I never really grew up with zines. By the time I got into interesting things like indie rock, weird movies and veganism, the blog era was upon us and zines were at best cute, at worst sort of irrelevant. There were now far more efficient ways of sharing stories, comics, music reviews, random writings and everything, and it was free and instantaneous. However, I came to find out about and love zines anyways because they are their own thing: small, short, cheap, diy, physical, and invested with more time, love and energy than a blog generally requires. They’re awesome to have on the shelves for others to peruse or borrow, and in my old apartment I used to like to keep them in the washroom as reading material for myself and anyone making use of the space (maybe don’t borrow those ones).
Ironically – but predictably – it was through the internet that I found out about Cometbus, the beloved, long-running zine of San Francisco punk Aaron Cometbus (er, Elliott). I decided to check out the first result in amazon, the collection Add Toner. There are a couple of Cometbus collection books, each grabbing a bunch of issues or parts of issues and wrapping them up in a nice little book – I haven’t read any others yet so I can’t compare them, but this one was pretty solid, in any case.
Each ‘issue’ that the book is made up with is its own thing. Some are just collections of short musings, possibly diary entries or something along those lines that (often poetically) reflect current aspects of his life: his relationships with his friends, family, lovers, Judaism, music, politics, culture, etc. These are often very interesting and sometimes beautiful. He writes elegantly despite the casual-ness of the medium and his interests and education are apparent throughout, as when he quotes the Hebrew prayers or Trotsky. I remember in particular how he writes about loving the latter’s last words, spoken to his wife: “I do not want them to undress me. I want you to undress me.”
Other ‘issues’ in the book are collections of interviews: one is with the scene around a cool cafe in St. Louis, another is with ‘Back To The Landers’, those who were part of a movement of moving from the city to the remote rural countryside in the late-60s/early 70s.
Read as a book from start to finish, the whole thing felt long and I got a bit tired of it after a while. But I would imagine that if one were to read the issues each as their own individual thing then that wouldn’t be a problem. But it still wasn’t a problem – each issue was interesting and educational and I wound up liking not just the zine but this person Aaron Cometbus that I was reading about. He seemed cool and smart and like someone I could relate to. Maybe in the future I’ll check out the other collections of his work, as I now understand why his zine was so loved.
If you’ve heard about Cometbus before or are just kind of interested in zines, there’s no reason not to pick up this collection. It’s good stuff, and some things about zines blogs just can’t replicate perfectly.