San Francisco, CA 94110
There’s no shortage of peculiar little shops on Valencia Street. From storefronts full of vibrators and bondage gear to swanky boutiques selling vintage Smiths t-shirts for seventy bucks a pop, if you’re going to find it somewhere in the city, it’s going be to in the Mission.
But where do you go if you’re searching for a copy of Ben Weasel’s old travel zines? How about hard-to-find early issues of Cometbus? While rummaging through some crusty punks’ attic may seem like the only option, Matt Wobensmith has another solution; Goteblud, San Francisco’s only vintage and back issue zine archive.
Wobensmith, a Bay Area zine mainstay and founder of Outpunk Records, opened the space earlier this year and already has over 3,000 zines proudly on display and for sale in the shop, many of which, at first, came from friends on the verge of tossing them out. “A couple of years ago I had some people telling me that they had just thrown away a bunch of boxes of zines, and that sounded kind of wrong to me,” he says. “But I couldn’t really tell them where to go cause there’s no secondhand kind of market for zines. So I said, ‘Hey, I’ll take those,’ and started getting donations from friends.” When going through those collections Wobensmith came to a conclusion that continues to drive his appreciation for the medium. “You start to realize how transient zines are–how impermanent they are—how they disappear real fast.” When a spot opened up in the Mission looking to rent, he knew everything was falling into place. “This space was perfect, just ideal. I couldn’t ask for something better,” he gladly recalls, adding it gave him a chance to see what was going on in the scene. “It was also an excuse to get myself out there and get involved again.”
Over the course of the last year Wobensmith’s selection of titles has grown exponentially. From back issues of well known music zines like Maximum Rock N’ Roll and Flipside to cult classics like Sniffin’ Glue, the shelves at Goteblud are lined with every title you’ve ever heard of, forgotten, or used to own. “It’s my thrill to find that weird, obscure little title,” he chimes. “I actually use my customers to teach me about zines all the time. It’s a very useful thing when people come in, pick something up, and start talking about it. I pay close attention and ask them questions because I want to understand if I don’t already know where that zine is.” He also insists starting discussion about zines is just as important to him, if not moreso, than selling them. “It’s a little store but there’s a table and four chairs here for a reason. People are not pressured into buying things, I just like making these old zines available. If people want to sit here and take a stack of ten zines out, read them, and put them back, that’s fine with me. I like the idea that there’s a space you can go where commerce isn’t that important.”
From the opening days of the store’s inception Wobensmith has also utilized the space to put zine exhibits on display. An informal and retrospective tribute to the titles he curates, past exhibits include a full run of LA punk tabloid Slash, a collection of 80’s queercore perzines, and their latest showing, You Are Her: Riot Grrrl and Underground Female Zines of the 1990s. The Riot Grrrl movement, epitomized by bands such as Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, was also the fertile breeding grounds for a number of revolutionary and outspoken zines, making it a time in underground publishing whose influence is still felt today. “This isn’t super-old,” he comments. “But maybe it’s too new for museums to be doing shows on, but old enough that generations heard of and know about it. There’s an appreciation and a curiosity.”
Beyond the shelves, bins, and binders however is a man who at his core truly loves these little photocopied pieces DIY self-expression, and being able to share them with the public maintains their importance and relevancy. “It’s like an oral history, it’s not on the internet, you can’t Google it, it’s only in the hearts and minds of the people that were there.” And while many of the creators of these works have long moved on from their xeroxed manifestos, the messages within their pages stays the same. ““They’re almost like letters to a small group of people,” he asserts. “There’s just a certain level of authenticity conveyed in a zine.”
Words and photos by Sean Logic