Last weekend, I surrendered my Saturday to SF Zine Fest -- an annual convention for artists, writers, cartoonists, and zine fans at CELLspace. Facing a giant room full of zines to peruse is a little overwhelming. Facing a giant room full of zinemakers watching you peruse (or not) their creations is also a tad intimidating. But I feel I made a good choice with the first zine I actually plunked down cash to keep: Your New Religion, Book II by Joe Sayers. I'd like to think that I have a preternatural ability to catch the mere whiff of excellence on the air like a cartoon hobo and his proverbial cooling pie, but really the book is made out of shiny gold paper, and it drew me in with its bling.
Happily, the inside of the mini-comic features a drawing of a break dancing egg (yes, just as good as it sounds) and so delivers on all said sparkly promises. Sayers' book is a series of witty drawings with suggestions for new deities (such as a talking bottle of liquor, Godka), and imaginings of Hell designed more to make you laugh than repent. The Your New Religion books easily scored the title for most impressive scope at zine fest: Book II literally begins with the creation of the universe, takes a quick jaunt through Hell, and ends up speculating on gods. I loved the whimsy in this send up of all things metaphysical, which, thankfully pays homage to the patron saint of originality and never once mentions Tom Cruise, thetans or Mel Gibson. Testify!
After browsing the interesting titles from Microcosm Publishing, like the new collection of Jesse Reklaw's fantastic Applicant, I ventured over to the offerings from artist Hannah Stouffer. Though without any text, Stouffer's lovely collection of sprawling visual intricacies told some of the most complex stories of the convention. In a series of black and white line drawings, Stouffer weaves scenes by placing stylish figures, like a prize fighter, and scattered accessories, like a celebratory wreath, amidst a field of swirling baroque curls and waves. Although this technique eschews traditional sequential illustration, the beautiful line work leads the eye through these layered snapshots and into an intimate world of characters and narrative flights of fancy.
But for me, a huge standout zine was Laterborn by Jason Martin. Issue #4 was available at SF Zine Fest, but I have to admit what first drew me in was a side project: part one of Nothing Ever Changes, a comic chronicling the life of young Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins fame) before his rise to stardom. Taken from Corgan's painstaking reconstruction of his own life published on his website, the comic illustrates choice moments to great effect (see Billy's telephone calls to his deadbeat dad and uninspiring work as a telemarketer), and walks a satisfying line between admiring its hero's creative journey and poking fun at his maudlin pronouncements.
Once my eyes de-misted from seeing my teenage heartthrob in his very own book of adventures, I picked up Martin's Laterborn #4, a zine of short stories and comics. Since the subject matter is mainly melancholy* memories from adolescence, it's tempting to be cynical and think Laterborn will cover the same ground trod into a muddy swamp of wounded navel-gazing by nearly every alternative comic on the planet. Not so. Laterborn managed to remind me that stories about high school and its twisted little social universe can still be moving and surprising. The zine gets at the heart of characters in pithy snapshots and sensitive emotional moments rendered with an almost alarming immediacy. Martin's drawings and lettering are somewhat spare and functional, but he manages to get more heart across than the self-satisfied hand wringing of many of his alt-comics peers attempting the same feat (I'm looking at you, Tomine).
Other highlights featured at the convention were new installments of Bay Area zine veteran and delightfully morbid Murder Can be Fun, whose latest tackles music-related death and the dark side of David Cassidy, and the always-heartfelt Rad Dad. At the end of the day, I left SF Zine Fest 2006 with a bag full of inspiring new zines and comics, their pages stuffed with flyers for a slue of up and comers I'm anxious to watch develop and hope to catch at next year's event.
* Let's take a moment to appreciate my editorial restraint by not writing this as "Mellon Collie."