There is certainly a link between Mail Art and ‘zine culture. Mail Art and home-produced fanzines use the same means to a similar effect, and the ‘zine and tape circuit regularly made use of the same infrastructure as Mail Art did. There may also be a link at the level of con- or intent: Johnson often employed the symbol of a potato masher, identifying himself as a “masher”, someone who comes too close – a stalker, in today’s vocabulary.
But it is important also to note that Mail Art had no style of its own. The visual similarity with fanzines is likely to be due at least in part to the fact that they use the same means (photocopy, offset) and are produced at home by a single person. Moreover, the similarity between the fanzine “feel” and the “feel” of a Johnson work cannot support a claim about Mail Art as a whole. Johnson’s work has always had a tendency to come too close. Much Mail Art produced by others comes close because it arrives at someone’s private home, but it rarely comes too close.
Look at Cees Francke. His work on the theme of Sandie Shaw seems upon first glance closely related to Johnson’s Fan Clubs. The difference, however, is that Francke’s work comes too close to the person of the artist as well. There is fan culture in his Sandie Shaw-worship, but there is obsessiveness of a different type as well. It’s not just Sandie Shaw who’s in focus, it’s armpits as well. Sweaty armpits. Immaculate armpits. Sandie’s Third Armpit.
Neither Johnson’s “club” atmosphere nor Hirschhorn’s homemade look suffice to explain Francke’s project. Not even the two combined are enough to capture its full breadth. Mail Art is about “us” and about Doing It Yourself, but it is also about the “me” of the sender and the receiver and all the ways in which the work manages to capture the one and engage the other. One of Francke’s stamps reads “Sandie Shaw Internal Apparitions”. Mail Art is about being “inside” and about doing a lot with minimal means, but in Francke’s case, “internal” also refers to the sender’s and the receiver’s innermost feelings and “apparition” to the images they give rise to.