zine, [zeen] noun. 1. abbr. of fanzine; 2. any amateurly-published periodical. Oxford Reference


Friday, August 31, 2018

Doing It Better

Doing It Better - Conflict Resolution after Abuse in Leftist Communities

Joe Biel / Microcosm Publishing

11cm x 18cm, 40 pages


Doing It Better is a timely proposal of ways allegations of abuse should be handled, in most instances that means differently than they are currently. 

At long last there has been change in public consciousness surrounding the exploitation of others by men in positions of power. There are now seen to be consequences for abuse and exploitation, although, as Joe points out, for those in true positions of power "a person's finances can insulate them sufficiently from true accountability for their actions".

Joe relates cases of perpetrators of abuse within the radical zine and activist communities, and how those perpetrators have been dealt with in the past. Often it has been with a form of vengeance rather then justice. The problem is that ostracism of the abuser from a community doesn't lead to behavioural understanding by the perpetrator, or more importantly change of those behaviours, and they are just likely to be repeated elsewhere. 

The zine is in no way making apologies for criminal and unethical behaviour, and of course Joe isn't suggesting further contact between victim and abuser, but seeks to put forward a strategy for actionable accountability. It's a zine written with unflinching honesty, which is crucial for issue that often provokes knee-jerk reactions. And while those reactions are completely understandable, it's the more radical responses that will perhaps prove to be the most valuable. 

Doing It Better doesn't have all the answers, but it is a set of starting points for discussion and elaboration - a provocation for the open conversations we should all be having. 

Buy a copy direct from Microcosm: microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/zines/9119

Review by Nathan Penlington

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Notes from Underground - 20th anniversary edition

Notes from Underground - Zines & the Politics of Alternative Culture

Stephen Duncombe

20th anniversary edition, Microcosm Publishing 2017

18cm x 14cm, 256 pages

Cost: offered as part of Microcosm Publishing sliding scale pricing $15.95-$23.95 USD

"Although the world of zines operates on the margins of society, its concerns are common to all: how to count as an individual, how to build a supportive community, how to have a meaningful life, how to create something that is yours" 

I first read Notes from Underground while I was completing my Masters Degree (shhhh, don't tell anyone...but this was 18 years ago). I'd set out to write a history of performance poetry in the UK from the 1950's to 2000. At the time spoken word and performance poetry was very much an art form with a diy culture - people running their own gigs, cut & paste designed flyers, and producing their own zines and publications. It was an area of art I was involved in, and loved for its open access, anything goes aesthetic. But most of the artefacts were temporary, produced in very limited numbers, and utterly ephemeral. It was a history that hadn't yet been written, and I wanted to capture its essence.

Notes from Underground had not long been published, and was the only book available that took zines and alternative publications seriously, subjecting them to cultural analysis, and positioning them as political tools. It is fair to say that the book opened my eyes to what zines were, what they mean, and what zines could be. I had dutifully returned the copy I'd read back to the university library many years ago, so it was an immense joy when Microcosm Publishing asked if I'd like to review the 20th anniversary edition of the book. 

The question is, does it still stand up?

The answer is simply - yes. Although there has been an increased academic interest in zines in the intervening years, nothing I've read comes close to the breadth and depth of Notes from Underground. Stephen has a deep understanding of the motivations and aspirations of zine makers, is widely read in zines of varying styles and subject matter, and he also has the ability to piece together the wider cultural significance of zine culture in a lucid way.

"In a society built on consumption - of the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the culture we enjoy - the ideal that one should be "the entertainer of myself" is a defiant one."
It's a book that will end up with post-it notes sticking out of every edge, dog ears, and underlining. It's just so eminently quotable. The chapters are broken down into themes such as Identity, Community, and Consumption, but as zines are unboxable those themes are used more as lenses to view through. The book is also liberally sprinkled with images of pages from, and covers of, the zines referenced in the text. It's not a visual catalogue though, if you want that there are other books out there that specifically do that job

The 20th Anniversary edition includes a new afterword asking "Do zines still matter?". The fact you're reading this review, about a book on zines, via a website, means that the question is probably not addressed to you. Stephen's answer however might help clarify your thinking when answering similar questions by those who have little or no contact with zine culture. 

Fully indexed, with extensive references, it's an invaluable resource as well as a grounding in the political significance of all zine making. It is also a hugely inspiring read - and although many of the zines referenced are hard, or impossible, to find if you have no access to a zine library - it will also inevitably inspire creative thinking for your next project. 

Note from Underground is an essential book for anyone with an interest in zines,  if you don't have it, get it: microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/1447

There is also a short piece by Stephen Duncombe in the excellent practical zine primer Make a Zine (also published by Microcosm Publishing, I reviewed it here last year) in which he takes a look at appropriation of zines aesthetics by corporations hoping to co-opt legitimacy. microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/1202

Review by Nathan Penlington

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dr Faith's 5 Minute Therapy - Sexing Yourself for your own pleasure

Dr Faith's 5 Minute Therapy - Sexing Yourself for your own pleasure

by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS

Microcosm Publishing

11cm x 14cm, 52 pages, cardboard cover.


I've reviewed a few of Dr Faith's Five Minute Therapy zines in the past - with topics ranging from Dating to Adulting, via Anger and Working. What I think is great about the series is that they are succinct, friendly, low on bullshit, and high on helping you really get to grips with your problem. This issue explores the often taboo topic of self-pleasure - or to put it plainly, masturbation. 

Dr Faith begins by taking us through a short historical overview of the organised movement that labelled masturbation the Heinous Sin of self-Pollution, rather than the 'healthy, normal and valuable part of human development' it is now understood to be. Don't worry, the important stuff is covered in more detail with topics broken down into headings like: why masturbation is important; the history of sex aids; what to do and what to buy.

Everything is discussed in a friendly, open, fun manner, dispelling myths along the way. Importantly, the information is not cis-focused, and acknowledges pleasurable possibilities and potential issues for those at different stages of confirmation treatments or surgeries. 

There are also additional sections on how to discuss masturbation with your kids, and a resource list for further reading - although you should note that Dr Faith is aware nearly all books about masturbation are geared toward cis-women, so please send any other recommendations her way because as she points out:
"Everyone should have access to affirming, appropriate information".

Dr Faith's 5 Minute Therapy helps fill that gap, and will definitely put the power back in your hands.

Buy a copy direct from Microcosm Publishing: microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/zines/7455

Review by Nathan Penlington

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Don't Be Retarded #1

Don't Be Retarded #1: Autistic Pride in a Neurophobic World 
Edited by Joe Biel / Microcosm Publishing

11cm x 18cm, 64 pages

$5 USD

"Autism advocacy has focused on the rights and struggles of parents over the past 30 years, resulting in an invisible population of disordered adults who have little voice and less support for what they are going though."

Don't Be Retarded is a new zine started by Joe Biel, the founder and manager of Microcosm Publishing, as a way to help counteract that trend and to foster "a social movement for the neurodiverse". It's an important aim. Those with invisible disabilities suffer the double ignominy of the burden of explanation followed by the resultant disability stigma. 

Joe explains the inspiration for the zine's title: 

"I began polling my Autistic mentees and peers. Just like me, everyone has suffered under the word 'retarded'. But taking the word away without taking away the stigma, bias, and attitude does nothing to take away the hurt and only insults our intelligence further". 

The contributors to Don't Be Retarded have largely been diagnosed as Autistic in adulthood, and although every individual has unique experiences, there are common themes of alienation, despair, and seeking acceptance, that run throughout the pieces.  

'Things I no longer have' by Eliot Daughtry is an insightful look at the sound equipment crucial to surviving 50 years prior to a diagnosis, and how the function of behaviours can be manifold; Partly Robot relates their experiences of working the perfect job for the detail orientated; Aaron Poliwoda's comic Autism-Man V's the evil Neurotypical discusses the difficulties surrounding a lack of Autism awareness; Tammy Porter contributes a moving reflection on a life lived undiagnosed; Ricki Bransen examines the lenses our lives are viewed through; Temple Grandin looks at how to reduce stigma by getting good at something; and Joe Biel's pieces offer a thought provoking look at attitude, perception, and discrimination.

Don't Be Retarded is an essential read both for anyone who has struggled, or is struggling, as a disordered adult, and for those open to understanding.

Buy a copy direct from Microcosm: microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/zines/9412

Review by Nathan Penlington

Monday, August 27, 2018

Minor Leagues #6: 'Where?' Part One

Minor Leagues #6: 'Where?' Part One

by Simon Moreton 

108 pages, B&W, cardboard cover with French flaps. Stapled. 22.8 cm x 21cm. 

£6 (or pay what you feel you can afford) + p&p

I've been a fan of Minor Leagues since issue #1 landed on my review pile back in April 2016. Simon has the perfect eye and ear for detail, the seemingly insignificant moments of life that are the stuff of memory, coupled with a gentle humour. 

There is a clear evolution of Simon's work over the course of Minor Leagues. The early issues being collections of short stories, anecdotes, fragments that have a heartbreaking honesty that make you laugh, and that walk the line between visual and textual.

In Minor Leagues #6 emotional weight has been given dominance, and with it strength of focus - it is a work unafraid to move across history both ancient and modern. Taking the very personal - the diagnosis of cancer in Simon's dad - as a jumping off point to explore layers of social history. The cultural and social history of place is built up in much the same way Titterstone Clee - the central element in part one of 'Where?' - was built from:

'mounds of the earth's belly on top of the plant matter and silt and animals and mud and debris and shit laid down by millennia of weirdo ancient sea creatures eating each other, breeding, then dying, on repeat'.

The largest change of style between Minor Leagues #6 and previous issues is the ratio of text to image, there are less sequential graphic moments in this issue, but an increase in stand alone illustrations to accompany the text. Simon has a definite feel for the right form for the content, and there is a fluid change of pace and tone throughout.  

Some of the stories from earlier issues have been reworked into the text of 'Where?', although it really doesn't matter if you recognise them or not. The recombination of memory is a foundation of conversation, and the reuse in this context helps you feel fully enmeshed in Simon's life as told.

A trick that Simon manages to consistently pull off, where many fail, is sweetness without becoming saccharine. The 'Exploring Attitudes and Values' exercise Simon completed in school in 1994, and shares here, is one such moment. 'The most important thing in life for me is...' question was answered with 'Art, cats and my family'. Minor Leagues stands as a testament to values someone has always held as important, and that is an extremely rare, beautiful thing.

I think one of things you can't help but wonder when you come across a zine series that you've never read and that is already on issue 6 is: will it make sense to start here? In some cases it wouldn't (Läskimooses is a prime example of having to start at the beginning), but Minor Leagues #6 forms part one of a book length project, and so it makes complete sense to use this as a chance to get acquainted with Simon's work. And if you're already a fan of Minor Leagues you won't need any convincing from me to engage with Simon's first feature length project. 

Buy Minor Leagues #6 here: smoo.bigcartel.com/product/minor-leagues-6

Or visit smoo.bigcartel.com for subscription options.

Review by Nathan Penlington

Previous issues of Minor Leagues are reviewed here.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Läskimooses - Year #3 (2014)

Läskimooses - Year #3 (2014 - numbers 16-22)
Matti Hagelberg 
23cm x 17cm, black and white, colour covers.
6 issues, variable page count (24-38 pages), with A4 English translation sheets.

€60.00 (Euros - price per year)
Please note: The third year of Matti Hagelberg's Finnish experimental comic book epic continues the precedent set by the first two years. My reviews will take the series year by year, until we catch up with the latest issue #42 - the full set of reviews will be found here, and like the the series itself its probably best to read them in order.

Läskimooses continues its cycle of origin stories, ancient myths and religious narratives relocated onto unfamiliar planets and recast with a diverse range of characters. We're not expected to believe these stories are real, just part of an ongoing conversation. So the question becomes one of why? Who is telling these stories, and for what purpose?

Throughout the past fifteen issues a seemly dark undercurrent to the conversational relationship has been slowly revealed. Of course that relationship might turn out to be benign, but at this point the driving force behind the stories seems to be fuelled by madness or menace. 
Our interlocutor's evolution theory is advanced further to a succinct observation in Issue 18:
"You can measure human evolution by looking at how far the anus is from the mouth...the further apart they are, the more evolved a creature"
We've read approximately 600 pages, only to find at the end of this issue that we're told to forget everything that's gone before. The weird passive aggressive captive/incapacitated relationship continues, and we're left at the end of Issue 22 being accused of plagiarism.

So we're left with a conundrum: are the stories in Läskimooses so familiar because they're tropes of alien conspiracy, pop culture, and religious narratives? or because in essence there is a truth in Läskimooses?

At a little over halfway through reading the review pile of Läskimooses before me, I wouldn't want to put my money on either answer. The reason is because you get the feeling that in Läskimooses, anything, and I really do mean anything, can happen. 

Here's a short documentary of Matti working on the series:
You can check out some samples of Läskimooses here, along with the international ordering info. Most of the sold-out issues have just been reprinted, so it's a rare occasion that all the issues are available - so get in quickly: 

Review by Nathan Penlington

Friday, August 24, 2018

Railroad Semantics #1

Railroad Semantics #1: Eugene, Portland, Pocatello, and Back! 
By Aaron Dactyl / Microcosm Publishing

14cm x 18cm, 64 pages

Cost: offered as part of Microcosm Publishing sliding scale pricing $5.95-$9.95

Semantics is a branch of linguistics concerned with changes in meaning. Railroad Semantics - apart from being just a great sounding and looking zine name - is concerned ultimately with American railroads, and their place and meaning, both within a subculture and the wider cultural expanse. 

As Aaron explains in the introduction the zine is:
"a compliment to the off the grid lifestyle train hopping represents". 
Railroad Semantics is mostly comprised of first hand accounts documenting Aaron's journeys across the vast landscapes of America riding cars of huge freight trains - complete with near misses, and close calls - accompanied by his black and white photographs of landscapes, graffiti, and fellow riders. Interspersed are newspaper clippings of related interest - train disasters, train fanatics, and a fascinating piece about a town called Bill. And of more cryptic origin, handwritten letters from a fellow rail traveller. 

The content overlaps and shifts the ground, almost like sifting the mythology of the great American railroad through a fine grid. Earlier this year I reviewed Adam Void's zine about riding the American railroad, this zine has obvious parallels, and if you like that zine, you'll love this one too.

The production and design quality of Railroad Semantics is fantastic too, right down to a soft matt finish to the cover. 

Even if the closest you'll get to jumping the rails is being crushed while standing on a late running daily commute, Railroad Semantics will help pull focus on the cultural landscape of the train. I can't wait to read other issues. 

Buy Railroad Semantics #1 here: microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/3620

The first four issues are even available as a box set (there is something I find deeply satisfying about that): microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/6478

Review by Nathan Penlington

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Break the Chain - Volume Three

A5, 36 pages
£3.23 (+ £4.03 p&p)

I’ve got a soft spot for Break the Chain. Nothing in its pages is relatable to my life – my knowledge of post-hardcore and post-punk music is shaky, I rarely share my political views and the closest I’ve ever gotten to Jacksonville, Florida is Canada. I am firmly outside of the target demographic.

I think the thing about this zine which resonates with me the most is its earnestness. Its cut-and-paste aesthetic is reminiscent of the early zines of the sixties and seventies, hastily photocopied, stapled and distributed while the pages were still warm. There’s a lot of heart in its pages.

The third issue offers more psychedelic artwork from Stacey Matchett, an intriguing artist who appears to have almost no online presence. Her drawings are as detailed and hypnotic as always, and they seem to be composed with a more definite sense of purpose than the pieces that have been included in previous issues.

There’s also work from an artist whose name I hadn’t heard before – Austin Redwood. His art is in total contrast to Matchett’s; serene paintings of trees and landscapes. This type of artwork in this type of zine is a surprise, but a welcome one.

In general, the band interviews are a fun read. Matt Sessions (creator of Break the Chain) has scored interviews with bands from across the Unite States, including Big Ups, Priests, UV-TV and Profit Prison. Each of the interviews are sufficiently engaging, but I can’t help but notice that most of the musicians’ answers to Sessions’ questions are astonishingly articulate, almost as if they’d had quite a lot of time to compose each response. It’s fair to say that the interviews are probably conducted long-distance, but I think this is an understandable trade-off for reaching bands outside of Jacksonville.

Sessions poses his trademark question to each of the bands: “What are you reading at the moment? Are there any books you’d recommend?” I’m still waiting for the day somebody reels off a reading list full of Andy McNab thrillers or Marian Keyes paperbacks, but the selection was as distinguished as always – titles by Joan Didion, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf and Arundhati Roy, amongst others. I guess artists appreciate art, no matter what the medium.

This volume is a solid instalment in the Break the Chain zine and it will be a pleasing read for fans of the first two volumes. It is interesting, impactful and illuminating – everything I’ve come to expect from this zine.

You can buy your copy of Volume Three of Break the Chain here.

Review by J.L. Corbett

Simple History Series #1

Simple History Series #1: Christopher Columbus & his expeditions to America
J. Gerlach

Microcosm Publishing

10.7cm x 14cm, 36 pages


This is #1 of a series of short, pocket sized guides to the events and personalities that dominate history. First published in 2006, these have been reprinted with updated illustrations by Microcosm. While I am a huge fan of Microcosm's zine compilations I think the benefit of this series being in cheap individual editions is in allowing students of history a focused look at individual topics. 

J. Gerlach states in the introduction:

"We are taught that we, as humans, are always moving forward - that the mistakes and prejudices of the past have been overcome. The embarrassing details about our heroes are glossed over or completely omitted from the story. Because of these tendencies, the history we are taught doesn't make sense with the world we see around us."

As Columbus is taught as a kind of hero figure in the USA (only one of two individuals to have a national holiday named in his honour), it's fitting that the series begins by taking a look at the reality of his four voyages 'west to go east'. The text also gives an overview of his ambition, goals, and motivations, which add up to traits that merely reflect a desire for fame and fortune. 

The text is well written, concise and to the point, and also includes a bibliography of source material and further reading. While the illustrations help enliven the zine, the maps help clarify the voyages in a straightforward manner. 

If you're looking for a critical overview of a historical figure prone to being eulogised - for $4 it's a no-brainer. And if you want a zine to fit in your pocket that helps expand your world view, this series is a good place to start. As J. Gerlach says:

"We have to ask ourselves, what kind of heroes do we really want?"

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Basic Paper Airplane #12

Basic Paper Airplane #12: The Interview Issue
Joshua James Amberson 

14cm x 21.5 cm, 36 b&w pages , risographed cover. 

$3 USD (plus $1 p&p w/in US, $3 international)

The theme for issue #12 of Basic Paper Airplane is simple - a collection of interviews - but what makes it unique is that they are all interviews Joshua made with a diverse array of artists, musicians, and writers, while working on a series of articles for The Portland Mercury. The original articles only included a few quotes, so this zine sets our to rectify that by collecting together longer interview transcripts for the first time.

Each section opens with a paragraph or two that sets up the interview, roots the process of interviewing in real time, real place, and a real mindset. What emerges is Joshua's sensitivity for the creations of the interviewee, and a genuine love of being excited by things other people find joy or inspiration in. As testament to Joshua's approach the interviews are full of pertinent observation and considered thought about the practice of creation - whether that discipline is music, writing, or film. 

The zine follows a simple layout, with a photo of each interviewee heading every section. The cover though, designed and printed by C Stone and Anthony Michael, is a thing of risographed beauty. 

The best way to look at Basic Paper Airplane #12 is as a primer on the work of creators you haven't yet discovered. It will have you scrabbling to track down albums & books, that you know from the interviews alone, will be rewarding. Its no easy feat in a cultural climate that constantly sells to us through every channel, to the point it's easiest to disengage, to succeed in creating active engagement. Basic Paper Airplane #12 does exactly this - through honesty, personality, and passion. I can't recommend it enough. 

Or say hello - PO Box 42081, Portland, OR 97242, USA. 

Review by Nathan Penlington

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Shoes Fanzine #8

Shoes Fanzine #8: Interviews old & new
by Nate

June 2018

72 pages, 14cm x 21.5cm, b&w. 

$3 (Canadian dollars) plus p+p. Free to prisoners. 

The latest issue of Shoes contains varied and substantial interviews. While it's a zine pretty much grounded in punk, you definitely don't need to be part of that scene to discover something rewarding and thought provoking within its pages. The interviews tackle issues affecting countries the world over: the rise of white supremacy; the gentrification and cultural smothering of cities; the further marginalisation of certain communities.

Outside of those themes there are also very specific interviews that are utterly fascinating. For example Karmin recounts the story of when she sailed the Pacific Ocean for seven months with only her estranged dad for company. There is also an inspired then & now interview with the infamous Aaron Cometbus. Nate first interviewed him back in 1999, and asks the same questions again in 2018, without allowing Aaron to see his original answers. The result is a rare insight into the drives and despair of the man behind the longest running zine. 

In fact Cometbus is the closest comparison to Shoes that comes to mind - apart from the obvious overlap of punk & activism, there is a larger ethos both zines share. And from where we stand in 2018, spreading the reach of that ethos is no bad thing. 

To get hold of copy contact Nate directly: shoesfanzine [at] hotmail (dot) com

Or write: Shoes Fanzine, PO Box 88023, Chinatown, Vancouver, BC, V6A 4A4

Please say Syndicated Zine Reviews sent you. 

Review by 
Nathan Penlington

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bombinate #1

Bombinate #1: bees

20 pages, A5. 

£3 (free shipping in UK, int postage varies)

I'll be honest, I had to look up the meaning of 'bombinate':

verb (used without object), bom·bi·nat·ed, bom·bi·nat·ing.1. to make a humming or buzzing noise.

Which is obviously fitting for a zine whose theme for issue #1 is bees, but also fitting for a zine literally buzzing with ideas. 

The bee crisis is already a very real problem - in recent years the UK alone has lost three species of bumblebee, and in parts of China apple farmers have been forced to pollinate by hand. Objectively, at this point in time, you could only say things are going to get worse the world over. 

Some of the work in Bombinate #1 tackles this issue, while other work takes bees as metaphor, image, narrative: a bumbling encounter between new lovers; feeding sugar water to the dying; two bees on the coffin of great-uncle Evan. 

Bombinate #1 contains mainly poetry, alongside a couple of short stories, with illustrations by Mot Collins.  The styles are diverse, and give different opportunities to view the same topic through different eyes and different angles. This diversity of content is increased in following issues, and the Bombinate submissions guidelines state they are looking for fiction, non-fiction, essays, plays, flash fiction, poetry, and recipes. 

For a reason I can't quite articulate a section of Fionn O’Shea's 'helo this doesn’t have a title' has set up home in my brain:

"there was a post I saw a while ago how you can see in google stats that in every single language that google supports, someone has searched 'where do the birds go when it rains'. The post was about how it's nice that everyone everywhere hopes that the birds are ok when it rains. I hope the bees are ok when it rains." 

To extend the image, in a world that is raining hard I'm happy there are places like Bombinate to retreat to. 

And don't forget to submit your own work. More info here: https://www.bombinate.space

Review by 
Nathan Penlington

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