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Zine Scene Seen as a Growth Market

September 25, 1997|D. JAMES ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the early '80s, when MTV took control of youth culture with fangless, nonthreatening video stars of British new romanticism and American dance-pop, critics sang that "video killed the radio star." But it was a prophecy unfulfilled as music genres multiplied and blossomed without the help of MTV or radio. Likewise, the explosion of personal Internet sites and "Web zines" had cyber-prophets declaring the end of pulp-based diction.

Hah.

Hard copy magazines, particularly youth culture zines, are more numerous than ever. The familiar story is that computers actually made this possible by making desktop publishing more accessible (to recent college grads with trust funds, at least). But some publications have transcended this flash-in-the-press trend.

New York's monthly Paper magazine is a strong contender for hippest publication on Earth. The design is quirky but elegant. Articles are authoritative but short (none of the articles "jumps" to the back of the book--they all hold to the page). Attitude is hip, energetic, but not condescending. Columnists include Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky, who writes about future music, cyberspace and hip-lit; Mickey Boardman, whose hilarious fashion-advice column is called "Ask Mr. Mickey" (when a gay man asks what fashion labels he should wear to avoid being outed, Boardman responds: "I would suggest eschewing them altogether, with the exception of Dockers. Not even the sickest of gay fashion sickos would wear Dockers."); and Jonathan Hayes, whose insightful dance music column is one of the few in the country. Paper also features comprehensive restaurant, bar and nightclub listings for New York, the likes of which should make anyone living outside New York envious. This month's cover story features the mother of electronic pop, Bjork.

It's not as if the market can sustain another rap magazine, but XXL is giving a very large go at it. XXL lies somewhere between the more-underground-than-thou attitude of Rap Pages, the clutter of the Source and the mainstream outlook of Vibe. Edited by respected hip-hop writer Reginald C. Dennis, it is a super-slick publication with the highest level of music and cultural journalism and a healthy dose of cynical humor. The premier issue (half the covers feature Jay-Z, half Master P) features an article about the armor-plated cars of big-money rap stars, a managing-your-money advice column (titled "The Papers"), a piece on "What to do when the cops pull you over" ("Keep quiet, and find a lawyer") and a rare interview with reclusive rap legend Rakim Allah.

Another bustling zine scene revolves around board sports. We lost count of how many skateboarding and snowboarding zines there are, but a few stand out. Big Brother is the monthly publication for hard-core street skateboarding fanatics. Based in Beverly Hills, it is known for its photos of such death-defying stunts as "acid drops" from rooftops. This month, Big Brother takes readers to the new hot spot of skating--Europe. Strength, a skate and snow zine based in Cincinnati, answers back with a big spread on New York City, including a history of skateboarding in NYC that predates California "sidewalk surfing." Hmm. TransWorld Skateboarding (which ultimately is owned by the same company that owns the Los Angeles Times) is the thickest, most widely distributed skateboarding magazine on the newsstand. TransWorld's outlook is a bit more mainstream, but its endless advertising allows the zine to do loads of travel pieces and to maintain a higher level of journalism. The latest issue features spreads on the skateboarding scenes in Vancouver, Canada; Las Vegas; Spain; New York; and Philadelphia. There also is a great q&a with professional skateboarder Daewon Song, a Korean-born 22-year-old who hails from L.A. The mother of all multi-board sport magazines is Oceanside's Warp, a TransWorld Publication. Aimed at teens, it covers skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing and popular music and has been the leader in the trend toward crossover participation in board sports.

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