Zine Reviews

July 2014 Zine Reviews

Our last issue had 48 zine reviews, here’s a quick sample of a few of them.


Broken Pencil #62
Magazine, 64 pgs, $5.95

About 50 zine reviews sandwiched between columns, comics and excerpts. The pencil sharpener section features calls for submissions and zine/creator profiles as per usual and the “scene report”, a one pager detailing cultural hot spots in a given town, Dawson City, Yukon in this instance, is a nice touch. I also enjoyed being introduced to the work of Toronto zinester, Mary Wright, who has been active in the local small press community for nearly 40 years! The cover feature by Hal Niedzviecki, “The Problem with Free” canvasses the nature of volunteer burnout, and questions whether in all our excitement to create cultural products that aren’t monetized; we may be selling ourselves short. As an “ageing zinester”, I appreciated Joshua James Amberson’s feature, “The Age of the Maturing Zinester”. Amberson interviews indie publishing stalwarts such as, Stacey Case, Ken Bausert and DJ Frederick, and identifies the changing age demographics in zine land. He also touches on how some of the most popular and long running publications like Doris, Burn Collector and Cometbus are examining the nature and process of ageing in recent issues.


The Escapist Artist #10
Jolie Ruin
Digest size, 15 pgs, $1
Oct 2013

Long live the $1 zine. TEA is an interesting mix of serious and light subject matter. Dubbed the “Anxiety Issue”, the first and longest article focuses on the author’s struggles with anxiety and her experiences with various antidepressants. This isn’t a clinical study, instead it reads like a diary. Frank writing on how anxiety has affected her and the process by which she has worked through it. It’s an unadorned, non-triggering assessment. Balancing out the serious fare is an article on comedian Doug Stanhope, a piece on art therapy and some great “cat art”: tumblr inspired collages with pictures of cats and simple words like ‘destroy’ or ‘riot”. I think I might order one for my cat obsessed friend.

cometbus 55

Cometbus #55: Pen Pals
Aaron Cometbus
Digest, $3, 72 pages

Several generations of readers have grown up reading this venerable zine. Unsurprisingly, many have developed a “personal” connection to the material. A quick browse of the Goodreads reviews shows this to be true; many speak of Cometbus in familial terms, as a brother, or a friend.  Like a lot of zinesters, I appreciate Cometbus, and get excited whenever I see a new issue. For me, it’s like visiting an old friend for a bagel and a cup of coffee. Recently at a writers’ seminar I mentioned in passing that I’d had the chance to see Aaron read his work a few weeks earlier, and a bunch of people in suits and bifocals nodded their heads in demure acknowledgement. I don’t think they have read of page of his stuff. It reminded me a bit of Niccolo Machiavelli (not that I am comparing Aaron to him literally), in that his work is more cited than often read. While I was reading this issue, I was studying Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, and it made me reflect on how “author function” conditions Aaron’s work. The perzine format is obviously a manifestly biographical one, and Aaron always expertly links his work to a broader cultural-historical context. As Barthes asserts though,” ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions…” Foucault notes the categorization purpose of the author function, “an author’s name is simply not an element in a discourse, and it serves a classification function, such as a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them and contrast them to others.” In that spirit, I decided to separate the “author” and the work as much as possible to see if it affected my appraisal of and mood towards the writing itself. Nope. I think Cometbus is one of the most unique and inspiring reads possible. In that spirit though, I’m not going to delve into a content review, you’re just going to have to read it and see for yourself. This issue focuses on Aaron’s relationship with his oldest pen pal, and has an eye-catching wraparound cover by Jordan Crane.


Gupter Puncher #14
Digest, 52 pages

This is delightfully strange. I’m not sure how to classify it. Post modern reduction remixes? Experimental horror fiction? Existential pranksterism? There’s an abundance of very clever, and very abstract pieces brimming these pages. It’s experimental in the truest sense, in both presentation and content. There’s an article on Fritz Lang, a lot of Susan Sarandon pictures, a few poems, Planet Rasputin, a “Note on Lermatov”, some Star Trek hilarity, and of course Zizek. He’s a fascinating character to be sure, it’s hard to not to like someone who uses their kitchen cupboards to store books instead of dishes. But the preponderance of Freudian analysis in his work is a bit reductive in my opinion. Regardless, you have to give credit to someone who can articulate the cleavages between the French, German and American consciousness so adroitly by talking about shit in a toilet, “Fantasy as a Political Category: A Lacanian approach”. Gupter Puncher is faithful to Zizekian constructs in that it’s sort of a post-ideological experiment:  it takes the piss out of celebrity culture while at the same acknowledged its unrivalled power to condition discourses. This zine is free and is available in a bunch of cities, including London and Hong Kong. I picked up a copy at the Beguiling, and will definitely be going back to grab the newly released novel.

better to burn

It’s Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away
Steven Purkey and Deirdree Prudence
Quarter size, 38 pages $2.50

This is a short tribute to 8 members of the 27 Club: rockers who died before they reached their 28th birthday. Instead of giving us factoids or bio snippets, Purkey and Prudence pay homage to these fallen idols with original shotgun lit pieces. The stories and one page collage art center on: Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Zapata and David Alexander. The stories vary in temper, taste and tone, and the shorts on Janis Joplin “The Judy Garland of Rock N Roll” and Jim Morrison “Rock N Roll Circus” were the most intriguing and well written in my opinion. And that’s saying a lot because I’m not a huge fan of the Lizard King. Anyways, I digress; I did also enjoy the flash fiction on Hendrix and Zander. I admire the inherent creativity of this zine and I think it serves as a great testament to these legendary musicians, but it provoked more ambivalence in me than I would have originally expected. I saw Nirvana growing up and I read a lot about the early Stones, and I couldn’t help but partially reject the characterizations of Kurt Cobain and Brian Jones presented herein. Not that I have any real expertise or experience, I’ve never met either of those individuals, but having read so much and seen so much footage of them speaking and performing, I realize I’ve constructed a rather static visage of them. This zine made me question that process. Why can’t there be room for reinvention of these iconic cultural figures? Why do they have to march on tirelessly in the same reductive frames to the benefit of corporate businessmen? Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really liked this, because it brilliantly serves to show that image and memory are highly negotiated processes.


Ker-bloom! #102: How to Buy a 10,000 House in Six Easy Steps
Quarter size, perzine, screen-print, 8 pgs

“Ker-bloom! is a life history letterpress printed in installments”. Beautiful screen print and hand-letter pressed mini. I remember artnoose stellar reviews in Zine World, and she’s been publishing Kerbloom bi monthly for more than a decade. Her zines are always fascinating and one of those special cases where the design is always as inventive as the writing. In this issue, our fair author purchases a home in Pittsburgh while overcoming a few hurdles: pregnancy, a possible arson investigation, and battles with an ineffectual management company and bureaucrats at city hall. Love the ironic wit, and direct style of the writing. Hopefully artnoose has another hundred issues in store for us.


Paper Scars #1
Nikki Jetta
Quarter size, 32 pages

“My god how did we survive the paper scars” – Lovedrug

This beautifully stark perzine deals with riveting, yet possibly triggering events in Nikki’s life over the past few years. The first piece “Emily” is about her first crush on a girl and deals adroitly with identity issues. The second “Stigma” is about the imputation encountered when the author seeks treatment for some mental health obstacles. There’s a useful section titled, “how to be an ally to those struggling with their mental health”, also, several tip sheets with activities and approaches to help attenuate mild depression. The piece “Dear Ana” is an unforgettable letter on the subject of eating disorders, and “Gender Wars” calls into question “mainstream” society’s antiquated and wholly constructed frames of gender identity. A lot of writer’s address mental health issues, but skirt around the issue by trying to draw comfortable conclusions or mitigate the undesirable. In this remarkable perzine, Nikki is brutally and unflinchingly honest, and it’s heartbreaking yet simultaneously hopeful. Instead of ironing out all the inconsistencies, the author seems to embrace and defang them. Instead of smoothing out the rough, the author lets it all shine out in its ragged beauty. As Nikki says “paper scars comes from a place that was once dark, but now offers hope, however despite this some content may be triggering. Please read in a safe space”. There’s also a recipe for the perfect tea latte and a few other stellar pieces. I will be waiting with baited breath for the next issue.


Thrills #1
Sizzy Rocket
Digest size, 38 pages $1

Sizzy Rocket is a NYC recording artist, and this fun zine accompanies her first major single, “Thrills.” According to Sizzy, “the zine is done in the traditional spirit of riot grrl where bands put out their own zines.” Only 99 copies were printed, and I’m sure when she debuts her next single, there will be another cool collage zine to accompany it. I think you can download a digital version of this zine for free on her website. Lyrical writing, which sometimes reads like poetry and other times like prose. But it’s the images and their ironic presentation that really stood out to me; it’s serious yet satirical all at once. It has a retro feel yet is firmly positioned in the here and now. There are few short none “Thrills” pieces and an interview with Cara Salimando as well. I can’t think of a better possible way to spend a dollar.

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Zine-O-File #3
Toronto Zine Library Staff
Digest, comp-zine, 20 pgs, $2

This is a compilation zine put together by the volunteer librarians at the TZL. It starts with a quick recap of recent changes at the library both physical and personnel-wise. There’s a brief guide to understanding zinesters, an article on zine fests, and an intriguing survey on the differences between being a librarian and being a zine librarian. I like the light and inclusive bent to the writing. As contributor Jessica puts it, “some people have been making zines for decades, some have just started making zines, by making them for a longer period of time doesn’t exactly make you better, or the other a poser”. I also appreciated Rachel’s suitably sarcastic piece, “The re-re-re-re-re emergence of Zines”. And of course there are also some reviews of recent additions to their impressive collection. If you’re a zinester in the GTA, and haven’t already checked the space out, you should! It only cost 5 bones for a yearly membership! Besides Quimby’s this might be my favorite place on Earth.

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