Ragging Factsheet 5

The zine of zines comes under attack

There are no style guidelines in the world of zines: Every opinion finds a voice in this community, creating a riot of free-speech advocacy. Nowhere is this anarchy more apparent than at Factsheet 5, the San Francisco-based and self-anointed “definitive guide to the zine revolution.”

“I try to encourage people to question authority,” says Factsheet 5's Seth Friedman — and it seems to be working, judging by the flak F5 catches for promoting its own authority.

Friedman's biggest nemesis is a Southern Californian known as the Rev. Randall Tin-Ear, who has a running feud with F5 over what he calls “stock statements” used to review early issues of his Angry Thoreauan. Frustrated by unanswered requests for an explanation, Tin-Ear went public, ranting in his zine about Factsheet 5's shoddy standards. He claims that he was subsequently “banned” from the pages of the review.

Friedman says he stopped listing the Angry Thoreauan (P.O. Box 2246, Anaheim, CA 92814) only after Tin-Ear stopped sending review copies. Tin-Ear retorts: “I was told by Jerod [Pore, an F5 contributing editor] that Seth wouldn't review me anymore.” Tin-Ear says Friedman is on a power trip: “He's put himself up on a pedestal.”

Interregnum publisher Peter Maranci is another Friedman detractor. Interregnum is an established science-fiction/role-playing zine, and when it received a cursory review in F5 about a year ago, Maranci went on a rampage.

“It was obvious the reviewer flipped through a few pages,” Maranci contends, “and then made up a story.”

The reviewer was Friedman, who normally assigns sci-fi zines to contributing editor Pore. When Maranci posted a note on the Internet's alt.zines newsgroup in support of another F5 complainant, he says he was attacked “bitterly” by F5's online point man, Pore. He further alleges that Pore said F5 would not review Interregnum in the future.

“It seemed the height of hypocrisy for F5 to 'ban' critics while publishing adulating reviews of zines that criticize authority,” says Maranci.

The contentiousness continues, of course. The most recent Factsheet 5 includes a short review of Interregnum, written by Pore, which calls it “pretty good” before concluding, “Too bad it's spoiled by a publisher who's a whiny little asshole.”

An exasperated Maranci says he's only seeking truth in advertising from the “definitive guide” to zines. “It's like third-graders faking a book report during recess,” he says.

Friedman says that Pore was wrong to say they would ban Interregnum — “nothing has ever been banned from Factsheet 5” — but acknowledges his publication's shortcomings.

“We don't spend enough time with each zine, that's true,” he says. “Until we get huge sums of money to hire huge staffs, we do have to cut some corners.”

Friedman and Pore count additional enemies in the zine subgenres catering to riot grrrls and punks.

“A lot of these people are just cranks,” says Friedman, challenging other publishers to create their own zine reviews. He already en-courages punks to submit their zines to Maximum Rock'n'Roll for review, and points out that many science-fiction writers (the granddaddy genre of zines) have begun to ignore F5.

“In the future,” says Pore, “electronic publishing will be more widespread. Perhaps specialized reviews will be more common.”

Friedman gets help from Pore and a few other writers, but for the most part he's the “staff.” Claiming that he works 13-hour days, Friedman moans with a laugh, “I've become Factsheet 5. I don't have a life for anything else.”

In addition to publishing and editing the magazine, Friedman also serves as its ad salesman, layout designer and circulation manager. During his busy three-year tenure at the helm, F5's circulation has tripled to 16,000 copies monthly, and its nationwide distribution has boosted the collective profile of zines tremendously.

A slim, bespectacled East Coast transplant who speaks Brooklynese, Friedman assigns about 15 percent of the reviews in his 128-page publication. The rest he writes himself, in his home/work space in the Inner Richmond district. Such a workload is undeniably not enough time to scrutinize every publication that comes in.

Long hours are a tradition at Factsheet 5. By all accounts, founding publisher Mike Gunderloy treated the zine as a labor of love, working tirelessly and trading copies of F5 with anybody who ran off a poem or comic on a mimeograph machine and called it a zine. By 1991, after 10 years of self-induced slavery, Gunderloy finally burned out and quit.

Interim publisher Hudson Luce failed miserably in his short-lived efforts to revive the magazine, and in 1991, Friedman, a computer adept and publisher of the zine Food for Thought, asked Gunderloy for permission to use the Factsheet 5 name.

Friedman's self-prescribed mission — to unite the voices of zinedom as a statement of free-speech advocacy — ensures his role as a defender of zine publishers who attract Fahrenheit 451-type censorship. Last year, he flew to Florida to testify at the trial of porn cartoonist Mike Diana. Friedman also counsels the Goads, a Washington state-based couple who publish Answer Me!, a beleaguered zine presenting gruesome violence as a twisted sort of art form. In San Francisco, Friedman has befriended John Marr, publisher of Murder Can Be Fun. “He comes over all the time,” Friedman says. “We play cards.”

To hear the larger media tell it, the zine “revolution” chronicled in Factsheet 5 consists entirely of these sensational cases, with just enough room for silly endeavors like Donut Frenzy and The Tiny Tim Times. “Very few are like that,” Friedman insists. “Most are about music, pop culture. Or just people's mundane lives.” He cites Pathetic Life by the Tenderloin's Pathetic Doug as a personal favorite.

“Factsheet 5 has always been controversial,” says Jim Romenesko, publisher of Obscure, a zine-scene monitor. “I think most zine people expect way too much …. I review maybe 515 in my zine, and even that takes a lot of time. Here's a guy who gets 100-plus in his mailbox every day.”

Chip Rowe, an assistant editor at Playboy and publisher of the zine Chip's Closet Cleaner, concurs with Romenesko, and credits Friedman with improving the overall quality of zines. He also says Gunderloy's ultraliberal trade policy led to too many one-time efforts.

“[Gunderloy] did this 80 hours a week,” Rowe says, “so it's hard to criticize him. But Seth is now putting an editor's eye to the magazine.” For Rowe, complaints about the brevity of Factsheet 5's reviews are baseless: “All I really need is enough information to see if I'm going to mail my $2” to sample a new zine, he says.

“There has to be something out there that doesn't draw lines. As far as I know, Factsheet 5 is the only publication that doesn't,” Friedman says.

“Someone might say all Jews should die, and another might say Newt Gingrich should be president,” he suggests. “I disagree with both statements, but I wouldn't censor either one … I believe these viewpoints have been marginalized, exactly like [those of] the riot grrrls and the punks.”

Although the vast majority of Factsheet 5's reviews are positive, Rowe confides what he calls “the dirty little secret of zines”: Most stink.

In a tactful, nonauthoritarian way, Friedman agrees.
“I would say 90 percent of zines I have no interest in,” he says. “But your 10 percent would be very different from mine, and every zine will be liked by someone.” Friedman insists his writers review with “sensitivity.”

“They're not judging the subject matter,” he says, “but how the person accomplishes their goal.” In Friedman's unwavering pluralism, everyone gets heard.

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