Illustration by Danny Rust
By Chris Terry, 272 pgs.
I’ve been anxiously awaiting another title from Chris Terry since I first read his debut novel Zero Fade a while back and Black Card has not disappointed. I found myself laughing out loud more than once, and the way the chapters were structured really kept me engaged. It almost felt mysterious, like our own pasts can seem when we try to figure out what role we played in our history. While not a children’s book by any stretch, it does feel like its own coming of age story. Humans tend to bloom on their own timeline, especially those who carry imaginary friends into their twenties and belong to a subculture that celebrates never growing up.
That’s right, the main character is punk, so if you’re reading this, odds are you’ll relate to the narrator. At its core, Black Card is about race in this country and its unwritten rulebook we are all pressured to conform to. This is the story of one punk’s struggle to create himself in a world that seems hell-bent on drawing its own conclusions.
What gives Terry a vantage point of interest is his ability to see an object from different sides of America’s ever-present invisible wall and use this perspective to show us just how fragile the concept of identity is while reminding us how very real its effects can be for our physical health, our mental health, and our very freedom. From getting too drunk before you play, to dealing with people’s preconceptions, the backdrops he creates feel familiar without being cliché, making for a novel based in the punk rock stratosphere without any cringe-worthy moments. I’m already excited to see what’s next. Definitely recommended. –Rene Navarro (Catapult, catapult.co)
Dog Between Us, A
By Duncan B. Barlow, 244 pgs.
I knew of Duncan B. Barlow for years before any of his work came into my purview: dude has a resume. He was a member of a bunch of influential Louisville bands, like Endpoint and By The Grace of God. I remember reading his punk rock exit interview in Punk Planet after he was sucker punched at a show by the singer of a hardcore band (look this up if you don’t know it already—shit is nuts). Barlow is also a writer. A few years back I got my hands on his novel The City, Awake and was impressed by the way he crafted bizarro time-looping noir pulp with a straightforward delivery.
A Dog Between Us is much more straightforward, but no less impactful. Throughout, the narrator is haunted by the demise and death of his father. Barlow is deft at depicting the way time slows in the brink of a loved one’s passing; the haze through which one walks daily to complete even the most mundane tasks.
This haze extends over his relationship. While A Dog Between Us isn’t as gleefully convention-bending as The City, Awake, it does share some tricks, including a broken chronology. As Barlow’s narrator Crag goes off into reverie, we’re brought along to the past, to the way that the slightest detail can springboard back someone who’s suffered a recent loss: to a week ago at the hospital, months ago, years. It’s tough to be aware of these shifts away from the present through the fog of grief, something that Barlow expertly depicts. As the story unfolds, we begin to learn that these depictions serve a narrative purpose greater than simply portraying what grieving is. Crag misses signs that are literally taped up for him to see, and must deal with the consequences of stacking losses.
A Dog Between Us wrenches beauty from tragedy. Add another one to Duncan B. Barlow’s resume. –Michael T. Fournier (Stalking Horse Press, stalkinghorsepress.com)
Egg Cream #1
By Liz Suburbia
If you haven’t read Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia, you may want to stop reading this review right now and go pick it up. For those who have read it, or are just curious, read on.
Egg Cream’s main story takes place ten years after Sacred Heart ends. It’s told from the perspective of a TV special documenting the events that took place in the commune of Sacred Heart, where a bunch of kids were left parentless to run wild in a lawless town. Through interviews and archival footage, we find out what happened to some of the kids after the flood.
If Liz Suburbia continues to tell these kids tales, that would be great. But if they don’t, this follow up is a satisfying ending to Sacred Heart. It explains how the kids got there and how they were able to stay alive (most of them anyway). The narrative flows well and Suburbia’s ability to make your jaw drop with one panel is, well, jaw-dropping. Their signature black and white artwork is fantastic, and the “commercials” thrown in are entertaining. The second half of Egg Cream is titled “What a Dog Dreams,” which is a collection of illustrations and comics about Suburbia’s dreams. Some are tragic while others are superbly weird and funny.
And if I didn’t sell it enough, the paper used is like paper in a coloring book. You can color this comic if you are some sort of insane person. –Rick V. (Silver Sprocket, silversprocket.com)
Is This How You See Me?
By Jaime Hernandez, 90 pgs.
Jaime Hernandez and his brothers have been releasing the comic Love and Rockets since the early ’80s. Jaime’s Locas stories focus on the punks and alts living in Hoppers, a fictional town south of Los Angeles. His main protagonists are Maggie and Hopey, two Chicana women who age along with the author. They started off as teenagers and now they are in their late forties. Their friendship gets rocky throughout the series and it continues in this story.
Is This How You See Me? finds Maggie and Hopey going back to Hoppers for a punk reunion show. While there, we see how a lot of characters and the town have aged. Throughout the book, we get flashbacks to the beginning of their friendship back in the early ’80s. The duo still finds themselves wandering the streets of Hoppers at 3AM, running into trouble just as they did thirty years before.
This book flows better than Hernandez’s earlier Locas stories. And, of course, the artwork is solid. The panels pop with his signature pulp style mixed with the occasional very cartoonish facial expressions. This book proves that you’re really never too old to jump in the pit. But also, what are you proving by doing so? –Rick V. (Fantagraphics Books, fantagraphics.com)
By Al Burian, 192 pgs.
I love Al Burian. He is hands-down my favorite living author today, and certainly one of my favorite authors of all time. His take on punk culture is laced with existential despair and matter-of-fact commentary. This is all done in a dry manner, but which often comes across as hilarious.
Thus it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I loved No Apocalypse. The book is comprised of his columns from Punk Planet, HeartattaCk, and the Skeleton. I read some of these writings in Punk Planet, but it’s been a long time since then, and it was refreshing to come across them again. The Punk Planet columns take up the predominant amount of space in the book.
Burian’s writing is, for the most part, consistent in its take on what it’s like to be a slacker in the late ’90s and early ’00s. There are a lot words spent not just on music and Burian’s adventures, but also on President George W. Bush, who was in office during the time when many of these pieces were written. In hindsight, it’s almost comical how we thought Bush was the worst President ever, although all things considered, at least Donald Trump hasn’t sent thousands of soldiers overseas to kill thousands of people unconnected to terrorism, all based on a lie. Still, the similarities of how bad politics can get is appropriate for our current state of affairs.
What gets me most about No Apocalypse is how insightful it is. His comments on how it can feel strangely freeing when one loses their parents are something about which I hadn’t given any thought yet makes sense. He also has his tales of riding the Greyhound, a line of his writing of which I never tire. His looks at this particular slice of Americana who ride the ’hound makes me smile and laugh. Burian’s literary flair comes out most striking in these situations. He keeps the reader on edge wondering if an oddly paired couple will make it back to the bus in time from their rest stop. It seems strange, but I was fully engaged.
Al Burian is a slacker, a very unsympathetic antihero, and in some ways, a loser. He can’t seem to get beyond being his own worst enemy at times (as shown with his experience putting his foot in his mouth in court). Yet he somehow writes in such a way as to counter those detrimental qualities to make himself easily relatable and one of punk’s most talented literary figures of the past few decades. –Kurt Morris (Microcosm Publishing, 2752 N. Williams Ave., Portland, OR 97227)
Nothing Nice to Say: Complete Discography
By Mitch Clem, 240 pgs.
Razorcake readers may know Mitch Clem as an illustrator and former comic contributor to the magazine. Back in 2002, he doodled up a webcomic focusing on jokes in the realm of punk called Nothing Nice to Say. It mostly revolved around the main characters Blake and Fletcher poking fun at the music and culture they surrounded themselves with. The comic went off and on for ten plus years and now every single comic is in one big fat collection.
A good chunk of the comics are three-panel gag strips but Clem later moved onto full-page strips with some continuity and connecting storylines. Throughout the years he would introduce new characters such as an emo kid named Phillip, goth duo Alice and Karen, and a bear named Cecil. All the comics still make jokes about bands and punk-related things. He would occasionally throw in a reference to mainstream comics that some hardcore nerds will appreciate.
Mitch’s style may remind people of Archie Comics, except more animated. As you would expect, you see the drawing get better through the years. Mitch takes the time to draw impressively detailed backgrounds where it may not be necessary, but it really shows off his skill as an artist and not just a funny-man cartoonist. And these are laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe avoid reading it in the library or a public bathroom. As mentioned before, you are reading this in Razorcake, so you will most likely get the humor in this collection. You are the target audience.
At page 197 the collection switches gears and becomes the complete Coffee Achievers collection. It’s a story about coffee shops, gargoyles, magic, and mix tapes drawn by Joe Dunn and written by Mitch Clem. Most of the main cast of Nothing Nice to Say appear in this story and you might be thrown back by the way Dunn draws them. But overall, the story is good and you will wish there was more of the Coffee Achievers.
At twenty-five dollars, some folks maybe are hesitant to buy this collection. But it’s beautifully bound, sturdy, and can hold up on the coffee table or toilet tank in any old fifteen-roommate household. –Rick V. (Silver Sprocket, silversprocket.com)
Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good
By adrienne maree brown, 464 pgs.
From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
… from Late Latin radicalis “of or having roots”… Meaning “going to the origin, essential.”
Different roots serve as political starting points for entering The Struggle. For some, the starting point is education. For some, it’s ensuring that the poor have access to credit. For adrienne maree brown, it’s pleasure. Second-wave feminists said, “The personal is political”; however one interprets that (and there’s no consensus on how to interpret it), Pleasure Activism furthers the conversation.
The book is “written and gathered” by brown. In addition to essays by brown, it also features interviews by and conversations with brown, as well as essays by other people, mostly women of color, mostly sexually marginalized. The book’s theme (roughly) is finding pleasure despite trauma. You can’t be whole without pleasure and you can’t go out and truly rip it up unless you’re whole (insofar as anyone is).
Not every chapter is for everyone—I should have listened to Beyoncé’s Lemonade by now, but haven’t, and so skimmed the chapters about it—but the book is so varied that if you keep it around after reading the chapters that currently interest you, other chapters will likely interest you in a year or two (sort of like a music guide—The Wire Primers leaps to mind).
Pleasure Activism, I have to say, is dotted throughout with Oh, Christ—seriously? moments. One of the book’s blurbs is from an “anti-oppression consultant”—which I suppose isn’t necessarily a hustle. brown claims to have been bitten by a vampire (leaving unaddressed whether she’s a vampire currently). One of her interview subjects talks about the pleasure she gets from her “anti-Zionist home bubbly water machine,” whatever in the earthly motherfuck that is.
I requested the reviewer’s copy after reading online somewhere this line from the back cover summary: “How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience?” I thought the book was about how to attract people to activism—mainly it’s not, though brown does discuss this in her conversation with Dallas Goldtooth, a Standing Rock activist. The conversation concerns how to bring a certain amount of spirit-supporting fun to activism while still comporting yourself in such a way that people in power, and people who don’t know what to think about your movement, still take you seriously. If you’ve wrestled with that, he has thoughts for you. –Jim Woster (AK Press, akpress.org)
Revolutionary Threads: Rastafari, Social Justice, and Cooperative Economics
By Bobby Sullivan, 224 pgs.
Bobby Sullivan is likely known to Razorcake readers—he’s the singer of DC’s Soul Side. Beyond this, he’s a practicing Rastafarian and social activist. It’s fascinating to see how he weaves the threads of his life together in Revolutionary Threads.
Sullivan uses his lyrics as chapter headings throughout. The first section provides a quick discussion of the origin of Rastafari. From there, Sullivan provides historical incidents which spin off of alternate takes on contemporary history. He meticulously sources his work throughout, whether providing a Howard Zinn-like take on the settlement of America by Africans predating Columbus, or in discussing political prisoners like Marilyn Buck.
It’s fascinating to read how Sullivan practices his faith: in addition to writing this book, he does work with prisoners with cooperative grocer groups. Since Rasta is deeply anti-colonialism, Sullivan’s immersion in the punk activism of Washington DC informs his faith, and vice-versa. By all metrics, the work Sullivan does is punk—and it serves his own spiritual needs as well as the community. I had never made this connection with Rastafarianism prior to reading.
Each chapter herein works as a standalone, but comes together to form a greater whole which serves to illuminate Sullivan’s faith and the very understandable ways that his work does good and challenges outdated colonialist conventions. Revolutionary Threads is an engaging, lively, well-thought book which provides a picture of Rastafarianism in action, for punks and beyond. –Michael T. Fournier (Akashic, akashicbooks.com)
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