A Visual Taxonomy of UFO Self-Publishing

A Visual Taxonomy of UFO Self-Publishing

By Kate Bertash


Since the US Department of Defense videos of the 2017 “Nimitz Incident’’ resurfaced to much applause in 2017, UFOs are back. The short clip captures a lozenge-shaped object whizzing through the air right beside military pilots in their fighter jets. As it spread wildly across the Internet and into our hearts, it reignited popular interest in the mysteries of our skies. UFO enthusiasts in the US and beyond seem to view the current wave of new information as a potential turning point in government disclosure and public perception. More people than ever seem to accept the phenomenon of unidentified flying objects as real and worth exploring.

But long before we had access to such declassified infrared videos, those who were ready to believe relied on an eclectic selection of self-published zines, pamphlets, books, memos, flyers, and more to tell them to keep their eyes in the skies. The notorious UFO-obsessed Heaven’s Gate cult, for one, gathered its first members through a series of handwritten flyers that proclaimed that they had wisdom to share about, “UFOs, space aliens, and their final fight for earth’s spoils,” and offering a “Last chance to advance BEYOND HUMAN.” These are but one point in a long line of thrifty mimeographed magazines packed with funky type and amateur illustrations. Serial underground publications from Albania to Zimbabwe thrived, publishing for many decades before the web took hold.


There are many tips we can take from the dominant design elements in these categories of UFO publications, but perhaps their most valuable message is: “don’t be shy.” From candy-coloured, new-age art to designs that plaster as many UFOs and cartoon aliens as will fit onto a half-page cover, these publications are a testament to the power of laying all your cards on the table. Go big to build a big community so we can chase after the biggest mysteries around. So plentiful were UFO zines that there were plenty of subcultures within the subculture, complete with cult figures and unique aesthetics attached to each. Here’s my brief take on the most prominent aesthetics.

Covert Religious Pamphlet

  • Symbol from someone else’s religion shamelessly appropriated
  • Shiny tri-fold pamphlet for the cultist on the go
  • You want a flying saucer, you got one
  • The message is Jesus
  • Inside is a wall-o-text on salvation

The Hand Scrawled Flyer

  • Fits on a quarter sheet — very economical
  • Hand-written text pre-screens skeptics
  • Don’t bury the lede
  • Some reasonable questions
  • It’s wing night! What do you have to lose?

Psychedelic New Age Art Booklet

  • A Very Beautiful Man
  • In space, everyone looks like Lee Pace as the Elf King in Lord of the Rings
  • Sparkling rainbow visuals that would make Lisa Frank proud
  • Rays emerging from things
  • Cult dues go to full-color printing, preferably inkjet

Underground Pulp Magazine

  • Discordant clip art collage on the cover
  • Perpetually convinced of impending government disclosure
  • Feel the urgency of the cranked-up contrast!
  • Suspicious eyes let you know it’s extra spooky
  • First edition now listed at $900 on eBay, no bids in four years

Memo of a very real conversation you and the aliens totally had

  • Official Alien Transmission Letterhead
  • Hope you didn’t miss the other 144 memos
  • Arbitrary punctuation
  • Sounds suspiciously like an internal cult leader power struggle
  • Lots of ad hominem

Leader’s Memoir (VOLS I-XVI)

  • [NAME]ism title

  • Excessive umlauts

  • Resemblance to any other cult leader is purely coincidental

  • Headshot in a turtleneck — really sets off the medallion

  • An offer no Earthling can refuse