Zine Scene: Vain

Vain Issue 10Vain Magazine: Issue 10 (Fall 2011)

When you see it on a bookstore shelf, Vain immediately stands out. Small, unassuming, and minimalist, the journal looks like something from another era among all the glossy, high-color publications that surround it. The two hand-bound paper volumes, held together by a paper strip with just the name and issue number on it, are intriguing in their blankness. There’s no hint of what’s inside, only an impression of refreshingly clean style. Curiosity compelled me to purchase it, but what kept me reading was the satisfaction that a classy and independent literary journal exists despite the virtual monopoly of highbrow imprints in the field.

Since 2007, Tia Orian and a team of volunteers have published Vain twice a year. With a mixture of artwork, photography, poetry, music, and even a short story or two, the journal is like a window into another world. After the virtual death of the publishing slush pile and an increasingly stratified arts industry, literary journals are somewhat out of vogue. Yes, they still exist, but as a part of arts and leisure magazines, or as a sort of trade publication for writers and artists themselves. It’s much rarer, in other words, for a layperson to pick up a literary journal today than it was 50 years ago. It’s even rarer to see a journal accepting submissions from just about anyone.

As a result, Vain Issue 10 was a pleasant surprise. I devoured it in one sitting, feeling a bit like I was unearthing literary treasure. Stephen North’s “The Psychic Receptionist” was a particularly fascinating read, as were JR Solonche’s poems. Photography and prints are interspersed throughout. An interview with stop-motion filmmaker Jess Bayliss and a music playlist push the boundaries of the format but fit in surprisingly well.

Orian’s commitment to integrity no doubt contributes to Vain’s overall impression of dedication to the arts and quality writing. Some names in Issue 10 were bigger than others, but when you think of artists being selected based on good, honest work, that makes sense. Orian says, “It isn’t always the most artistically technical or most intricate or even the most critically acclaimed. When you can see the direct line to the heart staring back at you on the screen, you know you’ve hit the jackpot.”

While some of the contributors were fairly successful and others virtually unknown, the journal preserved a democratic setup by giving each their own space and reserving biographical information for the title page. Writing and artwork alternated, and the success of the volume as a whole gives me reason to think that the format will survive.

For Orian, this certainly is the hope. She says that journals speak to our society, no matter the era: “Literary journals mark the times and the lives of the people that have contributed, what they are interested in, what sufferings they are undergoing. It tells future generations about a society; they showcase cultures and are therefore timeless. In the fast-paced world, it’s easy to forget how important they are.”

Perhaps we’re getting too serious about the whole issue. Lest we forget, the literary journal is also to entertain and open our minds. Orian hopes that the reader will have some fun with Vain. As she says, “Art needn’t be grandiloquent, and no one should tell us what is beautiful and what isn’t. Appreciation and happiness live in much smaller packages.” Or, in her succinct terms: “Anything goes.”

[Chromatic, our 400-page exploration of musicians and color, is out now. Order here!]

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