Zine Reviews

Specious Species, No. 8 Edited by Joe Donohoe, 204 pgs.

Apocalypse. That’s a word that always draws attention. And in the case of volume 8 of Joe Donohoe’s literary journal series, it is one of the twin themes permeating the course of the book. Specifically, this issue is centered around the topics of islands and apocalypse. At first it seems like these concepts may be a little disparate, but Donohoe pushes the two concepts into a remarkably cohesive whole by using his piece “Hiroshima Mon Amour” to do a deep dive on the history of Japan, eventually leading to the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Beginning the piece as a travelogue of a trip made to Japan in 2016, Donohoe utilizes great economy by shifting into a historical primer of Japan from its start as a collection as of warring factions under an imperial court all the way up to the Shōwa period, which corresponds to the reign of Emperor Hirohito in World War II. Another complementary narrative thread is a condensed history of the atomic bomb, starting with the discoveries of Niels Bohr. Particular attention is paid to the life of Robert Oppenheimer, who was at once both a learned, progressive humanist and the shepherd of one of the most destructive projects in the history of humankind.

The Japanese subject continues later on in another piece in which Donohoe makes a digest examining the lives and works of six key twentieth century Japanese authors. I admittedly am only familiar with Haruki Murakami, but the figure I found most fascinating—if somewhat scary—is the author of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, Yukio Mishima. Beginning life as a somewhat sickly and effete child, Mishima eventually became a prolific and intensely masterful hard right writer, athlete, and possibly gay man who was obsessed with a return to a militaristic Japan based on the tenets of the samurai code of bushido. Eventually, Mishima took his life in 1970 by seppuku during a bizarrely orchestrated coup attempt by him and some compatriots.

Aside from the Japanese pieces at the heart of the issue, there is also another fascinating travelogue of Donohoe’s 2015 trip to Greece and specifically the island of Patmos, where St. John the Divine was said to have dictated the Book of Revelation. Eric Wilcox contributes a good piece about visiting the Anasazi cliff dwellings of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Even though I grew up in New Mexico, I have never been to these sites but now feel like I’m obligated to soon. As a good complement to the recent Razorcake, there is also an entertaining interview with Dave Dictor of MDC. Surprisingly, the interview was conducted in May 2016 before Trump won office, so it would be interesting to see how different the tone would have been just seven months later. There are several other short pieces throughout, but the aforementioned sections already make this another really worthwhile read from Donohoe. –Adrian Salas (Specious Species, 3345 20th St., SF, CA, 94110)

This Is Memorial Device: An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Music Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-1986, By David Keenan

Memorial Device’s big break came in 1986 when Sonic Youth requested them as opener for their U.K. tour. Unfortunately, the experimental Scottish post-punk band had already broken up. On the upside, this near-miss preserved Memorial Device’s status as unsung heroes in the dying Glasgow suburb of Airdrie, and the memories of the scenesters in this fictional oral history have remained vivid. The first-person accounts have a gravity that’ll ring true to anyone who had an epiphany the first time they saw some local kids making feedback onstage.

The local scenesters are all here. The older guy with the good drugs and better records. The sexy, sad couple with the noise band. The hanger-on whose invisibility is wearing on him. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that every one of these small-town misfits is so poetic, but it’s a pleasure to read and easily succeeds in conveying a little world that is universal in its specificity.

Author David Keenan is an accomplished music writer, and the man behind England’s Hidden Reverse, a biography of the scene around goth/industrial bands Coil, Current 93, and Nurse With Wound. In This Is Memorial Device, he applies his journalistic chops to an impressionistic oral history-style Rashomon that goes for the heart, telling a story that’s as much Please Kill Me as it is A Brief History of Seven Killings. This Is Memorial Device should please record geeks looking to branch out from punk history books, and bookworms with a soft spot for music and a love for narrative voice. –Chris Terry (Faber & Faber)

ADULTING: HOW TO BE AN ADULTIER ADULT, $3, 4” x 5½”, 19 pgs.

Adulting is one of eighteen short self-help guides written by Dr. Faith G. Harper and published by Microcosm. At first sight, I thought, oh boy, Adulting, here comes some soft skill bullshit by one of my millennial peers—people like me who can make a GIF but can’t fill out a tax form. In reality, the author of Adulting, Faith G. Harper is super smart. She’s a doctor with loads of mental health degrees and experience, and the zine is more or less about being a responsible, uh, grown person. In her words, we’re adulating “when we are our best and most mature selves in every situation.” Harper breaks up her advice into page-long sections. Her breezy delivery makes for easy reading. Adulting would be a nice graduation gift or a cool read for some young person who’s moving out of the house. –Jim Joyce (Microcosm, 2752 N Williams Ave., Portland, OR 97227)

ANALOGUE SEPPUKU, $? 5 ½” x 8½”, glossy, 10 pgs.

This is a short zine put out by Muzai Records that includes a CD of ten songs by ten various bands that are on the label. Muzai Records is a New Zealand label that is based in Leeds, England (I don’t understand how that works, either). The zine has interviews with two of the label’s bands, Dharma Dogs and Triumphs. It’s also got a rant by Austin Cunningham about the disappearing music venues in New Zealand (spoiler alert: it’s due to gentrification). I did enjoy the CD, as some of the bands (like Dharma Dogs) are recording good songs. The label puts out a wide variety of music, so even if the zine isn’t that spectacular, it’s worth checking out some of the bands on the CD. –Kurt Morris (muzairecords.com)

BATTLE FOR COOPER-YOUNG, $4, 7½” x 5”, color printed, 29 pgs.

The Cooper-Young neighborhood is in Memphis, Tenn. Evidently it has turned from being a blighted place to becoming the “hip” hood, being home to many shops, bars, and Goner Records. More recently there have been crime issues in Cooper-Young. In response, a neighborhood watch was re-established and the idea was floated to install digital cameras around stop signs in the neighborhood. Artist and local resident Nick Canterucci had some concerns with this and made a number of avant-garde posters that shared these thoughts. This is all a long-winded way to describe what the content of this zine is: images of posters made by Canterucci to get people to think about their need for security. There are many references to Big Brother and the Soviet state, as well as Hitler. Next to the images of the posters Canterucci gives some thoughts and his inspiration for them. In that sense, this zine is somewhat like an art exhibit. I tend to prefer simpler, direct messages in my art protest posters and found that many of these were too busy. Yet, I still respect Canterucci for what he did and think this is a good testament to a particular time and experience in Memphis’s history. That said, it’s more likely those familiar with the neighborhood or the situation in Cooper-Young will find this most appealing. –Kurt Morris (Nick Canterucci, 2264 Elzey Ave., Memphis, TN 38104)

CAT PARTY #1: FIVE TRUE CAT STORIES, $?, 5½” x 8½”, copied 30 pgs.

My heaviest involvement with blogging came at the same time I had started playing fantasy league baseball. You guessed it: post after post about how the Expletive Greys had fared. I had a great time writing about my fantasy team—but when I look back on the writing, I’m bored silly, even though I was writing about my own team. I mention my fantasy blogging because this zine excerpts passages from author Katie Haegele’s forthcoming book of cat stories. I’m a cat person—I’ll take this opportunity to mention that a photo of my cat Spippy in a Razorcake bandana graced the pages of our previous issue—but none of these stories resonated with me. Cats are great, internet cat videos are great—and stories about cats might be relegated to the same space as blogging about fantasy baseball. –Michael T. Fournier (Microcosm, 2752 N. Williams Ave., Portland, OR 97227)

COPING SKILLS: TOOLS TO FEEL BETTER WITHOUT FUCKING AROUND, $3, 4” x 5½”, 19 pgs.

Dr. Faith G. Harper has a slew of these lil’ self-help buddy zines. I’ve read three of them and they’re good. She avoids jargon and talks clearly about ways to, uh, deal with, in this case, stress and anxiety. Harper starts by noting some of the science behind stress. Our bodies release “the stress hormone cortisol” when we’re anxious, and cortisol helps in moderation, but the body won’t pump us that juicy full-cort juice long-term. Without it, our chronic stress leads to “exhaustion, body aches, weird skin discolorations” and other quiet miseries. Noooooo. And so, the rest of the zine is a collection of coping strategies that Harper has gathered from other smart people. Here’s a line I liked: “treat yourself like you would your best friend.” That’s profound and easy to apply. Then again, I’m partial to stuff like this because I’m an anxious Jimbo. If you are, too, and you don’t have a therapist like me, maybe you can spend three dollars on this here zine. –Jim Joyce (Microcosm, 2752 N Williams Ave., Portland, OR 97227)

DEFRIENDING: NAVIGATING THE FRIENDSHIP BREAKUP, $5, 5½” x 8½”, copied, 24 pgs.

This is part of the Dr. Faith’s Five Minute Therapy series from Faith G. Harper, PhD. Essentially, it’s an advice zine on how to cope with losing friends over dumb things. The writing, though well intentioned, is at times obnoxious, and tries too hard to be cool and down with you, the reader. I found myself skipping ahead, and then suddenly I was finished. I then jumped onto Facebook and blocked and deleted a long list of people who I found to be absolutely repugnant, and I felt much better. –Matt Average (Microcosm, microcosmpublishing.com)

EARTH FIRST! JOURNAL, Vol. 37, No. 3, 8”x 10½”, newsprint, 72 pgs.

Don’t forget—lots and lots of hard work is being done all over the world to save the earth! Whether it’s big, ongoing actions against oil pipelines and defending old growth, to sharks being freed in Mexico by the Animal Liberation Front, this is the go-to source for this information. There’s an article on the Białowieża Forest action in Europe, in which, the writer, as an anarchist, is critical of liberal organizers’ failure to address politics or capitalism as inherent to the problem of logging. They would rather blame and vilify a certain politician, as if the problem weren’t larger and systematic. There’s a piece on the Matthole Forest Campaign to save old growth forest in Northern California. I’m partial to the interviews, like the one with Elise Gerhart at Camp White Pine, who’s set up a treesit to protect her own family’s home from a big oil pipeline. The best thing in here is the interview with Ruby and Jessica who sabotaged the DAPL and then took credit for it! Now that takes courage! –Craven Rock (Earth First! Journal, PO Box 964, Lake Worth, FL 33460)

FEAR, SAFETY, AND FEMMES, $5, 5½” x 7½”, pink copied zine, 18 pgs.

Fear, Safety, and Femmes is a compilation zine themed around what makes us feel safe and what makes us feel as though we are in danger. Which places and people make us feel safe, and why? Which places and people give us a fear or cause for danger? The different submissions ranged from people who are afraid of empty locations (streets where people aren’t around), people who feel unsafe if they’re in a place with “too many straight white dudes,” or how to read someone who comes off as aggressive in their language or gestures. There was an overwhelmingly common theme from the submissions that sounded like most of them are afraid of the unknown and places they aren’t familiar with, which was interesting but made me feel a little bit sad. The things that made a lot of the writers feel safe seemed to be bustling and familiar cities, smiling faces, and friendly people—which I understand—but also makes me wonder what danger and fear are to most people, and how much of it is a constructed narrative that we’ve been fed. I would like to see a part two of this zine where all the submissions are from men or male-identifying writers to see what places and people make them feel safe or in danger. –Tricia Ramos (catherinettezine@gmail.com, viceversapress.com)