As anyone with even a sliver of ethics would feel, I want to state right up front that I feel a tad bit awkward about writing a review of the most recent issue of Xerography Debt. This because the latest issue contains two reviews of my Octopussy zine. Nonetheless, I'm gonna jot down some thoughts inspired by XD28, because I think that it is an exceptional issue.
To tell the truth, every issue if XD is something of an exceptional issue, and that is mainly because the folks behind it consistently offer up their mostly thankless services to the zine making and zine reading community. But I think that the most current issue is just a cut above the rest, and maybe it's because the editor and one of the contributors took the fuckin' kid gloves off.
Xerography Debt is described by the editor as the "review zine with perzine tendencies," and XD28 really got a little more person-able. Before getting into that, though, lemme first judge this book by it's cover.
Right out of the envelope, there's a cool wraparound cover that features an illustration by Hai Anxieti, who turned in great work for the last cover (XD27), too. But this one is really bananas. I have to admit that I'm also extremely biased towards Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and Anxieti took Lang's lovely robot Maria in a clever direction with a Gulliver's Travels mash-up. Me likey.
Behind that nice cover are 60-plus pages of zine-lovin' goodness. And I stress zine lovin' goodness, because the reviewers behind XD don't waste any keystrokes writing bad reviews. Constructive criticism is the name of the game, but an intentional focus is placed on zines they believe have a fairly firm foundation upon which to stand. But I'll say more about this later.
On page 4, the first pair of kid gloves come off when editor Davida Gypsy Breier drops a typewriter on the head of some unnamed noob who wrote somewhere that Joe Biel, the man behind Microcosm Publishing, was also "the man" behind XD. Davida sets the record straight and explains–quite bluntly–the partnership that was formed two years ago between two strong zine supporting entities; I think that the four issues that have come out since then stand as a firm testament to the intelligence of that partnership, and I hope it results in many, many more.
Pages 5 through 7 of this issue continues the "Where Are They Now?" feature that was introduced in XD27. The newest installment continues to provide readers with updates on the lives of other largely missing in action zine makers.
On page 8, that other pair of kid gloves come off. These had been previously worn by Dread Sockett, Davida's co-editor from Rigor Mortis zine. I haven't read Sockett anywhere before (I don't think), so this was a nice, no-nonsense introduction for me.
Sockett doesn't name any names, and the list would be quite long if he did, so he pretty much drops a roll of 1976 bi-centennial quarters in one of the gloves he took off and pimp slaps a lot of people at the same time. I could easily imagine this guy saying in an indignant tone, "I demand satisfaction!" But even at one against a multitude, it would still be a lop-sided duel.
Writing with regard to XD's "positive review" policy, over the span of about three good pages Sockett manages to give a quick 'Zines for Dummies' level overview of the last two decades of zine history and culture. Included in that is an accurate summation of the associated aches and pains that once went hand-in-hand with trying to publicize zines in the Internet-less days of yesteryear.
Sockett also shows careful consideration of the pros and cons of the XD review policy, including the seemingly common complaint that many of the same 'ol zines are continuously reviewed. And I guess this is indeed true, when the writers behind them continue making new issue after new issue. Meanwhile, a lot of the people who bitch and whine are here today and then gone in 60 seconds.
Honestly, though, I do see the validity in that particular criticism. I too would like to see a larger variety of different zines being reviewed in each issue of XD. But I kinda understand the reality. And the reality–as I see it–is that there would need to be a bunch more quality zines being produced to justify kickin' some of the multiple issue all-stars to the curb for a while. Unfortunately, though, many a paper ream gets sacrificed for the sake of the bullshit that people decide to commit to paper. And when it comes down to it, I would actually rather just read good reviews of the usual suspects than bad reviews of works made by folks who, like those poor fools in the American Idol auditions, think that they're infinitely more capable than they actually are.
[Watches tumbleweeds blown across an unpaved road by the wind]
To anybody reading this who falls into the category of zine makers whose work has never been reviewed by XD or any other review source, step your game up. Seriously. Each zine that I've sent in has been reviewed. Some that I didn't even bother to send were bought at Quimby's or Atomic Books and still got reviewed. And let me tell you, there's no higher compliment than that.
I bring this up to say that I'm not part of some imagined "zine clique." I'm just a guy who works hard to produce good publications. To that end, I put every bit of who I am and every bit of what I think I know into what I make. Counting on my fingers how long it's been since my first zine, I've been making 'em for 14 years, and I'm as proud of that first one as I am my last. If you too put all of what you are into what you make, you will earn the validation that you think you deserve. But don't just expect to get it because you put some ink on paper. Even as great as I think my zines are, I don't just expect a review. And when I get one (well, two in XD28), I really appreciate the fact that someone took the time to read and write a considered opinion of my work. An opinion that serves as a recommendation to others.
That said, the people who write reviews like these put their opinions and their creative reputations on the line, so give 'em something that they can feel good about recommending. Do this by learning what you can from zines that reviewers have been impressed by. Or maybe you can just write reviews yourself, so that you can be a part of the change you wish to see in the (zine) world.
Back to XD28: On page 11, the ever reliable Jeff Somers writes more about himself [yawns], and then on page 13, Gianni Simone provides another informative column on the field of postal art in which he's so enthusiastically involved. If I ever manage to get to Japan, me and that guy are gonna hit up the strip clubs... er, the bookstores.
Pages 14 through 66 contain the zine reviews that we buy publications like Xerography Debt and Zine World for, and they do not disappoint. I've now highlighted a bunch of zines that I think I should check out, including Booty #23 & #24, Burn Collector #14, Fish With Legs #13 and Octopussy #1. Oh, wait. I already have that last one.
Australia's own Stuart Stratu, who's old to writing great reviews but new to writing 'em for XD (page 62), mentioned recently on his blog that this issue is so jam packed that you probably won't read it all in one sitting. I thought the same thing, too, but got so engaged that I laid on the couch with a yellow highlighter and read it from cover to cover. The unexpected adrenaline rush of seeing reviews of my zine might have had something to do with that.
I want to also mention that I bought my copy of Xerography Debt #28 from the Microcosm website. I also bought copies of the zines 9 and Half Left #10, Shotgun Seamstress #1 and Nostromo #1, which I also hope to post reviews for either here, or at one of the review sites that invited me to contribute my–very rarely written–zine reviews.
In light of the previously observed XD connection, I'm gonna say that I am aware of the Degrassi level gossip that's out there, and purposely ignore most of it. I mean, there's business shit and then there's personal shit, and most of that shit seems like some really personal shit. From my first order, placed nearly 10 years ago, to the one placed a week ago, Microcosm has proven to be a reliable zine resource, and a radical advocate of the self-publishing culture that I love.
Kung Fu Grip! Zine