentrification and other G-points” and “We are all migrants”. Their spotlight on young people never goes out, tackling everything from the struggles they face on a daily basis to the activism of 20-plus-year-olds who want to make a difference.
“In Singapore, many problems are below the surface, and to never solve them is to let them grow” LRTThe founders declare on their Tumblr page. Irie said race is one of their biggest concerns and the least discussed issue in Singaporean society.
“In Singapore racial discrimination is such a big problem, but nobody is talking about it,” they said. “If you are Indian or Malaysian, you face a lot of racism growing up. Some of us were even told that we would never make it to Singapore. We are excluded from the Singapore community. But there is no way to talk about things like that.
Stories such as “Here is your daily dose of decolonial detox”, For example, illustrate Singapore’s multicultural yet confrontational nature. In bold white letters, the team wrote about Singapore’s whitening history in a grim image of Singapore’s sparkling skyscrapers.
LRT is just one of many. Local self-published fanzines are thriving in Singapore, with many finding their way into online shops and independent bookstores across the island as Books In fact. One of its employees, who chose to remain anonymous, said there were not insane amounts of zine readers but that they had loyal followers.
There is Sand, which approaches art and culture from different angles. Ideology, on the other hand, is a small zine covered in delicate pencil illustrations that deals with politics, philosophy and art.
Then there are the movements, collectives and events dedicated to zine culture. Queer Zinefest SG was the first festival dedicated to zines about the LGBTQ + community in Singapore. Held in July 2018, he reunited the “queer DIY community” for a series of workshops and conferences. Another will arrive next year.
Squelch Zines, meanwhile, is a collective of five people that aims to bring zine culture to the surface of Singaporean media by bringing together “zinesters” across the island. Founded by Nicholas Loke and Janice Chua in 2013, there are now three other members: Hafiz Syukuri, Alif Seah and Chun Yee. They house an organized library of over 300 zines by local artists and writers. The collective also hosts pop-up stores and exhibitions, and participates in the Singapore Annual Art Book Fair. Last April, they spoke at the fair about the power of zines and why young students and artists are creating them.
And the community is growing.
“There are still people who don’t understand the whole zine culture and movement, but more and more people have become receptive and interested over the years,” Janice said in an interview with VICE. “There has been a noticeable increase in submissions.
The clear emphasis on aesthetics makes zines appealing to even the most laid-back magazine readers. Each zine in the Squelch Zines library is visually striking. They never look like mainstream magazines – no celebrities or politicians on the cover here – and always have a distinct style.
“Zines today are not the same as those from the ’60s or’ 90s,” Janice said. “The versatility of this medium has also become an art form in itself. It is more than an expression, a voice or a messenger.
While readers come first for the art, many stay for the content. LGBTQ, mental health and race-related stories speak to a very specific community in Singapore that craves quality stories that understand them.
“Young people today are more verbal and have stronger opinions about modern society, and zines are used to discuss these issues and raise awareness,” Janice explained. “It’s a form of free speech, in a more digestible format.”
It means a lot, especially for a country that is regularly placed at the bottom of the ladder. annual press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders. In 2019, the organization ranked Singapore 151, writing that the government is “always quick to prosecute critical journalists” or “even force them to leave the country.”
Singaporean journalists have been trying to tackle this for years, but young zine creators like Irie, who approach the problem with a fresh perspective and an activist perspective, could be the answer to this long-standing problem.
“It’s really about asking ourselves what we don’t see in the mainstream media,” they said. “We have never seen each other in Singapore history, and as a part of it. These are the stories we are trying to tell.