A little over a year ago, I was hanging out with my friend Dave. (These days, Dave is probably better known as Davey Oil, but I knew him before that appellation came into being, so I still call him Dave.) He was in town from Seattle, and we were sitting around, listening to music, and shooting the shit. You know, as you do.

Anyway, we were looking at this book my girlfriend bought me this book for my birthday. It was all the William Blake poems as he published them, i.e. as multi-colored engravings. It was pretty impressive collection, and reading those poems as engravings was a much different experience than reading them in a Viking Portable paperback edition.

At the time, Dave was the director of the Seattle zine library. At least, I think he was. See, it might have been a consensus-based, anarchist kind of thing, with no hierarchy—if so, Dave would be annoyed to be called its director. He explained the whole structure of the thing to me, but the passage of time has erased the truth out of my brain. The important thing to know is that Dave is both a charismatic mofo and a bottomless well of knowledge about zines and comics and self-publishing and all that. He was excited that I was reading William Blake, and told me that Blake may well have been the first real self-published zine guy.

And you know what? I think he's right. Blake was an engraver and a printmaker, and self-published all his own works. Other people have self-published, but he actually did his own design and layout and printing.

The other night, I was flipping through the little William Blake paperback I brought out here, which has his collected works and letters and stuff. It includes a couple of bombastic advertisement he'd written for himself. Dear Reader, I submit them to you—does this count as the world's firt-ever zine ad? From October 10, 1793:

The Labours of the Artist, the Poet, the Musician, have been proverbially attended by poverty and obscurity; this was never the fault of the Public, but was owing to a neglect of means to propagate such works as have wholly absorbed the Man of Genius. Even Milton and Shakespeare could not publish their own works.

This difficulty has been obviated by the Author of the following productions now presented to the Public; who has invented a method of Printing both Letter-press and Engraving in a style more ornamental, uniform, and grand, than any before discovered, while it produces works at less than one fourth of the expense.

If a method of Printing which combines the Painter and the Poet is a phenomenon worthy of public attention, provided that it exceeds in elegance all former methods, the Author is sure of his reward.

Mr. Blake's powers of invention very early engaged the attention of many persons of eminence and fortune; by whose means he has been reguarly enabled to bring before the Public works (he is not afraid to say) of equal magnitude and consequence with the productions of any age or country . . .

. . and so on. Then follows a list of every "issue" of Blake's poetry. For example:

America, a Prophecy, in Illuminated Printing. Folio, with 8 designs: price 10s. 6d.

The ad spiel ends with:

No Subscriptions for the numerous great works now in hand are asked, for none are wanted; but the Author will produce his works, and offer them to sale at a fair price.

Is William Blake the first zinester guy? Do each of these quartos count as a zine? And if so, has there ever been a better zine than his? Besides Shark Fear, Shark Awareness, obviously.

I don't know. But I have to say, I'm more than a little impressed with the tone he sets with self promotion. It's clear where he stands, and I think others would do well to follow his lead. In 1809, a printed advertisement for an exhibition of his concluded with:

There cannot be more than two or three great Painters or Poets in any Age or Country; and these, in a corrupt state of Society, are easily excluded, but not so easily obstructed. They have ex[c]luded Water-colours; it is therefore become necessary that I should exhibit to the Public, in an Exhibition of my own, my Designs, Painted in Water-colours. If Italy is enriched and made great by RAPHAEL, if MICHAEL ANGELO is its supreme glory, if Art is the glory of a Nation, if Genius and Inspiration are the great Origin and Bond of Society, the distinction my Works have obtained from those who best understand such things, calls for my Exhibition as the greatest of Duties to my Country.

Wm. Blake: Independent publisher.