Zine Scene: Bill Brown’s Dreamwhip

Bill Brown: Dream WhipBill Brown: Dreamwhip (Microcosm)

Most of us don’t feel like we have time to drive around or see the world. We have commitments, responsibilities — what we see as our lives, basically. We think of ourselves as stationary individuals, and traveling is something that we do for a week or two, maybe, when we’re not too busy or when we’ve been planning this for months in advance. Thinking of a life in non-stationary terms involves a huge shift in our frame of reference in order to even imagine the possibility. And yet there are others, for whom driving and drifting is life. Travel is almost a compulsion; being grounded takes on a new meaning in the context of highways, and living is defined as something else entirely.

Photographer, filmmaker, inventor, and essayist Bill Brown’s ongoing zine Dreamwhip is a travelogue for the aimless. Brown is a perpetual traveler and hitchhiker; he chronicles the experience through various formats and, at times, muses on his motivation for movement. Dreamwhip’s vignettes, nonsensical comics, and anecdotes are at turns strange and profound on their own, but taken together they give the impression of a wanderer content in his wandering, and meditative on the subject of travel and what constitutes “living.” The life of Dreamwhip is one that most of us never will live, but it’s enough to make anyone jealous, reading about it. Brown’s varied experiences tend toward writing with a deeper level of reflective thought, but also humor and fun.

Bill Brown: Dreamwhip

The first ten issues of Dreamwhip are available in a neat bound volume from Microcosm, and despite its small size, the book covers a lot of ground (pun intended). This volume spans Brown’s travels from 1994-1999, from hitchhiking and transistor radios to pen pals and the open road. Perhaps the best part of Dreamwhip is Brown’s “reviews,” whether of a certain highway or a secret motel find, and Brown’s honesty and sincerity in showing the reader the value of these places is worth the price of purchase alone. Dreamwhip is pervaded by the sense that Brown is able to see these things in a different way from the average person because of how he lives.

For Brown, traveling isn’t just about exploring and individualism, though; it’s about the encounters. His tales include the people he’s met on the way, but they fade in and out as Brown goes from town to town. There’s a more interesting question here, too, when Brown wonders if his father’s life as a traveling salesman somehow predestined his own wanderings. Is wanderlust genetic, or somehow beyond our control? Brown would probably say yes, but his depictions of the traveling life are just charming enough to suggest that such a predisposition wouldn’t be a burden.

Bill Brown: Dreamwhip

Brown settles into longer, more conventional narratives later in the book, but his stories are still punctuated by scribbled comics and clippings of odd or scary events from newspapers. In the same way, there’s a comfortable balance between Brown’s chipper reviews of hole-in-the-wall bars, and his strangely oblique psychological narratives about travelers and mystery. In both cases, his writing pulls out the details of what makes this event applicable to even the most grounded person. Like the lulling security of the open road itself, Brown’s laconic prose gives the impression of motion where there is none, and of the revelatory beauty that he sees in everything. Plus, how many zines have you read that come with their own index?

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