Zine Reviews by Kal Green

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Bartle Royale
by Thom Dinsdale and drawn by Ryan Humphrey
Full size, 28 pgs
withapencilinhand.tumblr.com

This full size 8 x 11 comic re-imagines Springfield in a bleak dystopian setting, riddled with high unemployment, hopeless adults and unruly, homicidal students. It’s The Simpsons meets Battle Royale. The usually quirky and irreverent characters have been thrust into a post-economic crash, a wasteland full of disillusionment with the educational system and the American dream itself. The Simpsons is already known for lampooning the hypocrisies and double standards inherent in both, but this zine makes a point of acknowledging that tradition, without using any of the humour that usually accompanies the show’s cultural critique. This is intentionally done, to a strong effect. It seems like Dinsdale isn’t just painting the populace into a dreary and fearful alternate reality, but he is really attempting to locate Springfield within the actual pervasive reality of the social and economic breakdown of America’s major cities. The “real Springfield” is meant to be encountered here. It has a mood and content of violence, authoritarianism, suicide and general malevolence. I get a kind of Hunger Games/Running Man/and of course Battle Royale vibe happening.

There is that same tone of unrest and imminent brutality. It uses Bart as the primary narrator. Instead of being portrayed as an overly confident mischief-maker, he is characterized more like a lost, troubled youth, uncertain of who he can trust and filled with a latent anger at his own abandonment. Humphrey should be applauded for his illustration skills which maintain a definitive likeness of the characters but also uses a crude and unfocused style (almost giving the slight effect of a child’s drawings from a therapy session , like it was the illustrated account of disturbing events). Whether this was intentional or not, it was a great touch. In all honesty, I am not quite clear on what the ending of this first series was. I wish there was more clarity in the narration to help explain what was transpiring in the very end though I do look forward to the next issue. It starts off with clear motivations for the characters’ actions but at the end needs a boost in writing to explain the story and move it forward to the different outcomes that play out.

Brainscan 31
by Alex Wrekk
Quarter size, 16 pgs
Alex’s Etsy Shop

Alex Wrekk’s narrative in this palm-of-your-hand-sized issue has her in a reflective mode, showing a sedate sentimentality about the places that have shaped her. She discusses how having been a native of Utah, Texas and Portland has mapped her own story, providing the context for a kind of personal genealogy.  It almost seems she’s in awe of the position to even reflect on her life, since she is after all, still actively living and creating it, and also, she is only 37 years old–some might say a bit early to take stock of the full journey of your years.  But the levity in her analysis reminds us that we all do this at least once a week.

The grainy type and whimsy graphic that has defined her aesthetic is well-used in this very personal account. She uses the changing of cities, the onset of her parents’ aging and memories of friendships in the zine world to frame the question “where is home?” From her account, I felt its fair to say that where home is not so much a place but an ongoing watching of your own perspective. Home might be the distance between your physical location and your ideal level of personal development. To that effect, she seems to posit a practical and enduring recipe for satisfaction in life (what is commonly misnomered as “success” in our society)= keep doing the things you can’t live without doing and accept people’s support for what is. A warm relatable issue.

The Escapist Artist #19
by Jolie Ruin
Digest size, 16 pgs
Jolie’s Etsy Shop 

Jolie’s fanzine starts out with a confession wherein she describes being afraid to connect to other women, especially those she admires. She is more comfortable around men and butchy girls and is sincerely trying to get over it so she can evolve and have more cool relationships with women in general. It could be residual ambivalence from past friendships that went sour (as she mentions) or a fear of being judged negatively by Mean Girls. It was good to contextualize her love for the female comedians she discusses with this personal truth. To some extent it might suggest that maybe awe and fear just appear similar.

Ironically, she describes the same kind of angst over gender, patriarchy and belonging that most of these comedians deal with pretty directly in their material (Comedians: Julie Brown, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Amy Schumer etc.).  Jolie could have easily performed this as a bit in front of a brick wall at Caroline’s. Also, her habit of continually just-missing all these performers’ shows has all the makings of unrequited love.  My advice: go love these awesome women in person.  Instruct your hubby to make you. Functioning as a Top Ten list of performers she loves, Jolie offers unabashed gushing over the talent and mentions how she first came to connect to their work. The issue is delightfully graphic-heavy with pictures of the artists and herself, kittens and clowns. Maybe a review of some shows will come to follow.

If I Can’t Dance Is It Still My Revolution?
by A.J. Withers
Full size, 24 pgs,
ajwithers@riseup.net

This issue very cogently discusses an all-encompassing model of action for how to “do” disability activism.  Elucidated (exclusively?..it’s not clear to me) by Griffin Epstein, member of Toronto’s DAMN 2025 (Disabled Accessibility Mandatory Now) and A.J. Withers.  Their account of demonstrating and maintaining alliances with OCAP and other groups, shows how it can, and should be done. This publication is high-five-sized, black and white, with an occasional flyer , picture or doodle gracing the bottom of its pages, and sports a simple stapled spine.  I truly loved the cover, a re-appropriated wheelchair access sign and of course that inspired title. Although do take note of the page numbers since some aren’t chronological and you’ll want to make sure not to mix pieces.

If I Can’t Dance uses essays and speeches and, most enjoyably, personal letters to negligent health service providers, all to underscore the importance of valuing the lives of people with disabilities and backing it up with ending their systemic impoverisation.  Most importantly, I think the call to action was specified in a way that is rarely heard: that we fundamentally incorporate disability into how we see ourselves. Disability is almost inevitable for all of us. The reluctance to incorporate issues around it when organizing politically is closely tied to our general denial of that reality. The issue articulately explains how we are discouraged from recognizing the levels of our own ability and how they are hierarchized.  Also, we do not accept that most disabilities don’t stem from birth, that we acquire them with age, through the course of untimely accidents, sickness, work injuries, trauma etc. The myth of individualism and total self-reliance is still a taken-for-granted assumption in mainstream and radical politics.

This gap makes it both doubly difficult to organize in a way that sees how oppressions intersect (sexism, transphobia, colonialism, capitalism, nationality etc.) and sets the stage for exclusionary single-issue organizing.  They discuss how the radical disability movement itself has historically been predominately white and racist, and the way it’ s discussed provides a more thoughtful and conscious example of how to talk about it; making sure for instance that demos are inclusive, both in the march and on the podium.

I’m glad it was pointed out in this issue that consciousness-raising is missing in our current political culture.  It’s easy to see the publication as serving that mandate by explaining what the goals of organizing are: having ability addressed in all political movements, emphasizing people’s agency to determine what access looks like and challenging the forced marginalization of myriad positionalities.

Lady Teeth 5
by Taryn Hipp
Quarter size, 30 pgs
Taryn’s Etsy Shop

Taryn has dedicated this compact issue to mostly her breakup, the death of a loved one and rebuilding some disconnected parts of herself that became obscured by the ensuing grief.

She speaks with humility and bare honesty, speaking kindly of her ex and herself, the self that she was while in a state of being “together.” It’s strange how it functions the same for all of us, performing the autopsy on the union after the fact. Strange how memories are inherently flexible, assuringly certain and mundane in one moment and with the change of context that comes with say, a breakup, they become reduced to exhibits of evidence that prove in hindsight that everything was doomed. Or at least it’s felt this way in the more maudlin moments.

Great use of clip art with the overly exuberant 50s drawings of couples screwed up by her artistic injection of reality. I also noticed that the cover drawing of herself curiously looks like Blossom which is awesome (rhyme not intended).

She takes us through that known territory of admitting mistakes, the shame of failing and the shame of having been wrong ultimately about your certain future, dealing with rejection and delineating between a bruised heart and bruised ego. The long list of stuff that shouldn’t bother you (because all of a sudden we become some stoic proud version of ourselves after the defeat of a breakup and are above basic human emotion) like finding out they’re seeing someone else, getting married, or god forbid having babies?!–cruel criticisms and nicknames for their new mates and gestating spawn abound in your mind (i.e. what kind of f**king name is Amanda anyway?) The realization that your life will go on and that it has been going on since you first split and the reminder to yourself that it’s time to act like you’re alive…And to calm down because a new relationship is inevitable if you’re only even half-trying to get one.

To that end, sharing her experience about her time at the RockCamp and post-breakup dating experience was a valid reminder of a more abiding commitment made in life, to yourself (after all it’s the only person you’re stuck with until the end), to make life interesting and push your comfort boundaries which cuts open a space for many great loves that have nothing to do with romance or shared bank accounts.  The issue lends some catharsis to anyone who has said “forever” and meant it.

Men Against Sexism: A Tale of a Revolutionary Queer Prison Gang in the Pacific Northwest Circa 1970
by Felicia Phierce
Digest size, 20 pgs
fierce.n.fabulous1969@gmail.com

 This zine, written by Felicia Fierce is an engrossing historical account of a prison-based collective led by Ed Mead, an activist for prisoner’s rights and inmate who had been jailed as a result of his activities under the George Jackson Brigade, the well-known prison liberation front. Set against the backdrop of Washington State Penitentiary, Felicia details how, during his sentence, Ed navigates the rank and file of the inmate pecking order. His actions and pedagogy were based on MAS’ explicit mandate to fight institutional racism,sexism and homophobia within prisons. This queer, trans and multiracial gang radicalized the gender politics of rape and dehumanization by the prison establishment and perpetuated by its inmates.

MAS explicitly called out how sexist tropes taught in society were being reproduced in prisons creating a hierarchy that was enforced by physical and sexual violence. In this system the elderly, queer, trans, young (and other identities stereo-typically associated with femininity, vulnerability/weakness) were given a lower status and used as property.

Members of MAS worked tirelessly, collaborating with other prison-based organizations and protecting vulnerable inmates, to teach critically against systematic brutality and foster love and solidarity amongst the population, through men loving men. Fierce has a supple writing style that draws in the reader and marks her as a talented storyteller. It feels as if she is recounting the events in real-time. The publication has  a few choice photos that place the reader inside the penitentiary; the research she unearths offers an amazing story of resistance and queer leadership in the movement.

Never Date Dudes From the Internet:  Responses to a Craigslist Ad
by Amy Burek
Digest size, 24 pgs
awkwardladiesclub.com

Amy Burek dishes the straight goods in this play-by-play documentation of responses to her Craigslist personals ad.  It’s an entertaining collection of emails from her would-be suitors who vary vastly in approach, humility, forwardness, mutual interests and horniness.  I always thought it would be fun to air all the messages girls get from guys on online dating sites. They make it evident that the Greeks were ages beyond their time when describing what Pandora’s Box would look like.  In my vast web experience in courting, I’ve concluded that there are certain questions I wish never to be asked again but inevitably will: can I see your feet? (alrighty, but be forewarned that I walk on them all day and they look like it), can I get to know you? (presumably that’s why we’re both on this f**king site…and no), what’s your deepest darkest secret? (unless you’re a middle-aged black woman with 12 dogs and her own network, you’ve got no reason to ask me that). That’s just the less inspiring side. The positive/benign side is more of what Amy has curated for her zine (with some creepers thrown in for levity). We all live in the age of meeting someone via PC , spending countless hours swiping faces on our phones and sucking in our PMS bloat while waiting for a perfect stranger to darken the doorway of some coffeehouse.

I nostalgically reflect on the kitsch of yesteryear, magazine articles we read up on to glean advice on where to meet people: the library, the gym, church. Now the entire library, for those of us who are halfway literary is on our phones; no one interesting seems to visit the front desk at the gym when I come in once a year to renew my membership and I willfully refused to even enter a church last year when a gust of wind blew my hat into it.

Overall, I think Amy received a lot of witty and engaging responses and I wonder what panned out from them as these emails were from 2005. Her aesthetic for this issue was no-frills with sparse graphics (though look out for the two-page Playgirl spread–Marky Mark would blush). An issue any romantically ambivalent voyeur would enjoy.

Oh deer!
Deirdree Prudence
Mini, 38pgs
mcsunflowerjones.com

Deirdree shares with us her penchant for Witchery, numerology, magic and the more everyday esoteric arts. Her zine is a little smaller than your smart phone with 38 pages of material. It’s clear that she engages these ancient practices as a true form of reality without trying to proselytize or convince her audience. Her zine is just keen on magic and I like her way of defining it as a use of the will to manifest one’s desires. Practical magic shall we say (my allusion to Nicole Kidman’s flick notwithstanding). The aesthetic is a fun, valentine card style with “endeering” photos of four-legged friends throughout. She’s passed me the note in science class and I’ve checked off “yes” to being her friend. Also useful for astro-numero and colour-ology novices, she brings us into her realm with those guides.

I myself have an abiding relationship with astrology, tarot and other aspects of the divination arsenal so I can more than appreciate her elaboration, and the guides are accurate in terms of meanings. This self-declared polytheist has done her homework and will let you see her notes. Her style is observational, giving only half-snapshots of her everyday life. and the graphics accompany and contrast her writing. Like the album cover, with a deer under a headline “Chemtrails” in the sky. But there are no treatises or overly defined alliances or critiques of systemic injustices, she rather prefers to take us for a walk and a coffee. Humanizing homelessness (or house-lessness, for our beloved George Carlin fans) squinting at the NSA, she throws her politics at the audience casually, like someone tossing cards at a melon to see which ones stick.

PiltDownlad No. 7: The Murky Realm
by Kelly Dessaint
Digest size, 40 pgs
kellydessaint.com

Kelly Dessaint offers up a short ‘marriage story,’ not a love story, without pretense. Using intentionally sparse and realistic dialogue, the author pulls the reader in. Especially haunting is the way in which the male in the story is described as having some hidden proclivity, marked as aberrant but never named at any point in the story.  The tale itself feels fraught and burdened with a tone of darkness and desperation.  Both the main characters are joined by these shared emotions.  I always love a story that shows instead of tells:  the words and actions of the characters inform us of who they are and what motivates them in the present moment.  This style abandons the use of flashback or periphery characters talking about the protagonists which gives the reader the straight goods on who they are in an overly direct way.   Kelly seems invested in making the reader discover and assume what is going on with the characters. And it makes the experience prickly and unsteady.  All of the figures in the story feel genuine and full of secrets, propelling the reader with anticipation and a visceral sense of foreboding. The device of the unknown is really well used in this piece.

Vanity Zine
by Timmy Williams
Digest size, 24 pgs
lenoleumlad@gmail.com

This issue is a collaborative zine, with short entries from artists and writers discussing issues around beauty culture. Black and white, filled with graphics and intricate cultural criticism, Timmy has put together a great read.

Alisha M. offers a poem about social policing of women’s body hair, particularly the South Asian body, which is already othered and made to seem defiant in our culture due to its non-whiteness. Add to this how racialized the social ridicule is inherently, how ‘that’ body hair is made more conspicuous than hair on a white body. To me, she’s exploring how this alienates a person from their own body and shows the subtle ravages of racism on mental health. Her sparse style gives her words even more weight.

The Anonymous entry by a self-identified punk and sex worker discusses how the (white) feminine body (as the most depicted feminine body in media and art) has historically been made synonymous with vanity.  The well-dressed and coiffed feminine body used as an embodiment of conceit as opposed to self-care, confidence and careful grooming. She discusses how she confronts this legacy in her regular life with clarity and nuance.

Parneet Chohan scrutinizes the bridge between being intellectually empowered enough to reject patriarchal, capitalist and colonized systems of beauty and trying to actually feel beautiful in one ‘s own body. Short, sharp and touching entry.

Graphic “Pretty Peacock” by Ksrrk Pirg-copy pasted images with statements about grooming and vanity throughout.  Like a few snapshots of thoughts that need no elaboration because they all have a ring of familiarity in the beauty narrative.

Janis Maudlin-delving into the never-ending circular firing range that we engage in about realness/fakeness within the beauty industrial complex.  As a punk trans woman, she’s confronting how critical narratives about beauty may not as easily apply to a trans body.  Getting surgery could be a “conformist” move that allows her to fully live in the body she desires for herself, the one that is natural for her and very importantly, protect her from physical attack. Among other interesting points she makes, her entry asks where the honesty is in us not discussing our myriad hypocrasies and negotiations around changing our bodies. Also love how she sasses the reader, calling everyone out on their shit (including herself) with ruthless acuity.

Comic by Frankie Evans-The characters in it discuss how their vanity operates and ultimately why it operates as we know it, at all. She goes beyond a binary of the co-opted ’empowerment’ script (elaborated and debated in some strains of 4th wave feminism and found even more commonly in ads for ladies’ razors i.e. “your legs deserve the best!”) and the judgmental accusation of feminine conceit.  She’s out to explore the function of the tools of grooming paraphernalia and the uneasy rituals feminine people have with them.  On any given day, one’s choice of clothing or makeup can have an entirely different purpose that is overshadowed by its own aesthetic.  Underneath, it could be armour, an expression of another self, a remedy for anxiety, a conduit of anxiety etc. First-person awareness and charming drawings.

Untitled by Caytee Lush goes into how her new workout regimen has her questioning how she praises her body. Uneasy, self-reflexive and critical about privilege, she embodies the talks we have in our heads about our bodies while our bodies are becoming more normative i.e. losing weight, gaining muscle. Executed with a welcome guilty humour.

This month’s reviews were written by Hamilton zine-lover, Kal Green.

Guest Zine Reviewer: Kal Green
This self defined “dame” is a fairly well-traveled writer, poet and cultural observer. Hailing from the tenacious and effervescent Hamilton core, her wit bears a brand of raw and silly humour, heavy on impressions and throwaway non-sequiturs. She enjoys jogging with a glass of pinot grigio on the beach and is a women’s studies alum whose life was saved by the program. A keen zine reader over the years, she always makes time to snoop a new issue or re-read a worn one. She can swear at you in Italian and kiss you in French. She is loving the rejuvenation of the zine scene in North America of late. It maintains her faith in people’s private selves. 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. I would like my zine STAMINA # 3 reviewed by a quality reviewer. Can you direct me to the right resource for having the latest issue from the STAMINA series reviewed? Thnxx!

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