Before the internet, I found culture in suburban shopping malls. Tower records was my Google and I enjoyed pouring over the selection in their aisles. It wasn’t just the music though. What attracted me was the large selection of magazines they stocked. It was there that I discovered EC Comics, fanzines such as Roctober and Sonic Death, and even more lurid fare in their “adults only” section. For example, the British magazine Deadline was a favorite until my mom found and confiscated them. To her credit, she returned them to me when I was 17, but at that point I was no longer interested in Tank Girl. Tower records also published a free magazine called Pulse. At the time, that magazine featured a bunch of “alternative” cartoonists. I especially enjoyed the work of Adrian Tomine, who was really young at the time. Actually, the stuff he did for Pulse is my favorite work by him.
As a pre-teen, I also liked to sneak into my sister’s room to read her old Dynamite and Bananas magazines that she got from the Scholastic Book Club. I didn’t know this at the time, but RL Stine (later of Goosebumps fame) was the editor and some of the comics in the magazine were by John Holmstrom (editor of the legendary Punk Magazine). I also secretly read some issues of Sassy and YM. These appealed to me for the same reason I watched Beverly Hills 90210 at the time. Did I mention I was also a 90's teen TV freak?!
Hate was the first underground comic I ever purchased (again, at Tower records). Peter Bagge’s slacker character Buddy Bradley was an icon to my 14 year old self who had just discovered bands like The Lemonheads and Eugenius. Hate read like a late night sitcom that I wasn’t supposed to watch. I thought it was the greatest.
In the back of Hate, there was an ad to get a free catalog from the publisher, Fantagraphics. It was free, so I sent away for it. Soon, I was not only getting catalogs from Fantagraphics, but also their imprint Eros comix. To my surprise, Fantagraphics also published erotic comics under the Eros name (the catalog arrived as “Rose” comics). For whatever reason, I also started to get the Last Gasp catalog too, which was even weirder. I hid these catalogs from my parents and it made reading comics more exciting...they had a certain forbidden quality to them.
Teenage Gang Debs and comics by J. Bradley Johnson.
My most prized find at Tower Records was when I was 15. I bought a copy of Factsheet 5 magazine. This magazine was a pre-internet catalog of underground publications. It promised culture to be found outside of shopping malls. I studied the magazine thoroughly and this led me to ordering a brilliant self-published xeroxed comic called King-Cat by John Porcellino.
The comic came with a personal note from John himself. It amazed me that he had taken the time to do this. After all, I had only sent the guy two bucks. This was the issue that had the story Belmont Harbor, which would later become part of his Perfect Example graphic novel. Belmont Harbor was a story I related to because it perfectly expressed the teen angst I was feeling at that time and the difficulty I was having connecting to my peers.
John also distributed comics and put out his own catalog called Spit and a Half. Through that, I began ordering other zines and finding ones I felt a close affinity to.
The best of these was Jerome Gaynor’s Funkapotamus. It was a personal comic/ zine and I loved Jerome’s style. He also wrote about teenage loneliness, skateboarding, and punk/DIY culture in a way that I could really relate too. He also wrote fictional short stories in comic form that were inventive, emotional and humorous. To this day, Jerome remans one of my favorite artists of all time!
I was also very much into music and started to receive catalogs from small record labels through the mail. These included K Records, Teen Beat and Slumberland Records. I especially thought Teen Beat was cool because it was started by a bunch of guys that went to high school together. Also, all of their releases were meticulously numbered, so it was fun to collect that stuff. And some of their albums had packaging that was as exciting as the music. One of their releases, Sexual Milkshake’s Sing Along In Hebrew, came packaged with a super far-out “art” newspaper, stickers, toys and a 3-d poster. Wow!
My favorite discoveries through zines were the ones being published by Seth Bogart and Souther Salazar. I loved these guys because they were the same age as me. I was making my own comics and started to trade with them through the mail. I thought we were the only 17 year olds in the world doing this sort of thing. I was so enamored by the work of these two, I actually ended up meeting both of them in person, even though I lived 100s of miles away.
Seth wrote a really funny magazine about his obsessions with 1980’s teen movies and combined this with more personal stories about living in Tucson Arizona. The zine was called Puberty Strike and it ran for 3 issues. He did a bunch of other zines too though. One was about Macaulay Culkin and another one was about Applebee’s restaurant. I don’t know if Seth is still doing zines, but he is definitely still making art and music under the name “Hunx”!
Souther did a mini-comic called Souther Comics (4 mini issues) and also a zine with his older brother callled JUNK. His comic book was funny and I loved that I could fit in my back pocket. I wrote long letters back and forth to Souther. Eventually we ended up collaborating on a few issues of a zine we did called A Last Cry For Help. These days Souther is making paintings and traveling across the country trading stuff in a giant tortoise!
Other zines I was fond of at the time included anything by Fawn Gehweiler and Chantale Doyle. Fawn’s comics were punky and nostalgic, often making reference to Atari games or SE Hinton novels. Chantale’s comics (Misery and Vomit) were dark and poetic.
It’s a different world now that things can be found at a click of a button in front of a computer screen. However, I’m glad that I was able to make discoveries with a little bit more effort when I was younger. It was rad!!! To view some of my "classic" artwork/zines and stuff, please visit my archive HERE.
Also, I'm still making zines after all these years. I'll even have some new ones for sale at the upcoming 2012 San Francisco Zine Fest. CRRRAZY!