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Archiving riot grrrl’s zine history

By A. Wolfe

Folded once, saddle-stitched and greased silky with the grips of hundreds of fingerprints–this tactile sensation of holding a well cared-for zine from the riot grrrl era and beyond is one aesthetic Matt Wobensmith, owner of the ultimate San Francisco-based zine shop Goteblüd and curator of You Are Her: Riot Grrrl and Underground Female Zines of the 1990s, says the Internet and blogs can’t touch. Literally.

Neatly displayed on DIY racks in Goteblüd’s one-room outlet, the zines of the riot grrrl era (a feminist punk movement from the ’90s) look immaculate, even though Wobensmith says every single zine in the collection can be thumbed through, read and even copied, using a borrowed photocopier that barely fits in the shop. The exhibit, which collects hundreds of zines from Wobensmith’s personal vault, ranges from Michelle Tea’s Bitch Queen to the Heavens to Betsy-penned Channel Seven. Despite the name of the exhibit, some of the titles present are simply female-penned zines and not “riot grrl” works, such as Bitch Rag which exclaims in bold type: “WE ARE NOT A RIOT GRRRL ZINE.”

Former editor of Outpunk and active leader of the American “homocore” movement, Wobensmith is as much a part of the exhibit as any of the featured titles. Speaking to the possibility of patrons duplicating and potentially reselling the zines he has on display, he says the sole purpose of paper zines from the ’90s specifically, was to disseminate information. So if people want to sell copies over e-commerce sites, then he’s just happy somebody’s still reading them.

Wobensmith thumbs through all of his featured, super-rare riot grrrl titles and explains the cultural significance of each one as though they were members of his family. It’s interesting to note how many young artist/editors from that pack went on to much bigger things, such as indie filmmaker and performance artist Miranda July who created and distributed Snarla, a precursor to her acclaimed film, Me and You and Everyone We Know in both content and design. Jennifer Bleyer, former editor of Gogglebox, went on to publish and edit the Jewish pop-culture glossy, Heeb, and, later, write for The New York Times.

But America isn’t the only country represented in the exhibit. Both Great Britain and Canada are present, through zines such as Greta Snyder’s Mudflap (UK) collection and Canadian artist G.B. Jones’ J.D.s and Double Bill, the notorious “hatezine” aimed at unearthing William Conrad’s misogynistic tendencies. Of all of the talented women of riot grrrl represented in this collection, Jones emerges as the obvious unsung hero of zine culture. Wobensmith relishes presenting exhibit-goers with a pristine copy of G.B. Jones, an anthology of her collected artwork published by a New York press, banned by Canada, and largely destroyed in the hands of customs agents.

Though Wobensmith buys and sells vintage zines as a business, you can tell his heart is in the archiving of history. He pulls out the D. Boon memorial issue of End Times, smiles humbly and says, “I’m sure someone else could archive this better than I could.” But I highly doubt a riot grrrl could find a better curator.

For more information on Goteblüd visit

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