Locating punk fanzines from decades ago is no small task. When Wilma Camarillo began writing her Master of Arts in Art History thesis, gathering these primary source materials was essential. Doing the search remotely through University of Houston Libraries Special Collections in the middle of the pandemic added an interesting dimension to the work.
“This project was done between the fall of 2021 and spring 2022, and I was worried about going in-person,” Camarillo said. So she began by talking about her project focus with Mary Manning, university archivist and curator of performing arts collections. “I met with Mary via Zoom,” she said. “I explained what I needed these zines for, and how I would use them in my research. She explained what was in the collection so far and asked what key terms or materials would be to look for. By meeting with the archivist this helped to narrow down my search to punk zines produced in Houston.”
The inquiry yielded relevant, unique primary source materials which Camarillo was able to use in her paper titled “Houston Punk Fanzines and Print Culture: 1979-1989,” an analysis and exploration from an art historical perspective. Camarillo acknowledged archivists Julie Grob and Mary Manning in her thesis as “instrumental” in connecting her to resources.
Camarillo was excited to learn she could receive digitized copies of the materials. UH Special Collections preserves and makes accessible various locally-produced zines (self-published, small-circulation, non-commercial booklets or magazines) which can be found in such collections as the Mydolls Records, Zine Fest Houston Records, and Wild Dog Archives Feminist Zine Collection, to name a few.
Researchers are encouraged to start by searching or browsing the finding aids for archival materials online. A finding aid is an inventory of a collection that contains an overview of the collection, scope and contents, and a biographical note. You’ll find that some collections have varying levels of description; some are more detailed than others. It’s helpful to look at the finding aid as a map that will lead you to relevant material.
When beginning a search for primary source materials, Camarillo recommends having an idea of what materials you’re looking for, and whether you’ll need to request digitization. For those who aren’t sure of the materials they need, it is best to contact a Special Collections archivist. Archivists oversee the collections and know what they contain and what they don’t. “Inquiring about research materials ahead of time not only helps yourself but also allows the people you are working with to have time to find these items and to assist you with your search,” Camarillo said.
UH Digital Collections and the Audio/Video Repository are also good starting points for researchers to browse digitized and born-digital items available from Special Collections, Architecture, Design, and Art Library, and Music Library.
Archivists can direct researchers toward areas of the collections that may have been overlooked, and can suggest secondary resources. Camarillo acquired other materials by contacting members of the community who preserved their own copies of early zines like Wild Dog and United Underground, and conducted interviews with central figures of the Houston punk scene. “That is how I got into contact with J.R. Delgado, who had many zines stored and was very gracious about letting me borrow some for my project,” Camarillo said.
The fanzines, like all primary source materials, tell a story about the people and period they represent, particularly highlighting the DIY, community-driven aspects of the Houston punk milieu.
“There was such a diverse scene in Houston during the 70s and 80s,” Camarillo said. “Houston’s punk scene was fairly small at the time. There were a lot of collaborations between people making zines, posters, writing columns, interviewing bands, and taking photos. Many of the zines I investigated have overlapping communities and there was an overall sense of collectivity.”