Keith Rosson has become an increasingly visible and influential part of punk rock culture over the last five years. He consistently writes solid columns for Maximum RocknRoll and Give Me Back and proves to have reliable judgments about music in the Razorcake reviews section. Keith has done artwork for The Ergs!, Dan Padilla, Anchor Arms, and seemingly every other band who wants a good design for their ads, shirts, or record covers. You might wonder where this guy came from and how he got to have such a solid footing amongst both punk rockers and zinesters. For that answer, you will have to look at Avow, his long- running personal zine.
This anthology represents the first sixteen issues of Avow and is also one of the first things I show curious people who ask me about zines. What really stands out as a unique part of each zine in the anthology are the excellent illustrations and eye-catching graphic design. As far as different concepts that appear in these pages, highlights are Avow #13, “The Alphabet Issue,” and the Avow #9 “Punk Heroes, Punk Villains.” But the bulk of Keith’s writing is just stories about everyday life—strangers on the bus, teenage humiliation, drinking, heartbreak, and friendship—and it works because he is a damn good storyteller.
Avow has been around since 1995, but I wasn’t introduced to it until ten years after that. Since then, I have re-read the anthology and later issues at various times during my life. At different times, I have loved and hated Avow, depending on what kind of phase I’m going through. Sometimes the stories shine too bright a light on the ugliness and harsh truth around you. Other times, it’s the most down-to-earth thing you can find to relate to. Maybe you’re seventeen and you already live on your own and all your friends have started doing heroin. You don’t want to read something where the zinester’s biggest problem is that they ran out of vegan brownies at the anarchist bake sale. Or maybe you’re twenty and you just moved to a small town in the middle of Texas for college and your boyfriend just broke up with you and your only friends live a couple hundred miles away. You want to read something by a zinester who thinks that hanging out with his friends at shows and drinking and dancing is just getting kind of old? Oh no, you want to read something by the guy who’s gritty and real; because when he writes about finding beauty in the small things you know he’s not just trying to sound poetic; he’s just really stoked that he found something that could get him through the day. You want to read Avow!
All the material from the first edition is included in the second edition, but there are some changes. The gas-masked businessman against an orange and yellow background has been replaced by a more striking illustration of a man falling backwards through a window, printed in punchy blue and brown hues. I preferred the first edition’s chronological order of 1-16, compared to the second edition starting with issues 11-16 then going from 1-10, but I understand that the publishers and author would want someone flipping through the book to see some of his better work first. The printing quality is higher quality too; darker ink makes for better contrast and the thick white borders around the pages are gone, so the images bleed off the page now. If you already have the first edition, you might consider giving it away and getting the second edition instead. If you don’t own either edition of this anthology yet, it is an essential and I would definitely recommend buying a copy.