a15 – Zine reviews

By Jose Fritz

Feeling trapped by the corporate narrative? Check out one of these small press works known as a “zine”. Better yet make a zine. Because why not? And if you do make one, send us a copy. We just might review it. 

Nardcore: 1981 to Infinity
76 pages – $10 shininglifepress.com

Music scenes are fleeting, ethereal things locked up in fading memories; usually only documented in yellowed zines, crumpled fliers and scuffed polaroid pictures. This zine is a canonically complete and chronological history of the music scene in the Oxnard, California area from about 1976 thru the Fall of 2023 —almost half a century of music.

I was absolutely riveted to each page, and it wasn’t even until the section on the year 2005 that I’d even heard of one of the bands: the fucking Wrath. I flipped back to the start and read each band name again. Was that Green Day? I knew more of these names than I thought. You don’t even have to be a hardcore kid to know all the names: Stalag 13, Downpresser, Minus, Nails, Offspring… You will know someone in here… there must be hundreds, and that’s before you start really reading the flyers. Oh, the flyers. He formats them mostly four to a page and there must be hundreds. It’s like an accounting of every stapled telephone pole, and every wheat pasted alley wall you’ve ever walked past. There is an entire life’s work in here, and it’s devastatingly beautiful. 

Not Our Farm
28 pages – free pdf/$5 printed notourfarm.org/resources

There is much to be said about working on a farm. I’ve done it, and it puts all other work hardships in perspective for the rest of your life: manual labor in cold weather and hot, sunburn, dehydration, sweat, dirt, chemical fertilizers, heavy machinery, substandard housing and unimaginable volumes of manure. Admittedly, this zine soft pedals the grosser parts of farming. There’s no discussion of inseminating cows, butchery, injuries, bug bites and stings, manure, or sunstroke. But it does address the bathroom situation. Most farm marketing shares a certain image of rustic wholesomeness, but it takes only two words to destroy the implied purity of all that marketing: poop kit. 

Most importantly this zine discusses in detail how to screen your future farm employer. Every farm is different and so is every farmer. The politics and values of the farm owner may make some folks feel unwelcome, possibly even unsafe. In this way the zine treats farms like any other employer. Their advice on screening is sound, and as for salary and work hours it advises to “get it in writing.”

This zine puts it all into perspective. What’s the right type of farm for you? Would you be happier on a large farm or a small one? Do you want to drive a tractor or use hand tools? Do you want to work with vegetables, animals or both? The zine gives space for all likes and dislikes, and how to find those farmers when they’re hiring. If you want to avoid cubicle life, you should probably read this.

Grow Worms – Winter 2024
44 pages – $6 justinlutz.bigcartel.com

From the first few pages I thought this was a slasher movie zine in the same vein as Municipal Threat. This is not the case, and I wouldn’t want to offend the Worm Wizard by suggesting such a thing. There are a few slasher movie reviews here but more pages are dedicated to music reviews and short fiction, the latter of which is wildly more disturbing than the underground cinema.

Mike Madrigale tells a strange and meandering first person story about the satanic cults of central Pennsylvania. Sam Richards reviews an album by Portrayal of Guilt, Evan Shelton writes an experimental fiction that reminds me of Reddit’s Interface Series. The prose here leans away from gore and toward the mindfuck category. Speaking of which… Hey! Edwin Callihan —does your momma know what you wrote? I’m not reading anything else with your byline until I get a written apology. Your writing is the type of dirty where you can’t get clean… This goddamn thing needs a warning label.
My favorite piece in the whole zine was a short treatise on the album Famine, by the band Paint It Black. It came complete with footnotes referencing Arthur Schopenhauer, Richard Pryor and Henry James to name a few. Grow worms has a powerful will to live (willie zum leben) and its no-holds-barred approach to content evokes the a priori transgressive lit zines like ExBe, Vile and even Jim Goad’s Answer Me! 

Hi-Fi Anxiety – Issues #21 & 22.
24 pages – $10

Jason Boardman makes zines like it’s his day job. The first issue came out in September of 2022 and while I was writing a review of issue 21, issues 22, 23 and 24 came out. By the time you read this I’m sure I’ll see issue 25 on Instagram. In the same year he’s created probably 25 zines, he’s also put out another dozen “fun-size” zines, special issues. Many of these have custom formatting, packaging, wrapping paper, sealed bags, or boxes. He’s an unstoppable force, like death and taxes, but wildly more entertaining. 

His fascination with zine culture, and graphic design shines through those flexi-discs, record reviews, and perzine style monologues. Like McLuhan, Boardman understands that the medium is the message, but he has the chops to back it up. Issue 21 sports a duo-tone Warhol-esque milk crate cover design with the block text “empty inside.” It’s T-shirt worthy. Issue #22 tops it, a double issue designed like a double VHS sleeve, this one full of movie posters and movie reviews. Each issue has a QR code link to an online “mixtape” thematically linked to the zine.

If I have any criticism, it’s that his emphasis on design definitely overshadows the writing. While not falling into the genre of text-less art zines, he’s precariously perched on a tipping point beyond which we might just have to appreciate artful zines while listening to well curated mix tapes. Oh the horror…

DOPE Magazine – Issue 24

22 pages – Free pdf


DOPE Magazine is a British, donation-funded mutual aid project, at least that’s what it says on the tin. It also says “Fuel for the Machine, Caskets for the Poor”; the texts astride an image of a skull superimposed on a soldier’s head. The color scheme is risograph-inspired with a hard orange clashing with a pastel turquoise on a flat cream background. On the inside it has even more punch.

Just a little context, for those not keeping up with Brexit… the situation across the pond is bad. The Tories have done more damage than the Thatcherites managed in the whole of the 1980s. The rate of poverty in the UK is double that of the US; affecting over 8 million people. In other words, the British are skint. The articles here are powerful statements on endurance, perseverance, resistance and survival. These are juxtaposed against full-page artworks, collage photos and prints. 

It opens with an essay by Matt Wilson, about the use of language for post-capitalist future. It reminded me immediately of Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: sharp, erudite, and insightful. Jay Kerr tells the story of Asel Luzarraga, a punk essentially arrested for being a Basque novelist. Morgan Trowland writes from prison the most subversive thing I’ve ever read. He feels unthreatened, and unintimidated by the system that jailed him for what should have been free speech. He is in a Zen monastery of his own making, and growing more powerful as he waits to be released. 

But there’s room in here for lighter topics as well. Helen Hester wrote a paean to the health benefits of naps. I don’t think it’s what Paul Lafargue had in mind, but I think he would still approve.

Ear of Corn – Issue 55
24 pages – $2 foodfortunata@hotmail.com

The zine Ear of Corn has been around forever. You can look up issue #1 on the Internet Archive; the date on the cover is February of 1989. That is literally before the movie Home Alone came out. Macaulay Culkin is old enough to run for President today. When a zine has been running that long it’s almost above mortal judgment. It’s from an earlier era of zines, when we still mostly called them “fanzines.”

It was an era before every zine had a glossy cover, an e-commerce platform, and multiple social media accounts. There’s an odd sort of purity in that. You have to respect that level of intransigence; defiantly resisting the unrelenting march of cultural change. 

It’s appropriate then that the first two pages of record reviews here feature The Absentees “Illegal Listening Device” and a re-release of G.G. Allin’s country opus, “EMF”. The original releases are even older than Ear Of Corn, and only someone from that era could, with a straight face, describe any recording by GG Allin as “Crystal Clear.” Similarly, the movie reviews go back as far as Dr. Strangelove (1964). But it also reviews dozens of new albums from every niche genre you can imagine…even Finnish hardcore. (Apparently that’s a thing.)

Throughout the zine, new and old sit side by side. That combination feels culturally fresh. It’s the gestalt of Generation Z to simultaneously experience all content, new and old, through memes, and samples, agnostically distilling all media into some kind of post-Clockwork Orange milk cocktail. Well done droogs, well done.

Restless Legs Inquirer – Issue 6

4 pages (8.5×11 ) – free brybry@riseup.net

This zine is the ideal size: four 8.5 x 11 pages. You can fold it in quarters and stick it in a pocket. I miss that about the old pocket-size novels. I carried it with me for a few days. Bryan’s writing has a quiet intensity that reminds me of Raymond Carver. His thoughts on “ruiners” and the narcissism of social media were both insightful and visceral. The zine ends on a lighter note with short movie reviews — one sentence each, some without punctuation. They were silly, but felt very deliberate, like haiku.
This zine came in the mail with an adorable photo zine, which tells a story as well as any crafted with words. Burroughs once wrote “Open your mind and let the pictures out” and so they have:

An image of a leg in a cast; a friendly face; images of young hipsters alternately disheveled makeup smeared and sharp, ready for their close up Mr. DeMille; a carnival, a house party; a mosh pit kicking up dust; industrial wastelands juxtaposed against the suburbs; a basement show and dancing; a man screaming into an SM58; young people enjoying life with intensity and joy — every image selected with care, and imbued with meaning.

Just a Jefferson – Issue 56
23 pages – $2 markellorhighwater@gmail.com

The first page includes a list of 42 contributors spread across 20 U.S. states and 5 other countries: Greece, India, Japan, Russia, and Turkey. The contributors here don’t contribute poetry or prose. They ask each other questions; many are about reading, writing or course but most of them are exceedingly random: odd foods, fish stories, favorite songs beginning with the letter “O”, bad customer service and good TV shows. Presumably other issues cover favorite songs beginning with the letter “R” and bad TV shows. The whole zine seems deeply committed to randomness which is a cause I can support, whole cults have been founded on less. 

Node Pajomo – Issue 2.8

38 pages – $5 

P.O. Box 2632, Bellingham, WA 98227

The cover of issue 2.8 is an artfully blurred image of a bearded man. On prior covers, we’ve seen parts of this face before. It reminds me of Freda Khalo’s iterations. Warhol and Maplethorpe both also engaged in frequent self portraiture. Somehow this one has a Rasputin-like intensity. Several pages later he walks it back with a Lester Bangs quote “The first mistake of art is to assume it’s serious.”

Like a good mail art zine, odd-sized bits of paper fell out of the envelope and all over my desk like confetti: tiny stickers, an ode to unrequited love, a pamphlet on non-binary child rearing, a square of wrapping paper, two more stitched together, a tiny flyer in Italian, another in German… I’m lost in a blizzard of colorful confetti.

I am also pleased to report that the font size has been increased, making Node Pajomo an easier read. As a certified old person it’s a comfort to my eyeballs. In this issue were reviews of zines on every conceivable, and even some inconceivable topics: Led Zeppelin bootlegs, beefs, linocuts, comics, language, Brooklyn, NY, drugs… It feels like a microcosm of everything. How do you wake from reading a zine about a zine about zines? Can you ever come back all the way? Does some part of you get left behind every time you try?

Out From the Void – Issue 6

32 pages – $5  Outfromthevoid@yahoo.com

On the inside cover, this issue advertises that Brenton Gicker guested on the true crime podcast “The Murder Sheet,” which I listened to while writing this. The recording opens with a content warning “This episode contains discussion of murder, suicide, mental illness, drug and alcohol adiction and possible sexual crimes against children.” This same warning could easily sit on the cover of his zine. Brenton was in good form, and advocated well for people at risk.

The zine opens with a feature by Gicker, a solid 8 pages about missing persons in The McKenzie River Valley. It and a few other pieces were previously printed in the Eugene Weekly. Even the gothic poetry, which fills out the last few pages, is reprinted from other sources. Not that Gicker is hiding it. Every work is properly dated and attributed. So I’ve come to see the zine as curated work catering to Gickers interests. 

The focus of this issue isn’t just missing persons. There’s an excellent tell-all by Bob Keefer about what Reagan’s defunding did to mental hospitals in the 1980s. That’s followed by a news piece from the Chris Hedges Report about millionaire Healthcare CEOs reducing care, while crushing nursing unions. These are about systemic issues in healthcare that do lead to higher mortality rates, and to more missing people. It does contrast a bit with the poetry about feral cats and government peanut butter, but that can’t be helped; we’re not all poets.