A couple of weekends ago, a friend and I wandered down to the New York City Zine Fest in Brooklyn. Like me, my friend is a journalist and a product of the 90s punk-rock/riot grrl scene in which making zines was, in those dark pre-blog days, what you did with your angst and anger and more importantly, your sheer love of the music that kept you sane.
The zine fest featured a surprising number of comic creators–surprising to me at first, anyway, though when I thought about it, it made sense. Comics still work best in print, despite some good innovation in the digital forum. Zines, meanwhile, seem completely archaic–they were always artfully not-artful, badly photocopied, self-consciously printed in that same retro-obsessed typewriter font (Courier) even though few people made them on typewriters. Meanwhile, the Internet can assure faster distribution of and greater connection through ideas The zines we saw at this fest were no different than the ones we used to read in the 90s, which says something about the death of the medium. They seemed more an attempt to cling to a period in time that is past, an attempt to find a community that no longer exists. The point of the zine was the ideas, the community, not the medium itself.
So whither a zine about a comic?
Matthew Sheret has created a fanzine for Phonogram, a comic that is itself a bit of a fanzine. The first page of the zine is a screengrab (new technology! un-retro-fitting the zine!) of an iChat window between Sheret and Phonogram writer Kieron Gillen. The text:
M: Kieron, I’ve had an idea.
M: What do you think about me doing a Phonogram fanzine?
K: don’t I already write that?
The acknowledgment with just this one little page is that this is not a simple explosion of fandom, but rather an effort at a metatext from someone who is not really a fan, but a friend. It’s a consciously outdated print object containing art and text, about a print object that is made of the interaction between art and text, that is about art that is made of words and music. In that one page, Sheret acknowledges that in one sense, the creation of the zine is an act of retromancery, something straight out of the pages of Phonogram (and something disparaged therein) and that he’s going to have extra work to do to make the project live.
Yet you can pick up and read Phonogram vs. the Fans without ever having read Phonogram, or even having ever read a comic. Well, except for the fact that there are comics in Phonogram vs. the Fans, so if you read it without ever having read a comic, you’d be reading a comic in a fanzine about a comic…OK, I’m making my own head hurt.
Gillen and Phonogram artist Jamie McKelvie open up each issue of the current comic series to a guest artist and to some interaction with musicians and discussion of music, further blurring the line between the different media. Some of the writers here are comics people and some of them aren’t, and some of the pieces have to do with the comic and others are just meditations on music, magic, and media. There’s also an interview with Gillen that makes everything I’ve written here look comprehensible, and pages from a Phonogram test script. And there’s pinup art and the utterly lovely cover, above, done by McKelvie (and the lines just keep on blurring…)
Us comic fans are lovers, for the most part, of the print artifact. We’re the type of people that buy singles and trades and still lust for the deluxe hardcover edition when it comes out even though we already own two versions of the book. And so somehow a zine about a comic is an ode to that impulse in the comic fan, some of whom will want the zine just for the McKelvie cover or the original art within, others of whom will want it for the interview with Gillen or the unread Phonogram script. Media may be changing and we may be learning most of our news about comics on the Internet, but we still love and treasure the thing we can hold in our hands.
And here I am, writing a blog post on a comic website about a fanzine about a comic about music, and I’m a fan at all levels of the fanzine, the comic, and the music, not to mention that now because of having blogged about the fanzine the first time, I’m friends with Sheret and have my own IM conversation much like the one above between Gillen and Sheret. And so the metatext stretches to another medium, another format, another friendship forged through writing about music as magic.
Or you could discount all my pretentious blathering here and just pick up a copy of the zine at San Diego Comic-Con and read it yourself. It’s lovely, and even if you haven’t read Phonogram, you get art and a bunch of excellent writers musing on just what makes music magic. Regardless of medium, it’s worth your $5.