July 17, 2013

So I promised new material in a month, sixteen months ago. Still not as long as my last stretch between reviews, but nothing to brag about. I think one obstacle to my just sitting down and writing up any zines, is I want to create a big update. But I have too many bigger projects going, and it never gets done. I will therefore try out reviewing one or two titles at a time, lower the stakes. Selecting stuff I like doesn't hurt, either.

Grin and Bear It
By Sara Baier. Part of this comic's appeal is that Sara's drawing style reminds me of my own, only with better choices in shading. I have ruined many a comic with poorly rendered hatching and too much black. From Instagram pictures, I learned that Sara actually shades on tracing paper, to prevent such mishaps. Such anxious meticulousness resounds with me a lot, too. The running bit in Grin and Bear It is a play on Sara's last name: "Situations in which it would be advantageous to be a large bear". She deals with misogynistic comments and catcalls on the street, with food-stealing roommates. The storyline really comes second to the skill and cleverness of the drawing. Since ordering this, I've sent Sara my zine in hope of trading, which rarely happens these days. ($4.50, 4.25" x 5.5", 32 pp., photocopied)

Issue #7. The Murky Realm. By Kelly Dessaint. I met Kelly at last summer's Portland Zine Symposium, and we discussed the good old days on the alt.zines Usenet group. And we traded zines. But his remained in my pile of stuff obtained at the event that I meant to get to, but eventually misplaced. A couple weeks ago, I received this issue and read it straight through. And now I'm trying to find his back issues that I know are around here somewhere, because issue #7 was that good. Don't you hate when that happens? (That isn't intended as a joke — this is a frequent series of events.) Making the past issues of Piltdownlad all the more elusive is that this one contains essentially none of Kelly's life story. Instead, he writes of his parents meeting, and how he came to exist. It's a unique approach for a zinester, if not for a fiction writer, which Kelly certainly resembles at times (in a good way). The prose is laconically eloquent, and no number of interviews could allow an author such access to even their parents' internal motivations. Kelly takes (effective) artistic license. The tale itself is full of double-backs and disorientation, and though we know that it will arrive at an infant Kelly Dessaint, the ending is surprising. Now I just need to find those back issues and see what happens next. ($3 or trade, 5.5" x 7", 48 pp., photocopied)
Kelly Dessaint, PO Box 86714, Los Angeles, CA 90086, USA.

When ordering zines, kindly tell the publishers you read about them here. I hope to get new reviews up throughout this summer. Then I start grad school, so we'll see. For the archive of past updates (2003-2009), click here.

February 29, 2012

Well, hi. It's been a while. Three years, actually, since I reviewed a zine here? Staggering. As a result some of these titles might be unavailable, but a little Internet legwork reveals that all of these folks are, at least, still publishing. Perhaps send them an e-mail before throwing cash in the mail. In other news, I will be at the Chicago Zine Fest on March 9th & 10th. Come say hello.

Big Plans
Issue #5. By Aron Nels Steinke. Of extra-textual note: this was funded with a Kickstarter project, which I've yet to try. I feel like every artist has one such campaign that their relatives and friends will indulge. So I'm saving it. "You're so creative! Here's $100 toward finishing your novel. I always knew I would see your name in print. Love, Nan." And since Aunt Nancy doesn't witness a regular feed of Kickstarter requests on Facebook, we all feel satisfied. Aron, anyway, put his gimme to good use. Issue five goes beyond the single-story memoir comic of its predecessors, and provides a longer look at the author's day in, day out. Recently turned thirty, recently married, recently completed a Master of Education degree. So what now? Aron and the wife run into an old friend and her father, at a restaurant. And when Dad comments that the couple is "playing adult", Aron doesn't catch that it's a dis (at least, according to his wife). But was it? Or was the old man just reminiscing about all the potential and precariousness he felt at the couple's age? I'm tempted to compare what it meant to be 30 for a Baby Boomer, and what it means for their children, but instead I'll just move onto the art. Aron uses a lot of black and small panels, and his style can be both simple and intricate. He can draw a hell of a front lawn, with tree. One of my favorite Portland cartoonists, in print and person. ($7, quarter-size, 116 pp., offset & perfect bound, color cover)
Aron, PO Box 14883, Portland, OR 97293, USA.
(worst e-mail address ever)

fed up mag
Issue #12. What a grump! I understand this is the guy's shtick — it's right there in the title. But I had little patience for the circular grousing. The author says that he would be "too embarrassed to go to a zine show", but reveals that he has some experience attending them. So I assume he means exhibit at a zine show, to put himself out there and interact with whomever passes by. He considers himself a "zine outsider". But if this is so, why did I receive this review copy? If his page count is low, it's because he doesn't include filler. If someone doesn't want to trade, it's because their zine is overpriced crap. (Absurdly, this issue of fed up is thinner than usual, because he rushed it to be ready for a zine show!) This learned helplessness continues onto the topics of photography ("Everyone going on about how cheap they get their gear only alienates us in Ireland.") and bicycles ("Why would I want to bring my bike anywhere, the chain would get oxidised with all the wet weather, it's a nightmare trying to keep the chain dry.") and more about zine shows. I want to extend to the author some cultural sensitivity — I've never experienced life in his impoverished town — and basic empathy. Self-doubt apparently gets the best of him often. And I encourage him to, at his next zine show, attempt to genuinely connect with one or two people. It just might inspire him to develop some confidence in his perspective, and to quit charging the world nothing to watch him shit on his surroundings. (free, digest, 8 pp., photocopied)

For Fear The Hearts Of Men Are Failing
Is one sheet of legal paper, not even copied on both sides, then folded into a #6-3/4 envelope, is this a zine? No. It is a flyer, or at best a broadside. And the 700 words (rendered in a computer font, designed to look like an old typewriter) are printed landscape, across all fourteen inches, with no indentation or paragraph breaks. It's plain unreadable. Scanning the block of text, these images catch my eye: "Single moms jogging. … hypocrites … She loves the Lord, lordy Lord. … Dead Kennedys … Old Asian ladies playing hacky sack. … The Koran … traditional Balkan dance songs … dumpster diving … this goddamn street." When minimal effort and naiveté unite, here is what they publish. (50¢, legal, 1 p., photocopied)
FF♥MRF, 3088 King St, Berkeley, CA 94703, USA.

Funwater Awesome
Issues #3 & #4. By Zach Mandeville. Funwater, indeed. I encountered Zach at the 2009 Zine Librarian (Un)onference in Seattle, where he read from an earlier issue, and killed. It was a story about being in barber school, and delivered with so much personality. I therefore am trying to figure out if these two issues would be as charming, if I couldn't so clearly picture the author performing them. And my verdict is: yes, they would. This guy loves candy, and loves his town. We get a tour of local elementary school swing sets, and excerpts from a 19th century newspaper column by John Miller Murphy, Mere Mention, which details random observations by the author, of young Olympia. ("Eggs are plentiful at 25 cents per dozen. … Boxing gloves have supplanted the foot ball among Olympia students.") Also spread over both issues are chapters of a fiction novella by Zach, My Brother!, which I found to be the weakest element. The easygoing tone of the rest of the zine, is replaced with a more overwritten, deliberate style. Like he's thinking, okay, no more fooling around, when that's the very thing that makes his zine so appealing. ($3 each, quarter-size, 72 pp., photocopied, color cover)
613 Ensley Lane SE, Tumwater, WA 98501, USA.


King-Cat Comics & Stories
Issue #72. By John Porcellino. It was a while back, like 2007 or 2008. After years of making this web site, I received a review copy of King-Cat, and I remember thinking, I've arrived. I am a real zine reviewer. Move forward a few years, to last fall, 2011, when I met him in person, at the Madison Zine Fest. I hadn't written a personal zine in a long time. For sale at my table were copies of my elder outreach zine, and my band's record. And I was moreover in town to check out the Educational Psychology graduate program, at UW Madison. But something about that encounter with John clicked on a reminder, oh yeah, I enjoy this! With all the other goings on in my life now, I could benefit from making a personal comic again, from budgeting some time toward purely solipsistic creativity. So I started writing exactly that. (It's a zine I intended to debut at the Chicago Zine Fest, but you know how that goes.) My point is, this I believe is John's greatest talent. His comic is steady and relatable, and fascinated with the minutiae of his existence. And therefore a powerful motivator for self publishers worldwide. Thanks, man. ($3, digest, 32 pp., printed)
Spit and a Half, PO Box 142, South Beloit, IL 61080, USA.

Les Carnets de Rastapopoulos
Issue #7. In the letter accompanying his zine (postmarked 2010), Robert writes that this is his first experience with "using the web to get in touch with other zinesters". So, hopefully, the holdup of my response will help to dissuade him, regarding the medium's instantaneity. His dedication to typewritten copy, cut n' paste layout, images photocopied from books, and annotation in his own hand, I would hate to see wane with technology. In the margin of the introductory apology, for instance, is a black bear wishing me "Приет!" Trying to replicate the feature with a Google Image search, an impromptu test of man versus machine, the best I can find is this. Point being, an online presence is, at most, a fun supplement to any physical zine, but never its complement. In this issue, Robert writes of infamously ungifted Scottish poet William Topaz McGonagall; debaucherous Pope Alexander VI; and the Faroe Islands' path to hopeful sovereignty, by means of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. His style is relaxed and compact, and it's all information I might've run across using Six Degrees of Wikipedia. But it feels so much healthier to read it in this form, on the bus, and not sitting in bed at 5:30 a.m., after gorging on Netflix. Robert includes some pages from his sketchbook, too. ($?, half-legal, 16 pp., photocopied)
2-7 Larch Street, Ottawa, ON, K1R 6W4, Canada.

Letters from Liars
Issue #2. By Androo Robinson. Now, a follow-up question. Are five double-sided copies (of elaborate drawings and particular hand lettering) folded into a #6-3/4 envelope (which is likewise decorated), is this a zine? Yes! "Not deepness, obliqueness. Not depth, but oblequth." Androo's creativity possesses a transcendent something that is sentimental and goofy, profound and not at all. He becomes fascinated within the process of shaping a story, and so incorporates this in its telling. For example, a full page is spent meditating on the voice he is projecting, and how this compares to the one received by the reader. "I'm doing everything I can to make this work. I can't control how you hear me, what you take as sarcasm, what you find funny, how many of my lies you believe, how many of my truths you don't. … What's your part in this?" I find this passage extremely funny, as this Letter from a Liar demands: why don't you take some accountability! ($2 or trade, standard, 10 pp., photocopied)
Androo Robinson, 3030 SE Pine #13, Portland, OR 97214, USA.

The Missing Sock
Issue #1. By Moises Keymolen and others. I met this kid when he was 14, and enrolled him for his first summer of the IPRC's Zine Camp. So I take little credit for this comic (you're welcome for the boner drawings, world), but a little is all. Moises is a very funny, very talented developing artist. I teared up a when I learned that he was awarded the Dylan Williams Scholarship for the IPRC's Comics Certificate Program, last fall. And I'm excited to see his resulting work. This actual zine that I'm reviewing (I think I got it at last summer's Portland Zine Symposium) is okay. Moises writes a comic about feeling too lazy to get a free Slurpee from 7-Eleven; Rose contributes a short story about being a stalker; Heidi (another gifted cartoonist) tells about her job at Papa Murphy's. What's more encouraging is to see a group of younger zinesters, who grew up here in Portland, and bring their distinct perspective to a community consisting almost entirely of transplants. ($?, digest, 32 pp., photocopied)

Narcolepsy Press Review 2009
Issue #4. By Randy Robbins. This guy sets the bar for why his zine was late: heart transplant surgery. From now on, if you weren't in the ICU, I don't want to hear it. The most endearing part of this is how he kicks off this first zine of the rest of his life, after confronting an untimely death: with a list of "Top 5 Celebrity Girls" that he has crushes on. Selma Blair, Sara Evans, Vanessa Hudgens, Maggie Lawson, and Katharine McPhee. Perfect. I connected with a lot of this issue's contents. The story of his surgery is engrossing in its attention to idiosyncratic details; he tears up every time a cat food commercial plays on the television, and watches a lot of Law and Order. I imagine my bedside table would be similarly cluttered with zines, books, an iPod. And I, too, would be lamenting the "writer's block" while waiting for, you know, a whole new heart. For the most part, this issue features zine reviews, by a longtime publisher in the throes of a midlife reconnection with the culture. That means extended, friendly analyses of not just the zines at hand, but the people behind them, and how they find the drive to keep it going. Perfect. ($3 or trade, digest, 36 pp., photocopied)
Randy Robbins, PO Box 17131, Anaheim, CA 92817, USA.

I intend to get back on a regular schedule with this site, and Chicago should yield some interesting stuff. So let's say that new reviews will appear in a month, give or take.