Who and What We Are

Xerography Debt is a review zine for zine readers by zine writers (and readers). It is a hybrid of review zine and personal zine (the ancestor to many blogs). The paper version has been around since 1999. This blog thing is are attempt to bridge the gap between Web 2.0 and Paper 1.0. Print is not dead, but it is becoming more pixelated.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reviews from Matt Fagan: BFF, Estrus Comics, Alpha City Comics, Fish With Legs, Guide to Steel Bikes, Fake Life, Not My Small Diary, 600 Rubles...

by Nate Beaty
5x7, perfect bound, 200-something pages
Microcosm Publishing
222 S. Rogers St.
Bloomington, IN 47404

Title misconceptions aside, this book is called BRAINFAG FOREVER, a collection of 8 years worth of mostly journal-style comics by Nate Beaty – originally printed as part of his long-running comics zine, Brainfag. The title, which one reviewer has noted that Nate will spend the rest of his life explaining, is a “medical” term meaning “brain fatigue”, culled from a turn-of-the-century advertisement for Grape-Nuts cereal.

How much do I love zine omnibuses? The appeal, as always for me, is watching the artist embark on a journey of self-discovery, and seeing how their abilities and interests evolve over time. With Nate, it isn’t so much that he starts at A and eventually ends at Z, but rather that he embraces the opportunity to constantly experiment with different styles and techniques. The presentation of BFF, which reprints in whole several issues of Brainfag, is always changing. Sometimes the comics are vaguely fictional with obvious real-world repercussions. Some of them overtly transcribe conversations between Nate and his friends or lovers. Sometimes the comics are lush with brush-and-ink urban landscapes that wordlessly set the scene of Nate’s life at a particular juncture. Sometimes the comics are hastily scribbled illustrations with tiny, urgent paragraphs of text. But he does not jump from one style to another and abandon his roots, he searches for the best way to express his desires and concerns… sometimes the results are simply adequate to preserve his thoughts for posterity, and sometimes they are rich with aesthetic beauty.

In terms of subject matter, BFF is mostly the story of Nate bouncing back and forth between urban environments (generally Portland, Oregon) and his rural retreat on Orcas Island, where he often lived in an unheated greenhouse, wrote and drew comics long into the night, and survived by performing manual labor. Through it all, Nate preserves friendships with other creative, marginalized individuals and attempts to find a romantic relationship that doesn’t immediately crumble into dust. He spends a lot of time single and frustrated, and the rest of the time he’s just frustrated full stop.

The litmus test of a book like BFF, for this reviewer, is how it inspires me. As somebody who has been making zines and comics for more than ten years, and whose self-publishing output has dwindled as I approach my 35th birthday, I can truly enjoy and appreciate a lot of zines without being really moved by them. But as I read BFF I found myself shifting restlessly. By the time I reached the halfway point in the book, I had to take a break to start my own journal comic, because I’d been carrying around some issues that needed to be worked out and BFF had given me a sense of direction. Now I’m finished with Nate’s book, and not only am I several pages into my own comic but I’ve somehow stumbled upon a series of personal revelations in the process. The way I see it, the most vital creative output is that which begets more creative output in those who experience it, and that is exactly what Nate has achieved in BFF.

by MariNaomi
digest size, 44pp., $5 US or $7 international
PO Box 640811
San Francisco, CA 94164-0811

The subtitle of this zine is “more kiss & tell stories”, and while I haven’t seen her previous kiss and tell stories I did not exactly have any difficulty jumping into the fray. MariNaomi is detailing her entire romantic history through a series of very revealing comics, each of which takes its name from the subject and date of the comic (for example, the first entry in the zine is “Andrew – 1984”.)
What MariNaomi gets just right is the awkwardness of young infatuation, the way everything is either dreadfully important or completely meaningless, with no grey area in between. She doesn’t hide her own mistakes or indiscretions, she doesn’t try to make herself seem like the hero of her own story – as far as I can tell, she relates each of these tales just the way it happened, warts and all. Poorly-considered breakups, revenge sex, unstoppable teenaged tears, and even gullibly optimistic young fantasies are all represented here.

The motivation behind these comics may be no more complicated than MariNaomi’s need to get some of these incidents off her chest, to relate her stories as romantic victim or romantic aggressor in order to put the past in the past. But the result for the reader is something better than a mere voyeuristic thrill. These kiss and tell stories are alternately funny, touching, familiar and weird. They probably won’t make you wish you could relive your own teenage years, but you will very likely recognize a part of your past in these pages. I certainly enjoyed a mental stroll through the most embarrassing and triumphant moments of my own passionate youth as I was reading ESTRUS COMICS, and I doubt anybody could open this zine without having a similar experience.

story by Kevin Sciretta, art by Neil Brideau
magazine size, 28 pp., $4? (e-mail to ensure correct price)

This is the ambitious debut of a science fiction anthology, set in the futuristic Alpha City and framed by the narration of a pirate radio DJ named Betty Beyond.
The two-part “Run Like Hell” occupies most of the issue, and goes the farthest in terms of establishing the science fiction context of the story. Utilizing everything from faceless police-state soldiers, flying cars, and the sort of technology where you can use computers to interface directly with another person’s consciousness, “Run Like Hell” is a straight up, us-against-them story of an urban future gone wrong. By contrast, “The Horrible Case of Fred P. Lemke” is a simple comedy about a jilted nerd, who uses a transmogrification machine for all the wrong reasons.

“Dancin’ Larry” is ultimately the weirdest (and to me the most interesting) of all the ALPHA CITY COMICS. The story of a bum who stands on a street corner every day, dancing to music that nobody else can hear, culminates in a strangely touching twist ending. I don’t know if it demands a sequel, or if further exploration would even fit into the sci-fi world that the writer and artist have in mind, but it was pretty cool.

On a strictly technical level, their first issue does have a few problems. The fellows could do with a proofreader, as the English major in me always gets knocked out of a story when I encounter things like “wheather” or “The correct calibration seems to allude me”. And sometimes the ideas in the story are a bit too grandiose for the artist to effectively handle. I don’t really want to criticize because Brideau is clearly working very hard on this book, and he has done a remarkable job of conveying some difficult scenes. He has a personal style that would probably be better suited to a different genre, and he’s doing his best to adapt and grow to meet the challenges posed by ALPHA CITY COMICS. It will be interesting to see how things progress from here.

When it comes to self-published comics, you don’t see a whole lot of science fiction. I really hope these guys stick with it and continue to build on what they started here. Sciretta and Brideau have laid the foundation for a universe that has a lot of possibility, establishing enough to make their world solid but not defining so much that they’ve limited themselves. Here’s to the future!

By Eric Lyden
Digest size, 32 pp. $2 or $1 and 2 stamps
224 Moraine St.
Brockton, MA 02301-3664

I have a confession to make. Ever since I turned eighteen, I craved being called for jury duty. Yearned for it. For years, I waited. Never once did I get the letter, while friends and acquaintances who didn’t even want to go were constantly being called down to the courthouse. Why not me?, I thought, cursing my luck. It wasn’t until I turned 33 that I finally got the summons in the mail, and I promptly threw the letter away.

Eric Lyden, on the other hand, seems to be in that special class of people who is always being summoned to jury duty, only he never gets selected. Most of FISH WITH LEGS #12 is his story of finally being picked to sit on a jury in a drug sting case, and reading his account was just like being there. If I hadn’t thrown out the summons.

You can never go wrong with Fish With Legs. Reading Eric’s zine is always like having a friend tell you a story. I’ve never met Eric, but I think I know the way he talks.

Also included in this issue are the usual “Fun Facts”, one of which I will share with you now:

“Today at the comic book store I saw a girl with purple hair hanging out with a guy wearing a New England Patriots jersey. It raised a very interesting question – have girls with purple hair gotten lamer or have guys who wear football jerseys gotten cooler? I dunno, but quite frankly I liked it better when you could look at a girl with purple hair and automatically know she was cool and you could look at a guy in a football jersey and know he was a douche bag. I hate to think that now you can’t even tell.”

Lindsey Howard
7 x 8½, 24 pp., $2.50 US or $3 world
1593 E. Bainbridge Rd.
Sandy, VT

I quite enjoyed GUIDE TO STEEL BIKES, but I don’t know why it exists. The zine includes information about tube and component manufacture, frame construction, chemical differences between various types of steel, and some history about how bicycle manufacture has changed over the past decades. But much of the information is drawn from out-of-date sources, and none of the subjects are covered thoroughly enough to be very useful as a proper reference.

However, I use a bicycle as my primary means of transport. I’m not hardcore or anything – never worked as a messenger, don’t wear tight shorts, and I still have to go to a bike mechanic when I have a problem. I love my bike though, and I love riding, and despite not finding anything I could employ practically, GUIDE TO STEEL BIKES was pretty interesting to me. As the rider of an aluminum bicycle, my curiosity about steel bikes was piqued, and the idea of trying out a few of them has a definite appeal. I’m sure any bike lover would feel the same.

I suspect Lindsey Howard is someone who just finds this stuff truly interesting, like I did, and wants to spread it around. So, I don’t know what this guide is for, but I liked it. If this sounds cool to you, it probably will be.

digest size, 28 pp., $2
PO box 1174
Tallahassee, FL 32302-1174

FAKE LIFE #7 is a classic piece of self-publishing, the sort of thing you could hand to somebody who just asked you, “What is a zine?”

Here you’ll find personal stories from the authors, a piece of fiction, and interviews with underground artist Gus Fink, queerpunk band Bromance, and author Deran Ludd. There’s cut-and-paste illustrations, handwritten titles and page numbers, and photocopied photographs. Just like a zine should have! Plus, since the stories and interviews are actually good reading, FAKE LIFE is the total package. When interviewing Bromance, they don’t just stick to the usual by-the-numbers stuff, throwing in questions like “Have you ever met someone you admired and it went wrong?” and “Know any good Henry Rollins jokes?” (they did).
Also, there was a story that involved projectile diarrhea. Who wouldn’t enjoy a zine like this one?

the dating issue
edited by Delaine Derry Green
digest size, two volumes, 138 pp. total, $6 plus $1 shipping
1204 Cresthill Rd
Birmingham, AL 35213

There are few things that brighten up a mailbox like the arrival of NOT MY SMALL DIARY, a compilation comic that has been running strong for more than a decade! The latest double issue features contributions from more than 50 artists and zinesters, regaling us with their juiciest stories about dating, all presented in sequential art form.

Even if you’ve never picked up a zine before, you’ll treasure this collection of comics. There are some terrific stories here: about pathetic attempts to connect by people who don’t know how to have a conversation, about blind dates that are lonelier than being alone, and even about people who actually fell in love with each other. But if you do read a lot of zines, then NOT MY SMALL DIARY will be even better! This collection is full of familiar names and art styles, as some of your favorite zinesters treat you to special stories that they drew just for Delaine. Who knew that Kelly Froh had an accidental encounter with a wrestling fetishist? It was kind of gross, but also hilarious!

This is a zine that is more than worth the price. You should also contribute to NOT MY SMALL DIARY, because if you don’t then…I don’t know, the terrorists win, or something.

by Jennifer Manriquez
digest size, 20pp., $3 US, $4 Canada, $5 world (prices include postage)
SAMPLE press
PO Box 471159
Fort Worth, TX 76107

I’ve previously reviewed Jennifer’s zines Scissor Socket Shocker and Trying On Hats, which she wrote under the name Jennifer Farley, and I always like her work. She’s one of those zinesters (like Eric Lyden) that regularly give me a twinge of guilt when I receive something in the mail from them, because my output has been so minimal these last few years that I rarely have anything to send in return. Nevertheless, I’m always grateful when I find that envelope coming through the slot, and 600 RUBLES is no exception. In fact, this may be her most interesting and personal work to date.

From the time she was a little girl, Jennifer’s dream was to be a dancer… and 600 RUBLES is the story of how that dream died.

At the age of 19 (Jennifer is 35 now) she was on scholarship at a junior college in Athens, Texas, where she performed as a member of their world-traveling dance team The Cardettes. During the winter break, Jennifer was the victim of a vaguely-remembered attack by her boyfriend, which resulted in concussion and hospitalization. The Cardettes were due to perform at a soccer tournament in Moscow the week after Christmas.

The zine relates the physical repercussions of this attack, which continued to plague Jennifer during the trip to Russia. Waking up all alone in an airport medical station in Germany, with no English-speaking attendants and no idea how long she had been there, was only the beginning of her trouble. What follows is traumatic enough to read, it’s hard to imagine what the pain and disorientation would have been like to experience.

Amazingly, Jennifer seems to emerge from this horror story with her spirit intact, and while she could easily be excused for bearing a violent grudge against many of the girls on the trip, she remains forgiving – and generously refrains from using any of their real names. I doubt I would have been as kind.

Not only does 600 RUBLES tell a pretty gripping story, Jennifer’s practical attitude and refusal to be beaten down makes the whole thing kind of inspiring. Brutal, but inspiring.

And be sure to check out Scissor Socket Shocker, too. Good stuff.

by Jason Rodgers (with contributors)
digest size, 24 pp., $2/stamps/trade
c/o Jason Rodgers
PO Box 1683
Nashua, NH 03060

What an awesome piece of work! This is an art-obsessed, collage-riddled masterpiece with a strong and clear message about the importance of creation outside the sphere of corporate influence. The zine opens on an interview with Paul Laffoley, who wears the label of “artist” as comfortably as he might wear the label of “madman”. He is living proof that fringe thinking, occultism and other pursuits that inevitably result in alienation (willful or otherwise) from socially-sanctioned modes of interaction also result in the most interesting, enduring and meaningful works of art. His proposal for the Gaudi Hotel to be built on New York’s Ground Zero site is one of the most baffling, complex and beautiful pieces of architecture that the world may never have the chance to see: a huge building that is equal parts function and mysticism. It would have incorporated not only a complicated pendulum device invented by Thomas Edison for the purposes of amplifying mediumistic abilities in order to scrye the remains of those who perished in the 9/11 attacks, but also an even more ambitious gyroscopic structure intended to help people transcend the boundaries of linear time.

The interview in which Laffoley describes how his building/machine functions is alternately fascinating and impenetrable, something that could be mistaken for the ranting of a lunatic but which somehow rings true in a way that is both uncomfortable and alluring.

“Confusing Activity with Accomplishment” laments the devolution of vital and interesting correspondence art into the unimaginative add-and-pass-on phenomenon of mail art. Like the interview with Paul Laffoley, the greater message here is that allowing a marginal process to be consumed by its homogenous surroundings, to be commodified or adopted or used as a means to an end, will result in the disempowerment of the medium itself.

Another article reviews a biography of Anita Berber, who was a “decadent dancer” in Weimar Germany (predecessor to Leni Riefenstahl and Marlene Dietrich). This story fits perfectly among others in this zine, as Berber was a true artist: a sort of Libertine of the stage whose accomplishments only hinted at her ambitions. Hers was a life lived truly and completely on the edge, and though tragically cut short at the age of 29 she left behind a remarkable legacy.

This zine is unusually dense with content. A meditation on the affect and future of Cinema Verité, a reprinted end-of-the-world pamphlet, “anti-music”; there is so much rich reading here, I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

directed by Elizabeth Press, Andrew Lynn, and Christopher Ryan, DVD, $14
Microcosm Publishing
222 S. Rogers St.
Bloomington, IN 47404

STILL WE RIDE provides a chilling look into some of the legal troubles experienced by bicycle activist group Critical Mass, but this isn’t the place to go first if you’re not familiar with the organization. It’s no primer for the uninitiated, offering little in the way of history – though there are a few minutes devoted to the general intentions of Critical Mass and some individual experiences recalled by various participants.

The primary concern of STILL WE RIDE is the series of arrests that occurred on August 27, 2004 during a Critical Mass ride in New York City, exemplifying by extreme the troubles that Critical Mass potentially faces in any city.

This documentary succeeds as a compelling story, beginning with the mass arrest of 264 cyclists and escalating from there. STILL WE RIDE paints the police as criminals, and indeed they seem to live up to that reputation. They saw through locks to seize bicycles that they go on record to describe as “abandoned”, while video shows the owners present, keys in hand, protesting the destruction of their property. They doctor videotaped evidence to excise footage that exonerates an innocent bystander, only dropping the charges against him when the master tape surfaces. The most outrageous violations seem motivated only by a nebulous resentment of Critical Mass, such as when a group of police officers lays siege to a peaceful, indoor Critical Mass after-party, assaulting several attendees and stealing more bicycles. But some of the larger issues remain unclear.

The filmmakers are quick to blame the police actions on some shadowy agenda to quash civilian rights to protest and peaceably assemble, and their case is not without merit. However, I would feel more confident in that conclusion if they had spelled out exactly what the pre-existing laws in New York were, regarding the definitions of “parade” and “obstructing traffic” and the necessity of permits for large gatherings. They state that they were not breaking any laws, but failed to actually cite any laws to support the statement.

On an individual basis the Critical Mass participants are quite justified in asserting their rights to ride, but most seem callously indifferent to the effect that hundreds of cyclists have on traffic in a metropolitan center. As an avid cyclist who has known many people who rode with Critical Mass in Chicago, I haven’t found this attitude to be representative, but in the context of STILL WE RIDE it was difficult to place my sympathies entirely with the victims.

Monday, April 6, 2009

New Duplex Planet and more

The Duplex Planet...#184 is now [out] and 185 will be just the usual eight weeks later.

[David Greenberger is] currently wrapping up a project in Milwaukee which grew out of a three month artist residency there in 2008. There will be a new CD out shortly,
titled "Cherry Picking Apple Blossom Time" and a big performance in
Milwaukee at the historic Pabst Theater on May 13. This is a new series of
monologues with music by Paul Cebar, performed by him, members of his band
and other area musicians. The text is based on [David's] conversations with
elderly Milwaukeeans who have memory loss....There's info about the
show and this new piece here: http://pabsttheater.org/paulcebar