Ghost Pine (and its previous incarnation, Otaku) is most likely—considering its near fifteen year history—one of the longest running “personal” zines still kicking around. What Cometbus is to Berkeley and the EastBay, Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine is to Sainte Catherine and Canada as a whole. And where most zines are considered long in the tooth if they make it past three or four issues, and even fewer manage to actually be consistently good, the fact that Miller has published for so long is laudable. But while zines like Cometbus are often championed for a kind of over-the-top bombast and punk excess, Ghost Pine works in the opposite way—quietly but convincingly, laying down small, true stories that put forth as much comfort as they do conviction. I’m glad Miller has found publishers willing to put this book out; the zine’s a good one, and the quiet, resolute strength of the writing translates well to book form.
Still, it’s interesting: Aesthetically, zine anthologies have always run into problems when faced with the dilemma of being published in book format. While I’m certainly no expert on Ghost Pine, I remember Otaku as being a scrappy, cut-and-paste affair with typewritten paragraphs, stark black and white graphics and (if I remember right) a quarter-sized format. Stuff like this doesn’t really matter to anyone but zine nerds, but I find the decision to ditch Ghost Pine’s cut and paste aesthetic for a more readable, text-only format an interesting one. Ditching the graphics and the well-worn typewriter aesthetic may have been a difficult decision.
Ultimately, though, it’s for the best—with no visual accompaniment to the collection, we’re looking at nothing but pages upon pages of short autobiographical blasts from Miller. Just page after page of these short, short stories—including ones published in other zines—with no discernable order, chronologically or otherwise. As someone who cut his teeth during the same era of punk as Miller did, on the same records and the same scene, reading about his take on all things hardcore and DIY was fascinating and the definite high point of the book. His calm reflections on suburban life, musings on small Canadian towns and frozen, snow-blasted wanderings down midnight streets carried with them a certain flair that was familiar—this is a personal zine, after all—but also brought with them Miller’s particular voice.
Point is, the guy can write, and he can write well. Whether he’s describing minute details about a winter night in some far-flung, wind-shocked suburb, or the vendors surrounding a crowded subway platform, or even if he’s broadly reminiscing about the ever-changing and fractious nature of the cities and places he loves, Miller repeatedly does what zine writers are supposed to do: he brings us into his world. He takes us where he’s been and where he’s going. He does it cleanly and elegantly and with just the right amount of wistfulness; his sentimentality never becomes cloying. Above all, it’s his elegance that carries him through—ultimately, nothing much happens in the collection, but Miller writes with such respect and love about all of his subjects (wheelchair-bound grandfathers, road-weary friends, gay cookbook-schlepping bosses, entire cities) that it doesn’t matter. The guy writes with care. Less about ideas and more about the personal grace with which we can walk through the world, the Ghost Pine anthology works best as a dedication to the small moments in a life. As the book showcases, it’s often these small moments stacked on top of each other that shape us just as much, and possibly more so, than the huge, calamitous ones. Well done. –Keith Rosson (Invisible Publishing,2578 Maynard St., HalifaxNS, B3K 3V5, Canada)