Zine Reviews

June 2015 Zine Reviews

Tragic Boffin #6
quarter size, perzine, 28 pgs

I bought this off Etsy on a whim and I’m extremely glad I did; a few of the pages made me actually, not figuratively, laugh out loud. A standout perzine with a great cut and paste design aesthetic and a surprisingly large amount of insight and critique packed in such a small package; even the rants were entertaining.  Some of the subjects covered: the author’s experiences with clinical depression, a short piece on why she got off Facebook, some of her favourite places in Edinburgh, exercise travails, and a letter to the man who works at the post office. The short piece “Fuck Careers” is something which I think anyone under the age of 40 can empathize with. There’s a bunch more too. This zine is crisp, succinct, and genuinely funny, and the mail art envelope was simply exquisite.

Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981
by Liz Worth
paperback book, 380 pgs
ISBN 978-0-9813694-0-2

I’ve carried this book everywhere for the last few weeks since buying it at Canzine. Its cover is sorta falling off, it smells like knapsack, and it’s stained with dark coffee cup rings and a streak of mustard. After I picked this up, I couldn’t put it down. At first glance I found the formatting and sheer size of the book almost intimidating, but once inside, it was like being a fly on the wall. The effaced narration was perfect as the author lets the cast of approximately 150 characters, document their own stories in their own words. Conversational in tone, it’s brimming with fascinating stories and insights from many of Toronto’s punk pioneers. I also appreciated the chapter documenting the early punk culture in my hometown, Hamilton. Treat Me Like Dirt is part historical survey/ part sociological study. The emergence of punk in New York and LA has been documented ad nauseam , and Treat Me Like Dirt is the first thorough chronicle of the Toronto and Southern Ontario scene from ‘77 to ‘81. It must have been one daunting undertaking even trying to assemble this thing. Hat’s off to Worth for doing it first, before some corporate A&R hack in a Ramones-T did. Highly recommended. As a side note who could ever tire of the Demics?

Ho Lover: about dating & friending sex workers
digest size, instructional guide, 14 pgs

This zine reminded me of my late friend, activist and law student, Wendy Babcock. I’m curious what she would have thought of this publication. This is a useful resource on a subject that is deemed inappropriate by some, and overlooked by many more. The author discusses his positionality and some of the amazing friends and lover’s he’s met over the years. His stated aim with the zine is to debunk various misconceptions and hopefully de-fang some of the rampant stereotyping and stigmatization encountered by sex workers and those that love them. The “resources by sex workers” section is the highlight of the zine. Well intentioned to the core, this is an instructive read, but I couldn’t help feel that the writer’s positionality as a friend leads him to be too polite in some instances, fearing to offend. Also he leaves some cleavages un-examined, many of his friends have “some layers of privilege which means they’ve had more control over their work than more marginalized sex workers.” I would have welcomed more analysis of this stratification, but this isn’t a survey or canvass, it’s a personal account. Always important subject matter, particularly germane now as the Supreme Court of Canada has recently struck down existing prostitution laws as unconstitutional. This is an important zine because it challenges misconceptions, and seeks to enlighten people in a safe and considerate way on a topic where ignorance too often abounds.

I Wanna Believe: Conspiracies and Shit
by MC Sunflower Jones
digest, conspiracy fanzine, 38 pgs

Conspiracy zine with about a dozen contributors. Standard conspiracy fare covered, i.e., the Illuminati, UFOs, the New World Order and most interestingly in my opinion, those crazy Denver airport murals. There’s experimental flash fiction such as, “Oprah Winfrey as the Vision Quest Tour Guide”, and “J. Edna Hoover in her Sunday Best”. Also included: How to make a tin foil hat. I think the strongest part of the issue was Tim Biddle’s drawings which were accompanied by entertaining statistics. I also enjoyed Nicki Disco’s piece on The Philadelphia Experiment. As a side note; Did you know, Al Gore was born 9 months to the day of the Roswell crash? Hmm…

Rising Tides
by Stephanie Orndorff
mini comic, one pager

Melancholic one page mini comic photocopied on blue paper. Takes less than 60 seconds to read, but a few hours after it was still seared in my memory. I liked the reflective style and the clean design. Once I get through writing a stack of essays, I’d love to see some of Stephanie’s longer comics.

To every girl i’ve ever touched
by Lex Lovelace
mini, poetry zine, 18 pgs $1

This little cut and paster is simply exquisite. This poetry articulates ineffable yet totally relatable moments with a bittersweet, descriptive beauty. It sorta reminds me of Jeanette Winterson’s intro to Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, when she writes that in Barnes’ novel, “the language is not about conveying information; it is about conveying meaning”. This is originally a spoken word piece which has been adapted to the zine format. Highly recommended.

Voices: A Toronto Writer’s Co-operative Anthology
Edited by John Miller
digest size, perfect bound, 100 pgs

Full disclosure: in 2006 I attended the first meeting of what was then known as the University of Toronto Writer’s Co-Op, organized by local writer and then student, John Miller. I think there was 4 people in the room, including myself. A few weeks ago I dropped in on a meeting to hear Neal Arbic read his work, and lo and behold the outfit has now evolved into the quasi official writers group of the Toronto Library, with 37 writers in attendance! Hats off to Mr. Miller for having the vision and sheer tenacity to keep growing this amazing resource. Beside the useful critical feedback offered at the weekly meetings, the most striking facet of the workshop, in my opinion, is that authors are not permitted to read their own work. Another writer does. At first, the idea was strange but the reasons are obvious, it prevents author’s from selling the writing with their voice or personality, and a cold read from a stranger allows the words to really speak for themselves and better approximates the actual reading process. Acclaimed authors such as Barbara Gowdy, Andrew Pyper, and Don McKay, among many others have been workshop guests. Each year the Co-Op hosts The Literary Cabaret (a fusion of literature and music) and publishes an anthology. There’s poetry, short stories, experimental fiction, novel excerpts, all of high quality. I really liked some of the work, particularly the writing by Rob Brunet, Darren Elliot, Efim Cheinis, and Hugh James. Also work by Marleine Kay, Mayre Barton, Ian Orenstein, Helen Knight, Sandi Wingrove, Melania Daniel, Asoke Chakravarty, and Claire Yang, among several others. Lots of solid content from established and emerging Toronto writers. If you’re a writer in the GTA you should check out this group. I workshopped my novel-in-progress and greatly benefited from the critiques, in large part because, the participants seem to know what “critique” actually meant, i.e., to point out both positive and negative aspects, as opposed to say “evaluate” -which is to make judgments using an explicit criteria, or even “interpret”-which attempts to translate the how or why which then implies some ‘subjective’ judgement.

You Are Found #4
quarter size, perzine, 30 pgs $4

Part perzine, part comic listography out of Hamilton, Ontario. O.M. chronicles her time in neighborhoods that I know intimately well so I especially enjoyed this. The first seven pages focus on the various houses where she’s lived and it ends with a section detailing “the cats in her life”. Also a few bittersweet pieces on her relationship with her parents. Instead of doing predictable reviews, she canvasses some classic memoirs using one word association summaries. There’s a short piece on her collaboration with another local zinester and another where she re-reads her old journals and is surprised by what she finds. Dense and packed with a lot of great content.

Youth and Rust Flyers: Collection 1 2006-2013
digest, artzine, 64 pgs

I bought this for $3 at Hammer City Records. Great find. An interesting collection of gritty B&W band flyers and as the author says, “a loose history of underground music in Southern Ontario”. Organized in chronological order, the first flyers are for gigs in Sarnia and London, then later mostly Toronto. There’s also some for shows in Texas and California. The flyers for the Not Dead Yet festivals are probably the most well-known, but all the selections are eye-catching and inciteful. I particularly liked the flyers for Urban Blight, Iron Lung, and Column of Heaven. It’s fascinating to watch the development of an artist in such an overlooked medium as flyer design. I remember seeing the Despise You-Rob Ford flyer last summer. Having read this I have to admit I’ll definitely pay more attention to, and better appreciate all the design and aesthetic prowess that goes into creating memorable and effective band flyers and hand bills such as these.

This Zine is Called Shut the F–k Up
digest, artzine, 10 pgs

I picked this up for free at Canzine. My first reaction was not a positive one. The entire zine is composed of cut and pasted celebrity photos, mostly naked female porn stars and clothed , male, hip hop stars, flipping the bird to the camera. I threw it into the ‘review later’ pile and moved onto reading the newest Doris. I delayed reviewing this because I simply wasn’t sure how to engage it. There is a distinct art school feel to it, and its creator clearly put a great deal of time and thought into the collages. It’s obviously a critique rather than a celebration of commercial pornography , but I question how effective such a critique can be if it relies on the same misogynist imagery to make its point. I see the creator’s aim is to de-fang porn culture, but I’m not entirely sure if his chosen discourse and rhetorical strategy don’t augment it instead.

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