Originally Published November 11, 1996
If your reading taste skirts the fringes of what’s typically found on the newsstand, R. Seth Friedman has the magazine for you.
Factsheet Five is the bible of underground publishing, an A-to-XYZZY news encyclopedia of the most bizarre, tasteless and irreverent zines the world has ever known. Each issue of Factsheet Five offers reviews of some 2,000 small-press and Xeroxed rags covering topics as narrow as Hair to Stay, “For Men Who Love and Appreciate Natural, Hairy Women.”
Much of the fun in reading F5 is in the zine titles: Pants That Don’t Fit; Three Entire Minutes; Meshuggah; The Curmudgeon’s Home Companion; and Details Omitted For Clarity. More specifically, Junk Magnet is the story of a man named Nicholas who found contentment in life through his Apple IIci computer. I Was A Teenage X-Phile is devoted to the TV show, “The X-Files.” Wagons of Steel is devoted to people who race station wagons. And Black Giantess is 81 pages of “loving carnage imposed on truly small men by big black women.”
“Name a fetish and I can probably come up with an actual zine that covers it,” Friedman brags.
Reviews are split up by categories, including “sex,” “grrrlz,” “B-movies,” “comix” and “food.” Under the category of “Politics,” for example, you’ll find: 2% Homogenized (bizarre politics in Wisconsin); Cement Squeeze (a liberal voice in Phoenix); Red Star Rising (Marxism); and Yowl (“For Today’s Zealot”).
Some people may wonder what separates a “magazine” from a “zine.” For the most part, it’s a matter of business design and passion. Magazine publishers are motivated by profit; zine publishers are spurred on by an irresistible desire for self-expression. And the lifespan of a zine can be as short as one issue. “The publishers either run out of ideas or money,” Friedman says.
Friedman, 32, is in his fifth year at the helm of F5, although the magazine actually began publication in 1982.
Founder Mike Gunderloy was involved in science fiction fandom and “anarchist politics” when he first noticed similarities between the two and created the original F5 as a guide to the two worlds.
But in a scenario Friedman could later appreciate, F5 took over Gunderloy’s life. By 1990 — more than 40 issues later — he called it quits.
Around that time, Friedman, a fan of F5 and frequent contributor to zines with names such as Anarchy and Blue Rider, was a strait-laced working stiff, managing a local area network (LAN) for a Wall Street firm. When he was downsized out of a job, Friedman tore off his tie, moved to San Francisco and produced his first zine, Food For Thought. In his heart, however, Friedman yearned for the organization and clarity F5 brought to underground publishing. He took over.
“I thought it would be fun,” Friedman says wistfully. “Then it took over my life.
“It’s not just the workload, the 2,000 zine reviews,” he says. “It’s the 2,000 zines and the 2,000 egos, 2,000 subscribers, 10,000 people who buy it on the newsstands, newsstand dealers who never seem to get enough copies but never have money to pay me and the advertisers who always want to buy ads but never return my calls.”
Maybe that’s why each issue of F5 takes about three months to produce, despite the full-time attention of Friedman and Contributing Editor Chris W. Becker, as well as 20 others who work on it part-time.
Still, unlike many of the small-time publishers whose work Friedman reviews, F5 provides him a living. “It pays my rent,” he says. “But not by much.”
So why does he keep doing it?
“I don’t really want to get a job,” Friedman says. “And I’ve always been a politically-motivated person. And politically, I think this is the best thing I could be doing with my life. I think Factsheet Five improves the lives of many people. It encourages people to express themselves. The main problem with politics today is that people feel they have no outlet to express themselves. I’m telling people they can build virtual communities, they can express themselves outside of work. I think Factsheet Five is a force for good.”
In an effort to get back some of his life, Friedman recently announced a reduction in F5‘s publication schedule from four or five issues a year to two. He’s not giving up on the field — he wrote about the world of zines for the 1997 edition of the Information Almanac and has edited a collection of zinedom’s best work, The Factsheet Five Zine Reader (Crown Books), which will be published in February.
If you’ve ever thought about publishing your own zine, Friedman offers these tips:
• Get as much of the zine produced for free as possible; finding someone with access to a photocopier is a good start.
• Produce a zine that “reflects you as a person,” he says.
“Many people produce a zine because they think it’s cool. But if they have no passion, no interests, they should wait. There are already enough bad zines; we don’t need any more.”
But Friedman has faith in you.
“Inside everyone,” he says, “is at least one good zine.”