In honor of Needles and Pens' 9th birthday, I went on a Twenty-Three Dollar Adventure, a zine-reviewing approach pioneered by Suzanne Kleid on KQED Arts in 2008. For my own zine adventure, I doubled down and bought ten zines. Half were recommended by Needles and Pens' co-owner and zine specialist, Andrew M. Scott, and the other half were selected by my wandering eye. Surprisingly, it was a challenge to find zines published by women, but after some digging, I left the shop with a well-balanced pile. After poring through each little book, I confirmed that my zine taste leans toward the more illustrative side. Here are the ones I liked best:
Read This to Get Your Enjoys, Number 3 by Maria Forde
It starts with a dedication to her grandmother, Eileen, and ends with portraits of manly, funny men like Louis C.K and Kenny Powers. Maria Forde is a San Francisco artist from Iowa who is beloved on the zine scene and takes special care with the details. This edition includes a bonus mini zine stapled into the middle, and a pocket in the back that holds a coupon for one free sunrise -- a reminder that the best things in life are free (and apparently the best zines in life are nine dollars because this was my favorite).
Untitled by Shawn "AKO" Whisenant
On top of the pile of zines recommended by N&P was a small stitched and folded gem by my pal, Shawn. "AKO" is the one person I know who truly lives like a starving artist. He doesn't get regular jobs and prefers life on a shoestring budget with the freedom to skate and make art. He's into stitchwork and doesn't use a sewing machine. He just hunkers down with a little Walgreen's sewing kit and gets busy with his two hands, emphasizing the labor of love in his work. Behind its crafty sewn cover, the zine has color copied pages of Shawn's artworks (paintings and collaged works with paper found on the street, like bus tickets and wet paint signs) and photos from his SF neighborhood adventures.
Permanent Vacation 2 by The Viking
You could say this zine looks like a neatly stacked pile of garbage stapled together. Stickers, receipts, to-do lists, and paper bingo boards make up this publication, which is exactly why I liked it. Reading it was like going through someone else's wallet without feeling guilty. Some pages were photocopied but others had original hand-drawn doodles and tags. In the middle was an airmail envelope with a Loteria card tucked inside, and discovering it made me feel like Nancy Drew; like I'd just found an inconsequential clue. I tracked down The Viking's Flickr and learned that Permanent Vacation 2 also includes the work of some pseudonymed colleagues: "Safety First, Optimist, Morgan, Have, Aider, Spesh and others."
All Deez Femalez Crawl by Amanda Verwey and Solid Silver by Matt Runkle
This zine is a split mini-comic by two artists. Half of it is described as a "music video" by Amanda Verwey, and when you flip the book over, it's a whole other story about teenage silver medal winner, Louie Jean Johnston, which was written and illustrated by Matt Runkle. It's printed in white on black paper, and there's a transitional page in the middle of the book where the two artists' characters drift into each other. I was taken with Amanda's drawings of exaggerated, toothy party girls engaged in debauchery; crawling in piles of cash and booze. I suspect this "music video" in zine form is an ironic look at celebrity culture, and I appreciated the details, like tiny photocopied twenty dollar bills, and nice renderings of Alexander McQueen's infamous Armadillo shoes.
The Fashion Book of Early Death, Volume 2 by Emily Goldface
This zine contains eleven paintings printed in color, is bound with golden thread, and is technically only four pages long. Printed on the back is a clue about the title: "The Fashion Book of Early Death is a magazine dedicated to the most current trends in ritualistic death masks. For authenticity, all models are nubile young virgins, ripe for sacrifice." It seemed to be another comment on celebrity culture, and I looked up Emily Goldface's blog to find that she's staged live action fashion-death-mask photo shoots.
Pages from Books and Creep Club Fold-Out Zine by Jay Howell
San Francisco misses Jay Howell, who moved from here to L.A. to start work on his own Nickelodeon cartoon show. This zine is folded accordion-style and has a crowd of creeps on one side, and samples of Jay's funny drawings on book pages on the other. If you're a fan, this is an affordable way to add a frame-able Jay Howell print to your collection. And it's reversible!
My zine adventure made for good summer reading. For those who enjoy the heady ramblings of intellectual strangers, I apologize. I was in the mood for tactile fun and pictures, which is the criteria I set for my review selection. The rest of the pile is free to the first four people who send their mailing address and a nice message or compliment to artsed@KQED.org.
Needles & Pens is located at 3253 16th Street, between Guerrero and Dolores Streets in San Francisco. Open every day from noon to 7pm.