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.
For more than a decade, zine writer Abner Smith has tackled what we usually consider USA-related “conspiracy theories” in The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting. The series’ six issues delve into the shocking details of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, HIV, Iran-Contra, and more. Smith’s writing reacts against both the personal-story vogue in the zine genre and the uncritical eye that most people give to historical accounts (you can read more about Smith in a wonderful interview with his publisher).
In each issue, Smith shows that all it takes is a little digging to uncover a more complex and troubling version of historical events than what the authorities or the media report. Reprints of all six of his zines are available through Microcosm, including his newest: an updated biography of Lee Harvey Oswald.
The history textbook might seem like an odd choice to adapt to a zine format. On a shelf full of comics, perzines, and essays, you wouldn’t really expect to find a history of modern Iran or the Nez Perce Indians. J Gerlach’s Simple History series (Microcosm), however, aims to change that. Each edition chronicles a decisive moment or movement in world history, condensing a story to the 50-page chapbook format. These books provide an insightful and informative antidote to the bulky historical tome usually found at schools or libraries. Additionally, the presentation breaks significantly with the mainstream idea of “history;” a sort of micro-People’s History of the United States, Gerlach looks at these events with a leftist, anti-imperialist, and sharply critical approach that’s in contrast to many established historical interpretations.
Erick Lyle, a.k.a. “Iggy Scam,” has made a living out of living for free (and teaching others how to do it too). Since 1991, when he distributed the first issue of Scam in any way that he could — appropriately enough using stolen postage stamps and mail scams — Lyle has shown punks the possibilities of squatting, stealing, and resisting the restrictions of capitalist, corporatist America. The first four issues of Scam are now available in a hefty, polished paperback volume from Microcosm, ready for a new generation of punks to carry on the fight.
Based on his experiences of living in a shared “punk house” in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and later squatting with girlfriend Ivy in Miami, Lyle has collected a lot of knowledge and stories about dumpster diving, spray painting, shoplifting, and avoiding cops. Scam is incredibly dense and referential; most of it is handwritten in various stages of legibility, and it seems to be directed almost exclusively at the early ’90s Floridian reader. But its stories of free and (not so) easy living will be compelling for anyone who has ever thought of rejecting society’s rules and dropping out of the system.
Like any zine, there are letters to the editor — or more often, reprinted court summons — as well as book and music reviews, comics, and short stories. Accounts of scams done well and scams gone awry are balanced with a good amount of practical advice. By now, most of the scams are outdated; this was 1991, when UPC barcodes were just coming into their own, and many stores didn’t bother with entryway scanners.
We all want to make a difference in the world. Susie Cagle, the graphic journalist of Nine Gallons, rightly addresses the complexity and contradictory nature of this desire — and the joys of fulfilling it. Even when we help others, our motives will be questioned. We’ll wonder if we’re doing enough and then if we’re doing too much. Through her work with volunteer-based organization Food Not Bombs, Cagle’s encounters with other workers and the homeless of San Francisco (who are really just “camping”) show the difficulties of changing the world and articulating to yourself what that means.
In both issues of Nine Gallons (the first is available on Cagle’s website, the second from Microcosm Publishing), the author faces opposition from her friends, who don’t see the value of her work, and from the homeless, who are suspicious of her motives.
Food Not Bombs, the group that Cagle works for, scavenges ingredients from dumpsters and then makes them into soup to give to homeless people. The opening page of the second issue underscores how Food Not Bombs is seen in the community (one man assumes they’re anarchists, another insists that they shouldn’t serve vegan only, and a woman is interested until she hears that the food is scavenged from the trash). Already, we see that an organization that is ostensibly selfless and helpful to the community is subject to scrutiny from that same community — all because its motives and selflessness seem suspect.
Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting is a resourceful and knowledgeable DIY guide hidden in a comic book. Complete with illustrations, speech balloons, and even Comic Sans, this book is an ideal first step towards making your own wearable art.