Zines Zines Everywhere
Doug Holland, chief honcho of a new fanzine called Zine World, said it best: What zine editor doesn't have a book contract these days? Paul Lukas of Beer Frame, Al Hoff of Thrift SCORE, Jim Goad of ANSWER Me!, Greg Gattuso of Nothing, Carla Sinclair of bOING bOING, Seth Friedman of Factsheet Five, Pagan Kennedy of Pagan Kennedy's Living, Tristan Taormino and Karen Green of Pucker Up and Lisa Carver of Rollerderby all have books planned or published. My own humble contribution, an anthology entitled The Book of Zines published by Henry Holt, arrives with the thaw.I've been a zine addict since about the time I launched my own, Chip's Closet Cleaner, in 1989, and it's safe to say that 90 percent of the zines that cross my path are crap. However, one of the reasons I compiled The Book of Zines is that so many of the remaining 10 percent deserve a wider audience. Here are ten worth checking out. I didn't include those you've heard of like Bust, Crank, Murder Can Be Fun and others, because, well, you've heard of them.Ballast Quarterly Review Ballast is an acronym for Books Art Language Logic Ambiguity Science and Teaching. Design professor Roy Behrens describes his zine as "mainly a pastiche of astonishing passages from books, magazines, diaries and other writings" and "a journal devoted to wit, the contents of which are intended to be insightful, amusing or thought-provoking." At the heart of Ballast lie its concise reviews (mostly of architecture and design books) and insightful anecdotes and observations gathered from the lives of creative types. "Like to design type. Like to jiggle type around and see what comes out. Like to design ornament. Like paper. Like ink on paper. Like bright colors. Handicapped by clock." -- W.A. Dwiggins, American typographer and illustrator. (Five 32-cent postage stamps from 2022 X Avenue, Dysart, IA 52224)The Buck in the Field While working at factory jobs and temp jobs, Tyler Starr entertains himself by sketching his surroundings and jotting down stories from co-workers. His drawings and ear for dialogue capture the frustrations of doing work many people forget needs to be done. (As one delivery driver puts it, "I figure I was stupid enough to stay this long, it would be stupid to leave.") Yet Tyler's zine is not without humor. On one page, he outlines the route he and a friend took racing pallet jacks when they weren't scraping the bottom of cinnamon barrels. And I loved the "Jobs Tyler Still Remembers" chart in which he gave the locale of the job, his title and the nickname co-workers gave him ("Warehouse Point, CT -- prison shelf builder -- Hate You Temps"). ($1 from 55 Horizon Circle, South Windsor, CT 06074)FAT!SO? Marilyn Wann is fat. What's it to you? The extra-large issues of her zine, written for people who don't apologize for their size, have included cut-out dolls, flip books ("the incredible expanding Oprah!"), an investigation into the height and weight tables used by life insurance companies to determine who's "normal" and a report from Disneyland (Thunder Mountain and the Haunted Mansion are among the roomier rides). Marilyn argues that just as racial and gender differences contribute to the diversity of our society, so does size. "Practice saying fat until it feels the same as short, tall, thin, young or old. And stop lying about your weight on your driver's license!" As Marilyn likes to say, "A waist is a terrible thing to mind!" ($3.50 from P.O. Box 423464, San Francisco, CA 94142)Flatter! Like many zines, each issue of Jaina Davis' delightful "journal of oblate puffery" has a theme, such as breasts, cults, clowns, cakes and spankings, Japanese/Jewish, and money and mail. Unlike many zines, however, Jaina's issues don't wilt due to lack of material. Her most recent effort centers on fables and fairy tales. It includes an interview with the grandmother of a toddler named Wolf, reviews of children's books submitted by Jaina's friends (which she promptly grades and comments on), a too-sexy centerfold of Little Red Riding Hood, a well-researched article about lycanthropy, photos of Jaina with her friends after she's handed them a plastic tiara (you had to be there), and a collection of things that annoy people and should be "not allowed." An all-around fine effort. ($4 from P.O. Box 40608, San Francisco, CA 94140)Hitch Rod Lott's "journal of pop culture absurdity" is just that. Issue 12 includes another of his continuing "He-Man Adventures." This time around he takes in a seminar at Osbon Medical Systems, a firm that produces ErecAids for ailing willies. You place your flaccid penis in this vacuum tube, pump, and....oh, never mind. You also get a tale about pestering David Letterman on a plane, fast food horror stories (if for some reason you can't suck up your milkshake through the straw, stop trying!), David Hasselhoff gun targets and dozens of reviews of obscure videos. Who hasn't yearned to see Cops: Too Hot for TV!, Championship Table Tennis: 'Loopers and Bloopers or The Terror at 37,000 Feet, starring Buddy Ebsen and William Shatner? Rod saves you the trouble. ($4 from P.O. Box 23621, Oklahoma City, OK 73123)Office Supply Junkie Office supplies have been getting a bad name lately, in part because there's no waiting period to buy them. Since 1981, staplers alone have been used in at least one murder, one attempted murder, three armed robberies, a police beating and a prison uprising. Knowing their reputation was in danger, you can imagine how relieved I was to discover Office Supply Junkie. Its eclectic editor, Julian Davis, presents a world where people are not afraid to admit their addiction for all things organized, where Staples and Office Depot are considered holy mosques, where paychecks are squandered on stackable filing trays, disposable pens, three-ring binders and yellow legal pads. OSJ helped me understand why I felt remorse throwing away the slightly grimy vinyl binder pages I purchased for 10 cents apiece to store 5 1/4-inch computer diskettes I do not own. If you're good or lucky, you can even find a way to organize the organizers. ($4 from P.O. Box 7205, Minneapolis, MN 55407)Pathetic Life Doug Holland describes himself as "unskilled, uneducated and unkempt, with missing teeth, scraggly beard, old clothes and bad manners." He survives at $5 an hour doing odd jobs. He chose the name for his zine from something an ex-girlfriend said to him, "You've got no money, no friends, you live in a slum, you never do anything interesting and you're too damn fat to have sex. Your life is pathetic." His zine is a journal of his daily life, and it's fascinating. Nothing much happens, but that's a nice change of pace. Doug talks about the shit he has to take from people, his general contempt for the populace, and the burdensome housekeeping of existence. As with any compelling writing, he offers up a smorgasbord of details, and the "cast of characters" listing helps you keep everyone straight. I can think of many people whose lives are more pathetic than Doug's -- they just don't realize it. ($3 cash or stamps from 537 Jones St. #2386, San Francisco, CA 94102)The Rational Inquirer Published by a gaggle of Mensa members, this zine is filled with reader-submitted questions about a variety of non-essential topics. Other readers then offer responses. You get some real doosies, such as "Is invisibility possible?" "Why are toilet seats shaped like they are?" "Does a reasonably effective fly trap exist?" "How did coleslaw get its name?" "Is Santa's reindeer properly called Donner or Donder?" "Why are Cliff's Notes black and gold?" and even "How did Beavis and Butt-head meet?" Despite being assembled by a bunch of geniuses, the replies are often non-committal ("It seems to me...."). I still find it entertaining, and unless you're boning up for the LSAT, who cares if the answers aren't definitive? (Five 32-cent postage stamps from Anne Mayhew, 4014 S. Quintero Way, Aurora, CO 80013).Roctober After interviewing rockabilly singer Sleepy LaBeef for a zine that never came to be, Jake Austen began his own. Seventeen issues later, Roctober is probably the best music zine in America. That's saying something, since most are awful (as one zine editor puts it, "Who the hell cares what you think about music?"). Besides its intelligent interviews and articles, Roctober includes offbeat features such as an obsessive cataloging of Sammy Davis Jr. memorabilia and tributes to monkeys, midgets and masks in rock n' roll. It also has a brutally honest review policy: "Everything we receive gets written up, but it gets written up by an asshole." ($3 from 1507 E. 53rd St., #617, Chicago, IL 60615)Science Geek Before he joined the Peace Corps and took off for Kenya, Doug Larkin spent two years teaching at his old high school in Trenton. Reading Doug's account of molding America's youth, you get the sense he's the kind of teacher we all wish we had. He designed one lab, for instance, that asked students to determine which cereal stays crunchiest in milk. "I wanted my kids to love science," he writes. "To me, all the other subjects: language, math, history, literature, owe their existence to science." In other articles, Doug draws parallels between particle accelerators and the pole vault and explains how the X-Ray diffractometer can be used to identify substances. When the cops on TV say, "Send it to the lab for analysis," they are thinking of the X-Ray diffractometer. I know I am. ($3 from P.O. Box 8641, Trenton, NJ 08650)Chip Rowe is the creator of Zines Zines Everywhere, located on the Web at http://thetransom.com/chip/zines. Chip's Closet Cleaner is available for $3 cash from P.O. Box 11967, Chicago, IL 60611.