Monday, June 17, 2002

From the Reading Pile X

Ache #3
At first glance, Ache seems to be your standard indie-rock fanzine: well-designed, including the obligatory record reviews in the back and sporting interviews with Beautiful Skin, International Noise Conspiracy, and Easy Action. But at its best, Ache is a delightfully insightful zine that revels in its publisher Armen Svadjian's cultural tastes while delving deeper into some of the people who help map that cultural landscape. Armen interviews several zine publishers in this issue. Tom Frank discusses fandom vis a vis critical culture and the role of hope. Rumpshaker editor Eric Weiss explains his obsessive compulsive disorder -- but doesn't address the role his OCD might play in the production of his overwhelmingly manic Paper, Scissors, Clock-like zine. And the publisher of Motorbooty outlines the history of the long-running zine. Additionally, Ryan Biggs weighs in with a self-analysis of the use of irreverence in cultural criticism; Steve (Monorail) Mandich offers a four-page appreciation of Jack Chick tracts; and AUM Fidelity label-meister Steven Joerg shares his perspective on avant garde jazz, its relationships with the indie-rock and mainstream jazz press, and the impact of free jazz musicians who step into the mainstream, a la David S. Ware's signing to Columbia. All of this makes for a zine bigger than the zine that comprises this particular issue. Throw in some excellent comics and an interview with the wily Dave Cooper, and Ache is one hell of a read. I'll be keeping my eyes on this one. $3 to Armen Svadjian, 167 Cortleigh Blvd., Toronto, ON, Canada M5N 1P6.

Bloated Sewer #2
This mish-mash of a zine combines the editor's love of graffiti, hardcore, hip hop, and politics. Heavily peppered with throw-up (as in graffiti) sketches, street art photography, odd little poems, and photos of live bands, the zine's layout is rather cluttered. And the bulk of the zine's content -- interviews with the now-defunct Enemy Soil, Beverly-based rhymer Esoteric, an area Food Not Bombs activist, Japanese noise musician Molten Salt Breeder Reactor, technical death metal band Prophetic Disclosure, and straight edgers Monster X -- alternates between brief, breathy, run-of-the-mill interview responses and in-depth, insightful conversations. The exchange with Esoteric about homophobia in the hip-hop scene is appreciated despite its admitted scratch-the-surface nature. And the Food Not Bombs piece is a solid introduction to the group's mission and methods. So, as much as I'm tempted to tag Bloated Sewer as scattered and shallow, it's clear that Dave supports the scene and goes to a lot of shows, represents the way some folks in Boston bridge hip hop and hardcore, and is politically active and aware. All good things even if this zine isn't that great. For those qualities, I've got to give him props. Check this out if you, too, are interested in these aspects of DIY culture. $3 to Dave Sullivan, 138 Faxon Road, Quincy, MA 02171.

Combover's Now I Know My ABC's
I went to the release party for Dave Bryson, Ed Curran, and Joe Keinberger's educomic, but I was tired, it was crowded, and I jetted before I could meet the three who produced this take on the ABC's. So I'll continue to appreciate their comics work from afar. The idea is simple: illustrate the alphabet. The result is a 26-panel love poem to a whole host of popcult fetishes and cliches: dorks, garden gnomes, Morrissey, Oompa-Loompas, yeti, and Dr. Zachary Smith. Joel Keinberger's contributions are ink-splattered and scribbly sketches that increasingly remind me of Ralph Steadman. Dave Bryson evokes the work of Bruce Orr, and Ed Curran's cartoony style occasionally draws on computer illustration and lettering. The blend of styles is effective, and the Combover crowd has found themselves some good comics company. A good one-off gimmick book, but also a good introduction to the folks behind Combover. Combover, 351 Harvard St. #2F, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Go Metric! #14
Mike Faloon amazes me. The one-man army behind GM and Dizzy Records has his fingers in so many pies and on so many pulses that I am consistently astounded. And his unabashed giddy enthusiasm for his shameless popcult fixations is a sheer joy to behold even if I don't always share them. If you're into power pop at all, you'll love GM. David Cawley reports on the 2001 Asian Fantasy Film Expo, where Damon Foster, editor of Oriental Cinema, kicked him. Fastbacks' guitarist Kurt Bloch expounds on his love for the music of Queen. Skizz Cyzyk details the making of a Young Fresh Fellows video. The Young Fresh Fellows/Minus 5 CD is dissected track by track. Madeleine Dental, mastermind behind the zine Tight Pants, is converted by the Figgs, whom I've yet been able to truly appreciate. Faloon interviews the Dorks; the proprietor of Break-Up! Records; Scott (Los Huevos) Soriano, owner of Moo-La-La Records; the Decibles; and Big Dipper. There's also a guide to things you need to have with you at all times, a report on the talk radio coverage of 911, a synchronized listening and viewing of the Squirrels' "Not-So-Bright Side of the Moon" and "Cabin Boy," a report on Mint Records' 10th anniversary festival, and a smattering of record reviews. Again, I need to admit that I don't share all of Mike's tastes. I also didn't read every single word of every single article in this issue's 60 pages. But I am in awe -- awe! -- of GM's ability to ferret out these interviews and discographies for the power pop completists, as well as GM's self-deprecating sense of humor and efforts to address adjacent media interests. Indeed: Go Go Metric! You won't be sorry. Mike Faloon, 2780 Ryewood Ave. #F, Copley, OH 44321.

King Cat Comics and Stories #60
Despite his ups and downs, John Porcellino keeps on plugging away on his long-running comic, and the zine world is hella better for it. In this edition, John tweaks the recent rash of wordless comic experiments with "Mental Illness/Friday Night," a poetic, eight-panel but pictureless comic. The 11-page "Ticks III" is a tender look at nature appreciation, man's impact on the environment, and one way the world can gently remind us that we're part of something larger. The all-text "Healy Road Prairie" and "Morris" continues to carry that theme as John describes the process of transplanting a patch of native grassland and unsuccessfully seeks the largest tree in Illinois. While John gives us a lot of himself in his comics and writing, features like the K Cat Top 40 offer even more insight into John's idiosyncrasies, impressions, and irritations. Whether everyday objects, books, records, or daily experiences, the Top 40 serves as a sort of journal parallel to the current issue -- as well as a solid sample of John's own media diet. It also highlights the fact that much of the world's beauty resides in the minutiae and details that we often ignore and take for granted. King Cat is flush with love -- for the everyday and for the world. Rush out and puck up a copy. (Tangent: Does anyone know what Joe "Silly Daddy" Chiapetta is up to these days?) $2 to John Porcellino, P.O. Box 881, Elgin, IL 60121.

Nature's Milkshake (February 2002)
Drawn between Jan. 21 and Feb. 5, this mini features roughly stylized comic strips, sketchbook excerpts, photocopier art, and found photography. The opening story, "Dos Computing," sets the stage with a throw-away narrative in which a frustrated computer user eats a giant hotdog, frees a tiger from the zoo, and realizes the folly of his actions. Silly, surreal, and somewhat sloppy, the comics cover self-injury, hurting friends, escaping from the frying pan into the fire, bad haircuts, and the minutiae of everyday existence. There's a bitter existential edge to the stories -- nothing ends well -- but Nature's Milkshake doesn't take the frustrations it depicts too seriously, opting instead for fart jokes, vomit, softcore porn, and nods to the Far Side and Garfield. Despite the art's simplicity, there's some wonderfully impressive panels here: the puking dog on p. 14, the judgmental girls on p. 29, and the flying man on p. 32. $3 to Ethan Hayes-Chute, 2 College St. #717, Providence, RI 02903.

Snake Pit anthology and #15
First, the slim, 16-page, monthly edition. Drawn in December 2001, these daily comic strips detail the life of Ben, a record store clerk in Austin, Texas. Ben goes to work, smokes pot, collates his zine, practices with his band, goes to shows, watches movies, sleeps, runs errands, hooks up with various cute punk-rock girls, and hugs his mom. It sounds mundane, but Ben's simple, well-drawn comics evoke Aaron Cometbus and John Porcellino -- and feature a daily soundtrack -- adding up to a fun and friendly personal comic. The anthology is more of the same, collecting 96 pages of Ben's strips between July 2000 and 2001. Reading more in a sitting, it's easy to gain insight on Ben's life -- and like Ben more, to boot -- as he crushes out constantly, gets fired, moves to Austin, and falls into his punk-rock rhythm of girls, shows, work, pot, parties, and bus trips. His drawing style visibly improves as the comics progress, but his routine -- matter of fact, unapologetic, and slightly enviable from where I sit on the Big Blue Couch -- does not. Awesome. Best perzine/comic I've read in quite awhile! $2 or a stamp to Ben, 2100 Guadalupe #138, Austin, TX 78705.

I just can't take it! Even Bruce Orr's blocky lettering reminds me of Michigan-to-Oregon transplant Robert Lewis, whom I miss dreadfully. Sure, Bruce's art is more heavily inked, but I wish I could shrug off the comparisons. Five years in the making, the 68-page Thred was produced mostly in Berlin, and I'm sure some of the book's abstract existentialism stems from Bruce's time in Germany. In stark contrast to the photocopied and folded "Lady Dwenton's Matrimonial Planner" (previously reviewed in Media Diet), this book-length story is a robust tale about an aging toymaker whose livelihood and locale are threatened by the new Minister of Division of Mergecom (shades of the Spuckler storyline in Akiko). After a run-in with a metalsapien guard, the toymaker is taken in by the neopicts, who give him a new lease on life and the tools he can use to save Market Island. Equal parts dark science fiction, swashbuckling superhero story, and Camus-like cautionary tale, Thred is a heady but not heavy-handed exhortation to question authority. As much as I enjoyed the book, however, I do wish Bruce's artwork wasn't so heavily inked -- despite the innovate character designs and page layouts. A solid self-published book. Ask Bruce what it was like working with the Small Publishers Co-Op! $4 to Bruce Orr, 1601 S. 8th St., third floor, Philadelphia, PA 19148.

Too Much Coffee Man #12-13
I admit it. I was hella skeptical when Shannon Wheeler, creator of the one-trick comics pony Too Much Coffee Man, launched this new magazine. I thought it'd merely be a platform for his comics, of which I'm not overly fond. I also thought it'd be a shallow, speedy read. I was wrong on both counts. While Wheeler does contribute a healthy dose of comics -- 22 pages total, or less than 20% of both issues published in late 2001 -- and while the magazine is better suited for flipping than avid reading, there's a lot going on here. One, Shannon's coffee fetish is in full effect: TMCM features coffee reviews, coffee maker reviews, and an interview with the proprietor of Pinko's, a "commie coffee copy center" in Portland. Two, Shannon uses TMCM to highlight the work of many independent comics creators, including Bobo, Jay Stephens, Rick Geary, Graham Annable, Keith Knight, and Peter Kuper. Three, TMCM includes some Beer Frame-like reviews of and articles about enema kits, bottled water, wars, multitools, and toast. Four, there are some delightfully surprising outliers in the mix: Dennis Eichorn's article on Christian pornography, for example. Shannon's personality percolates throughout each issue's 68 pages, lending an extremely energetic perzine aspect to the endeavor. It's clear that Shannon wanted to do a magazine. So he is. Why aren't you? $4.95 to Adhesive Press, P.O. Box 14549, Portland, OR 97293.

Words! Words! Words! #1
Published in Wellington, New Zealand, the 60-page WWW -- shorthand, don't you know -- is a "fashion magazine for reading." Instead of falling into the celebrity circle jerk of mainstream mags such as Book, WWW opts for a more grassroots and community-oriented approach. Joanna Vaught and Maura Johnston hold up their top five all-time desert island books. Derek Powazek outlines how to write a book in three easy steps. John Hodgman reviews the inner workings of a professional literary agent's mind. And James Stegall contributes his interesting and innovative "I Don't Care If I Ever Get Paid to Write," a meandering discourse on why people write disguised as a shoplifter apprehension police report. WWW steps to the side of journals such as McSweeney's, the American Journal of Print, and the Ganzfeld to take a look at the holes between zinemaking and the professional publishing world -- and people's reasons for stepping into them. This everyman's review of books and the writing life is creative even if it isn't crucial. $8 to Words! Words! Words!

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