John Dishwasher is a writer and zine maker based in Southern California's San Jacinto Valley. His Zine from the Future Describing the End of Civilization was named a finalist for Best Political Zine of 2021 by Broken Pencil Magazine. His self-published 2022 novel The Zinester Manifesto: A Novel of the Underground is inspired by the SoCal zine scene. Much of John's work can be read for free at www.johndishwasher.org.
How did you get interested in zines?
In 2017, I came across a flyer for the Tijuana Zine Fest in a San Diego cafe. I had seen a couple of zines before in my life but had never heard of a whole zine festival. That was one of TJZF's first years, and they had gone through the trouble of putting together a website that featured all the zinesters who would be tabling, with links to their websites and networks. When I browsed through these artists' work at home, I realized they were treating issues and ideas that I address in my writings, often with the same kind of irreverent and rebellious attitude. I was 50 when this happened, and for the first time in my life, after traveling around the country doing odd jobs for over 20 years, I had the feeling that maybe I had finally found 'my people.' I couldn't make it to TJZF that year, but I discovered that the Long Beach Zine Fest was just a month away or so. I went to that fest and was just blown away. I hadn't even made my first zine yet, and I was already hooked. I had a lot of writing on my website that seemed suited to the zine world's ethics and aesthetics, and this suggested to me that maybe these zine folks would be interested in what I was saying in my fiction and essays. Anyway, I wanted in big time, but I didn't know how to make a zine yet. I heard at LBZF that the Long Beach Public Library had a whole collection of zines, so on my day off, I drove over from Riverside County and sat and looked through dozens of them. By the time I left, I believed I could make zines. That's what got me started. A while after that, I picked four short spunky fictions off my website and sat down and spent an entire weekend making literary zines out of them, with some badly drawn figures to complement the text and wild collage. Somehow I got into the last zine fest of the season that year, which was the Inland Empire Zine Fest. I actually ended up revising one of those first zines I made four times over the following four years. Last year the fifth and final iteration of my Zine from the Future Describing the End of Civilization was a finalist for Best Political Zine of 2021 at Broken Pencil Magazine.
What are your zines about?
In the beginning, my zines seemed to be just random in terms of meaning. It didn't seem that I had any storyline or theme connecting them. Because of this, I generically called my zine John Dishwasher's Zine and would just number each issue sequentially. So issue eight is an essay zine about the definition of art, but then issue nine is a bilingual historical zine about a mostly unknown black man named Ruben Williams, who was one of the first businessmen to take tourists across the border from San Diego to Tijuana in the early 1900s.
But zinefest applications were always asking what my zine is about—kinda like this question. And this forced me eventually to zoom out and try to identify a single theme that drives all my zines. And that theme is resistance. All my zines revolve around resistance in some way. The art essay challenges the way we think about art. And the Ruben Williams zine tells the story of a person who had to fight like crazy to keep a career he had carved out for himself. The process of figuring out this overarching theme that drives my zines actually influenced how I conceptualize my entire body of work. I had never realized that virtually everything I've written is preoccupied with resistance in some way. Finally, I alighted on this tagline for my zine: It's about humans resisting dehumanization.
What are some of your favorite zines and zine makers?
You've never heard of them! My favorite zines are one-offs made by unknown zinesters who try it only once and then disappear. Super obscure, unremarked zines are like messages in a bottle to me—Little notes sent out from a lone soul into the wide world probably never to be found—except that I found them! Other than these, I'm very inspired by Katie Dinh, a.k.a. @bluebidoo. I think her eight-folds sum up the ideal zine for me. Short, spontaneous, poignant, and just soaked with heart and surprise and beauty. Because of her work, I took up making eight-folds more regularly.
Your zines are in our library collection for patrons to borrow. What do you think about that?
This is thrilling because not only do I know people have the opportunity to learn about a really inspiring guy like Ruben Williams, who totally deserves to be better-known, but it means I get to learn about the unusual things other zine makers discover and figure out, too—Stuff that the mainstream ignores. That's one of the best things about zines to me—that the material is often something you could only ever find in a zine.
What do you think is the future of zines?
I think zines will continue to be mostly an underground phenomenon. In their modern incarnation, they started as fanzines for science fiction and then went through a phase where punk culture had a huge influence, and now they are this really egalitarian, hyper-diverse, and hyper-inclusive art form. But throughout that evolution, they have always stayed the product of normal folks communicating with normal folks. So whatever direction zines end up going in the future, I think they will stay like that—an art form of the people. Once in a while, some famous name or a Madison Avenue brand will try to co-opt the zine form, but it always ends up falling flat. Zines belong to the people.
Why are zines important?
Zines are most important as a bridging element, I think. Since anyone can make a zine, they provide an almost universally accessible means of meaningful communication. At a big zinefest, for example, you can see all the different races, all the different classes, all the different generations, all the different sexual orientations, and all the different genders. It's the accessibility and flexibility of the zine's form and content that make such a coming together of various folks possible. In a way, a zinefest is a model of how peaceful society could be if everyone could just join together and share with each other the things that they love. To me, the most important attribute of zines is that they facilitate this kind of communion.