Anarchist Bike Rally: Confidential Mad Libs

Zine Scene: Anarchist Bicycle Rally: Confidential Mad Libs

Anarchist Bike Rally: Confidential Mad LibsJoe BielAnarchist Bicycle Rally: Confidential Mad Libs (Cantankerous Titles, 2011)

Many bicycle enthusiasts (and city dwellers) will likely be familiar with Critical Mass. Groups of cyclists ride through urban areas in order to slow traffic and promote cycling over use of automobiles, often using disruption to increase awareness of their cause. Though often a minor inconvenience to some motorists (thus reinforcing the cyclists’ pro-bike message), Critical Mass can be, to hear Anarchist Bike Rally: Confidential Mad Libs tell it, nothing less than a scourge for cops.

Detailing the history of Portland’s Critical Mass movement through 12 years of internal police documents, Anarchist Bike Rally shows the police department’s annoyance, anger, and finally acceptance and cooperation with Critical Mass.

Beginning with documents dating from 1993, Anarchist Bike Rally follows the Portland police as they sit in on Critical Mass meetings, try to predict routes, issue citations, arrest the more disorderly members of the movement, and spend thousands of dollars of police resources to contain groups that, in early years, rarely exceeded 30 participants. Detailed reports follow a narrative that should be familiar to anyone who has taken part in a political action; police confusion gives way to monitoring, attempts to minimize the impact on other citizens, and later communication and cooperation with the activists.

Critical Mass presents a challenge for these cops, however, in that it purposely lacks a clear leader, making the rides that much harder to manage. Trial and error characterizes the police response until the early 2000s, when permitted rides became more common. To make matters worse, early reports show that police seemed to barely recognize the rides as a political statement, instead treating them as unusually organized acts of hooliganism. The riders easily use police confusion to their benefit, avoiding their chaperones and increasing visibility of the rides.

Kagan McLeod: Infinite Kung Fu

Zine Scene: Infinite Kung Fu

Kagan McLeod: Infinite Kung FuKagan McLeodInfinite Kung Fu (Top Shelf, 9/13/11)

At first glance, Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu would seem to have limited appeal. Despite inspiring near-religious devotion in its fans, martial-arts movies have been marginalized, commercialized, and derided in popular culture as a sort of kitschy guilty pleasure. Attempts have been made to revive the genre, most notably in anime, but Infinite Kung Fu may be the first graphic novel to stand a decent chance of creating new interest in a niche genre.

Innovative and smart, Infinite Kung Fu pays homage to classic elements of martial-arts films, from wise masters to wise-ass students, but it manages to do away with the clunky dialogue and feel of Asian exploitation that have come to dominate many viewers’ perspectives on kung fu. Instead, McLeod returns to the kung-fu story as a quasi-mystical battle between good and evil. As with the Kill Bill films, whose own master, Gordon Liu, provides a foreword, Infinite Kung Fu is a loving tribute and a partial reinvention.

McLeod, a longtime fan of kung-fu films, populates his story with familiar archetypes that nonetheless remain stylish and cool. The story begins with the eight Immortals, grand kung-fu masters who have gained superpowers, and their fight against the rapidly increasing legions of zombies on Earth. Each of the Immortals’ students has turned to dark magic, with the exception of Moog Joogular, a sort of Isaac Hayes/Jimi Hendrix mash-up with a sword.

With the help of Moog and his assistant, Thursday Thoroughgood, the leader of the Immortals trains a young army deserter in the ways of kung fu. Along the way, he must learn fighting techniques from animals, defeat a ghostly emperor, and figure out the secret of the undead’s resurgence.

Seymour Chwast: Divine Comedy

Zine Scene: Divine Comedy

Seymour Chwast: Divine ComedySeymour Chwast: Divine Comedy (Bloomsbury, 9/2010)

What happens when you drop a noir hero into a 14th Century Italian epic?  Seymour Chwast’s stylish and intriguing graphic-novel version of Dante‘s Divine Comedy provides an answer. Chwast combines dynamic illustration and easily understandable prose to give the epic a fresh new look and an unlikely appeal for non-academic readers. Those of us uninterested in centuries-old religious poetry will be delighted, but readers familiar with the original will find even more to love.

Chwast’s story closely follows Dante’s original epic, in some respects more than others. His Dante, imagined here as a noir detective, joins guide Virgil to discover the perils of the underworld, the meaning of God’s justice, and, in this case, lots of flappers. The author, now sporting a trenchcoat and smoking an ever-present pipe, regards the horrors of hell with all the hard-boiled eyes of a Dashiell Hammett hero, explaining away punishments with all of the original Dante’s stoic resolve.


Zine Scene: EmiTown

EmiTownEmi Lenox: EmiTown (Image, 1/11/11)

Emi Lenox’s EmiTown will win your heart with the power of whimsical doodles and cat armies. Needless to say, it is not your ordinary autobiographical comic, and Lenox is not your ordinary cartoonist. Many writers would be content to tell funny anecdotes, chronicle individual episodes in their lives, and tell linear stories, but Lenox has instead crafted a “sketch diary.” Each day, she draws a few doodles about how she’s feeling, fun or embarrassing things that happened to her, rent worries, grocery lists, and, yes, love — in an adorably off-kilter style. The diary is also a sort of testing ground for new drawing styles, metaphors, and alter egos, leading to an engrossing portrait of the artist-in-progress.

Lenox’s daily comics, which seem a bit thin as individual stories, instead build patterns, invite us into Emi’s life, and, taken together, present the strange world of “EmiTown,” where the optimistic white-heart and pessimistic black-heart Emi battle for control of her self-esteem, where coffee addiction becomes an increasingly manic state of mind, and where we get to know a funny, sensitive, and damn good cartoonist.


Pop Sculpture

Zine Scene: Pop Sculpture

Tim Bruckner, Zach Oat, and Rubén Procopio: Pop SculptureTim Bruckner, Zach Oat, and Rubén Procopio: Pop Sculpture (Watson-Guptill, 10/19/10)

Action figures, to most of the world, are toys. To some fans or collectors, they’re a curio or a commodity, like baseball cards or commemorative plates. For the authors of Pop Sculpture, however, they are so much more. Pop Sculpture is a guide for the confused and curious, meant to inspire an interest in making your own designs, but it is also an argument that action figures are not toys, not commodities, but art.

Tim Bruckner, Zach Oat, and Rubén Procopio worked with Disney and DC Direct to reveal the secrets of designing, creating, and selling your own action figures (not dolls, they insist). Although Pop Sculpture is, first and foremost, a practical guide for the career-minded sculptor (and a great asset for those readers), it’s a treat for the casual collector or fan as well. As a degraded and commercialized art form, figure-making is rarely explored and explained in as much depth as it is here. The curtain is drawn back, and the process is revealed to be far more difficult than it previously seemed.

Pop Sculpture details the lengthy process of making action figures through the examples of a statuette-style Athena and a more familiar, pose-able Thor figure. Design and molding are described in easy-to-understand terms, with diagrams, cut doodles, anecdotes from the authors, and tips from pros along the way. Although the focus is mostly on comic-book characters and superheroes, you get the feeling that these techniques could be applied to a variety of models (in fact, some of the authors’ examples feature original characters with a more high-art bent).

Erick Lyle

Zine Scene: Scam

Erick Lyle: ScamErick Lyle: Scam (Microcosm, 7/1/10)

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.

Zinester's Guide to NYC

Zine Scene: Zinester’s Guide to NYC

Zinester's Guide to NYCAyun Halliday: Zinester’s Guide to NYC: The Last Wholly Analog Guide to NYC (Microcosm, 11/1/10)

The Zinester’s Guide to NYC claims to be “the last wholly analog guide to NYC,” but more importantly, it’s a wonderful corrective to the Fodor’s and Frommer’s of the world.  Chock-full of secret spots, advice, and things to see and do and eat, Zinester’s Guide is truly like having a best friend (or several dozen of them with competing viewpoints) show you around their native boroughs.  Edited by Ayun Halliday (of East Village Inky fame) and created with comics, suggestions, and submissions from more than 50 other zine writers, Zinester’s Guide is an amazing amalgam of personal stories, rants and raves, and more.

Deeply familiar with where to go (and, more importantly, where not to), these natives know the city like no one else, as evidenced by a description of Art Bar in Greenwich Village: “This place is stellar.  It’s not a scene bar.  The wait staff is helpful and attentive.  The back room, complete with fireplace, feels like someone’s basement.  The Last Supper painting, featuring Jim Morrison as Jesus, is intriguing. – Heath Row.”  This book truly seems like it would help the novitiate find places and things to do that they never would otherwise.

Nine Gallons

Zine Scene: Susie Cagle’s Nine Gallons

Nine Gallons Susie Cagle: Nine Gallons #1 & 2 (Microcosm)

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.

Nine Gallons

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.

Gingerbread Girl

Zine Scene: Gingerbread Girl

Gingerbread GirlPaul Tobin & Colleen Coover: Gingerbread Girl (Top Shelf Comix, 7/7/11)

Annah Billips is one strange girl.  A self-described tease, she flirts and dates, has boyfriends and girlfriends, and apparently can’t fall in love for one very strange reason: her mad-scientist father removed her Penfield homunculus when she was nine years old, and it became a clone named Ginger who ran away with Annah’s ability to feel strong emotion.  Or did it?

Gingerbread Girl, the new graphic novel by husband-and-wife team Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, boasts a bizarre storyline that runs the strong risk of alienating some.  Self-consciously odd and full of narrative daring, the comic has its own charms, though, and an adventurous reader can’t help but be drawn into its central mystery.  Does Annah really have a twin named Ginger walking around, or is she actually crazy and deeply scarred from her parents’ divorce years before?

Gingerbread Girl doesn’t give any answers, but it does take a fascinating journey through Annah’s psyche, as seen by lovers, bystanders, pigeons, bulldogs, a neuroscientist, and a magician.

Tobin chooses to tell Annah’s story via a fluid stream of narrators, each of whom speaks directly to the reader and then passes the story amongst the other narrators. How each speaker chooses to define Annah, or judge her sanity, gives us a little insight into the narrator. As the reader follows Annah on a date with her girlfriend, Chili, Tobin wisely leaves Chili’s perspective for last.


Zine Scene: Shut Up and Love the Rain

Robnoxious: Shut Up and Love the RainRobnoxious: Shut Up and Love the Rain (Microcosm Publishing, 2010)

Sexuality, especially non-normative sexuality, can be a confusing topic.  Thankfully, there’s Robnoxious to provide us with a guide to “Queer Anarchist Happiness Thru Good Living” through his eye-opening and creative zine, Shut Up and Love the Rain.  California-based Robnoxious, or Rob, has been writing about these and other topics for years, but his new zine is an especially impressive effort of clarity and understanding.

In Shut Up and Love the Rain, Rob describes his early sexual experiences through comics, attempts to explain his queerness in a few essays, and even provides a list of books for further reading.  His explicitness in relating his experiences — a bully grinding on him, experimenting with masturbation, and more — are humorous and insightful.  Whether wondering if masturbation is the reason “Jesus got busted” or showing his speculative side in a comic about two robots that explore sexual pleasure through mechanized attachments, he writes about sexuality honestly and openly.

The centerpiece of the zine is a wonderful story/interview with Rob’s father, Rachel, and her recent process of coming out as transgendered.  Even with a highly supportive group surrounding her, Rachel encountered plenty of difficulties in the process of transitioning, and Rob treats this clearly personal story with honesty and forthrightness.  He gives tips for making the transition as healthy and positive as possible, and his father inspires through her success.  As Rachel says of transitioning, “It gets easier.  As time goes on, it’s getting easier and easier.  I go to work, and I don’t even think about being female, I’m just me, and I’m there.”

Chester 5000

Zine Scene: Chester 5000

Chester 5000Jess Fink: Chester 5000 (Top Shelf, 6/7/11, $14.95)

Adorable, charming, Victorian, romantic, endorsed by Alan Moore — these are not the words that generally are used to describe a pornographic comic book.  However, Jess Fink’s silent-movie-style erotic graphic novel is all of those, and it even features a robot, in a sci-fi twist.

Chester begins with the marriage of a young man and woman, and their disparity in bedroom tactics is immediately apparent.  Unfortunately, the young wife is completely insatiable in the bedroom, and the husband is a bit of a prude, so her husband constructs a sex-bot, Chester, to perform his duties while he tends to work.  The romantic and charming Chester does a better job than expected, however; the wife soon falls in love with him and sneaks off to have sex with the robot each day after her husband leaves.

Of course, they are caught, and the husband sells Chester to another woman.  Chester and the wife pine for each other, and in one great scene, Chester and the husband fight for her love with mechanical attachments and a large hammer, respectively.  Eventually, the husband learns the error of his ways, as well as his love for the woman who bought his robot, and, well, more sex ensues.

The Homeland Directive

Zine Scene: The Homeland Directive

The Homeland DirectiveRobert Venditti: The Homeland Directive (Top Shelf, 6/7/11, $14.95)

The Homeland Directive, the new graphic novel by The Surrogates author Robert Venditti, addresses some of the difficulties of the modern war on terror in the guise of a suspenseful and artistic graphic novel.  Beautiful, innovative art, some brilliant moments, and trenchant comments by the main characters elevate the story above the average artistic-political commentary, like that of a decent episode of 24.  However, Venditti’s ideas are occasionally confused and problematic.  Overall, he succeeds wonderfully in creating a splashy and surprising conspiracy thriller, but he loses some points in the presentation of a muddled political message in its final act.

Dr. Laura Regan works as a microbiologist for the CDC and believes that she, along with the US government, is making the world safer for everyone. Soon, she is framed for the murder of her colleague, Ari, nearly assassinated by a man posing as a FBI official, and finds herself in the middle of a vast conspiracy that includes high-ranking members of various government agencies.  Her band of rescuers (Pollack from the FBI, Gene from the Secret Service, and Wychek from the Bureau of Consumer Advocacy), who have discovered the truth about the conspiracy, provide some humor and variety in what otherwise would be a classic chase story adapted for the age of terrorism.