Complete Control: An Anthology 1997-2005: by Greg Wells, 216 pgs. By Keith

Apr 02, 2007

This anthology collects the first twelve issues of Greg Wells’s Complete Control zine, as well as a small amount of material at the end that was previously unpublished or out of print. It’s a lengthy collection, and the bulk of the material is made up solely of text. Apparently, Greg retyped everything to proofread and prepare it for book form—so there’s very few pages (besides each issue’s cover and an occasional photo or flyer) that are straight from the original issues. So we’re talking eight years worth of a guy’s zine writing, mostly page after page of text, distilled into one book.

After reading the book, skipping around from issue to issue, the two themes that serve as threads throughout seem to be a desire to forge an identity and a working, active belief system in the precepts of anarchy as well as fostering a sense of place, of home, in Richmond, Virginia, i.e., dude writes about his projects and Richmond (and often both at once) all throughout this thing. There are exceptions, from the laughably pathetic (Wells’s journal that documents a fucking disastrous tour while he roadied with Operation: Cliff Clavin) to the downright haunting (his experiences before, during, and after a close friend and fellow activist committed suicide.)

The thing I admire most about Wells’s writing is his absolutely relentless critique of how people in anarchist and activist communities—including himself—often choose to interact and deal with problems. He’s not afraid to document his own shortcomings, as well as those of the people around him. He manages these critiques without placing himself on an elitist pedestal, without naming names or specifically talking shit. He does it in a manner in which the reader is given the opportunity to relate, to see how he or she would have, nine times out of ten, probably fucked up that way too. Much of Wells’s writing is done with the benefit of hindsight. More importantly than that, he’s got the ability to make broad, sweeping concepts regarding anarchy, race, capitalism, and oppression personal understandable—whether he’s writing about listening to Zapatistas younger than him, talking about their struggles and successes, or about being part of a collective that erects an encampment in Richmond’s Monroe Park—it’s done in a way that shows us all it’s possible for us to live our talk.

Still, I do have some minor complaints about this book, mostly with how Wells chose to visually present it. Literally, the two-hundred-plus pages that make up the book, apart from the few sporadic graphics, are set in the exact same font and type size. Because of this and the frequently visited themes that run throughout, it just seemed overwhelming at times. I found myself frequently flipping back to an earlier section to see if I’d already read it or not. And despite my earlier accolades, there were a few times when Greg’s writing about himself and the various collectives and groups he surrounds himself with read as vaguely stilted and repetitive. It just got to me at times. While Wells writes well and clear, and he’s perceptive as shit, there’s no humor in the zine at all. There were times where I just wanted to say, “I know things suck to a huge degree, but lighten up for a bit!”

That aside, this is a book that’s chock-full of words like solidarity, communication, anarchist, collective, and grassroots. It’s written by a guy who doesn’t, I think, even believe in living by example: he’s simply living his life. He’s simply putting this zine out so that both he and the reader have something physical and tangible to hold onto afterwards. It’s a pretty goddamn good example of someone trying to live their beliefs, of someone who is honestly trying to better the world through perseverance, dedication, and action. It’s a document that showcases Wells’s ceaseless energy and commitment to what he believes is right. That in itself makes the Complete Control Anthology a pretty inspiring and humbling read. –Keith Rosson ($8 ppd. to: Chris Johnston, Plan-It-X, PO Box 3521 Bloomington, IN 47402)

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