Praise & Slander
Pioneers Press — Zine of The Day
Review by Jessie Duke
Sometimes we come across a zine and we’re like, “This. This is why we run a distro.” Johnny America is put together by local Lawrence folks (and fellow Rocket Grant Recipients!) Emily Lawton, Patrick Giroux, and Jonathan Holley and it hit us like a well-stocked ’fridge dropped from space. Bam. Splat. Since 2003, Lawton, Giroux, and Holley (aka the Moon Rabbit Drinking Club) have been turning the McSweeney’s vibes of their early stuff into a whole new beast that’s all their own. Funny, smart, brave, and not afraid to take big steps into The Weird, Johnny America might be the best literary zine in the country. With a great silkscreened/stitched cover and interior design by Giroux, issue 9 is hot-damn enough to give the Paris Review a run for their money (and we say this as loyal Paris Review subscribers). Seriously, smart people of the world who have a love for short stories, beautiful ideas, and nonbullshitty things: This zine is a keeper like that big fucking rainbow trout your dad’s got on his wall.
Xerography Debt # 32
Review by Josh Medsker
Then there was Johnny America, which was more of a traditional literary zine. A great read. I especially like the story (if you want to call it that), “Two Letters,” where the writer, Emily Lawton, corresponds with another, unrelated man named Lawton, and secondly sends an open letter to Alaska, asking why there are so many dry towns in a state with nothing to do. The sort of wry humor extends to the rest of the pieces in Johnny America as well. If I had to classify these stories, I would say that most of them feature a gentle turn near the end, probing the reader towards new consideration of the characters. Think “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver.
Many Sticky regulars claim that they like to buy zines if there’s a pretty cover, and some of them are even slightly ashamed of it. There’s no need to be, of course, as it’s not necessarily the sign of a shallow mindset – there’s no dishonour in wanting to surround yourself with beautiful things, after all.
I mention this because almost everyone who discusses irregular short story compilation Johnny America instore notes upon how nice it looks. And rightly so, as issue seven’s classic-looking pink-bordered affair was delightful, while issue eight’s arresting update on the rabbit/duck visual conundrum adds a pleasing speech bubble / root vegetable element to the equation. Patrick Giroux appears to be the one responsible and for that we congratulate him.
Before reaching the main bodies of writing contained within, there are other features that naturally suggest Johnny America will be an endearing read. Part of the introduction explains what the typeface is (Perpetua) and gives a brief biography of the person the font was named after (Vibia Perpetua, the patron saint of cattle); personally I can think of very few things that could attract me more to a lit zine. Also, there is a cute-looking mini zine in the centre that gives arguably over-detailed reviews of scratchcards, a Lower East Side bar and a big ball of twine. This could be highlighting the futility of critical analysis, but seeing as reviewing is what I’m doing right now I’m going to assume it’s just for a laugh.
However, like most zines reliant on freelance contributions, especially fiction, the actual content of Johnny America ends up flawed for a couple of reasons. Firstly, editors The Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society choose not to proof-read any submissions, meaning a couple of clunking mistakes that unfortunately spoil the flow of prose somewhat. It’s not disastrous, but one more read-through from a couple of the authors wouldn’t have gone amiss. Much more awkward, though, is that even with the most stringent editorial policy in the world a zine with this sort of submission process inevitably ends up irritatingly hit-and-miss.
It is still worth getting for the short stories that nail it, mind. Deserving of the cover price alone is ‘Trumble’s Brother’ by Brian Mihok, a science fiction story in the same sense that, say, Slaughterhouse Five is; essentially, in a world that looks completely plausible, something incredibly scientifically improbably occurs. It’s warm but melancholic, occasionally hopeful and flecked with humour – more of that sort of thing, please. ‘Emergency Contacts’ by Wade Ostrowski – where a meals on wheels employee neglects to tell anyone that one of his customers has died, ostensibly so he can eat her dinners – takes a couple of pages to get going but is grimly humorous and oddly moving. ‘The Warriors’ by Jonathan Holley is a curious piece too, although it ends way too early; similarly, ‘How To Be A Literary Figure’ by Matthew Salesses (about a guy who pretends to be Charles Bukowski) is engagingly written and amusing in its idiosyncrasy, but feels too much like a premise or a first chapter rather than a completed work.
Conversely there are a couple of contributions that are just, I’m afraid, a bit plain awful. ‘The Antietam Whore’, by Shawn Maddey under a variety of pseudonyms, is a crude tale of extra-marital sex (complete with a drawing of the female genitalia) told from the perspective of a complete prick; regardless of whether it is an ironic statement by a hardcore feminist or the wank fantasy of teenage jock, the writing itself is so unsubtle and misogynistic that reading it is, if not demanding, certainly not particularly enjoyable. ‘The Rise Of Super Town’ by David Henne, meanwhile, is a wishy-washy bit of sci-fi nonsense that aspires to being a cross between Animal Farm and Smallville, but is too vague and graceless to allow much suspension of disbelief. Its “laser guns are way cool!” attitude to animals dominating the earth would make it a decent comic, but as fiction isn’t really that compelling.
At least, though, these submissions are at least slightly interesting. As much as I actually like this publication, way too much is often just unremarkable. It’s not the sort of nightmare zine that is arduous to even get through, on the contrary it’s often light and undemanding, but as such these bits tend to be a bit too unsatisfying. The feel of some of the works in issue eight (that aren’t mentioned above) is like the words are sitting on the page shrugging; on repeat readings I’ll know to just shrug back, and skip to a bit I adore instead. I’m sure that issue nine will be a similar game of chance, but it’s one I’ll be more than willing to take anyway.
Piltdownlad # 4
Review by Kelly Dessaint
Johnny America #8 is a half-sized fiction and humor litzine, with pieces ranging from half a page to several pages. There is a lot of diverse material, some stories more compelling than others, which is the way of the litzine. Includes a minizine in the center with mini reviews of random objects like the world’s largest ball of twine, lottery scratchers and a bar, which was funny and surprising because I wasn’t expecting to read those kinds of reviews. Silkscreened cover and impeccable layout. I’d send them money.
Zine World # 29
Review by Clinto
A fantastically perfect collection of fiction and absurd, creative essays. “The Thing About Elephants” reminds us that the old expression “greedy like an elephant” is totally true, while the title “Things to Consider Before Waking a Sleeping Bear” speaks for itself. My favorite, “Imagined Scenarios of How My Life Will Go If You Dump Me” paints a picture of heaven where Paul Newman gives you a high-five at the gate, Jesus turns out to be a pretty cool guy, and all the angels are naked models. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go order volumes 1 – 6.
Toro Magazine — December 5, 2008
Review by Jessie Skinner
Where is the fandom for short stories? Some of the best fiction I’ve ever read has been in short form. From the most chilling tales — Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and H. P. Lovecraf’s “The Music of Erich Zann” — to the funniest (anything by Arthur Bradford), the key is brevity. It forces a story in between two walls, which may or may not be a beginning and an end — shaving the exposition that plagues many works seeking to be dubbed “high art.” Short stories can be deceptively simple, with implication coming only upon careful scrutiny.
Take, for example, the first piece in the latest Johnny America anthology, “The Battery Lickers” by Jonathan Holley. Only nine paragraphs long, it describes two youngsters removing a battery from their older brother’s smoke detector and tasting it. A disturbing bit of black humour, yes, though it took me several reads to appreciate what is really being communicated. Perhaps a comment on the nature of bad behaviour and ideas being passed from one sibling to another? Such things must go on in every household. It’s not my place to claim for sure that I know what Holley means to say, though the concise nature of the form ironically leaves much greater room for interpretation. If the author had continued, the impact of his scenario would have lessened.
The Johnny America format is reminiscent of the McSweeney’s publishing phenomenon (at least it’s a phenomenon in my mind). Not only are they both warehouses for high-quality short fiction, but work to highlight the absurdities of modern literature. Much of the fiction in this anthology functions as both homage and send-up of traditional stuffy writing, utilizing esoteric language and references without taking the idea too seriously.
James Joyce’s monstrosity Ulysses is a common target for this kind of thing, here parodied in Jimmy Chen’s “My Father’s Bloomsday.” Instead of following the path of an average Dubliner, Chen documents a day for his titular elderly fellow, complete with many exaggerated displays of ill health and a three-hour lunch break. Of course the parody is pretty meaningless without knowledge of the reference. For those of you with lives outside of the library, there is “Say, Whatever Happened to Vidal Sassoon?” (Hosho McCreesh) and “Review: Wendy’s Baconator” (Holley again).
Not every piece works — even in short form some ideas overstay their welcome — but as an alternative to what passes for “funny” in North America these days, Johnny America‘s publishing is a comfortable fit for our eyes and minds. I could go on…
Zine World # 26
Review by Katie
This set of three beautifully bound zines includes short fiction from about 20 contributors. The writing is consistently smart and creative. My favorites were the longest story, “A Funny Story of a Sad Story,” and also a much shorter piece called “Organically Red.” The stories vary in length from many pages to a few paragraphs, and most of it is both funny and insightful.
Xerography Debt # 23
Review by Fran McMillian
First of all, this is one of the best-looking zines I’ve seen a long time. Silk-screened covers and a clean and very attractive layout. I spent a long time admiring it before I started reading it. Johnny America is basically a lit zine and a damn good one at that. My favorite selections were the short stories “Hello” by G.D. Ward about a father who becomes somewhat of a superhero and “Sipping Soda in a Combat Zone” by Timmy Waldron about a very unusual contest prize.
Introduction & Review by Marc Parker
The fifth issue of Johnny America is divided into three booklets, not really out of necessity. I might have preferred a thick zine instead — eighty pages, maybe even perfect bound. That would look impressive. The dedication to writing and clean layout are what draws me to Johnny America; the content stands on its own. To have this installment divided like it is does not complement. I am inclined to use the word “overwrought.” But as a reviewer, there was an advantage. I sent one volume to Owen, one to Kelly, and kept this for myself. Neither of them were aware they were seeing only 1/3 of the product. So bear this in mind.
What I held onto (the Green Volume) showcases the effort of four gentleman. Editor Jonathan Holley begins the volume with the story “Georgie,” a post-apocalyptic tale of heroism which takes time revealing itself. Of Johnny America‘s regular contributors (with the possible exception of Emily Lawton), I find Holley to be the most skilled, and “Georgie” confirms this opinion. He displays his gifts of colloquialism and leave-the-reader-wanting-more-ism here. Well done.
Mark Brown rates lottery tickets upon the criteria of “Fun”, “Graphic design”, and “Overall value.” OK. G. D. Ward furthers the timeworn genre of “ironic, postmodern take on the superhero,” with the longish missive “Hello”. It’s an imaginative yawner — cute but identical to work being handed into collegiate creative writing classes nationwide. I’ve come to expect more from Johnny America, which is why I really can’t explain the final submission’s presence. “Sipping Soda in a Combat Zone”, by Timmy Waldron, in a word, blows. Lampooning the foibles of modern Amerika, it seems so easy. A Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speech altered via CGI into a television ad for “Peppie Cola.” A corporate sweepstakes that awards civilians a tour of Iraq, in sporty off road vehicles. I might not have finished this one.
What I wrote before, about an eighty-page and perfect bound issue, I world like to amend. Make that sixty, fifty pages. Johnny America is a bang-up zine. I just wish Jonathan would stop including all these other jerks.
Review by Indy Ana Jones
(Blue Volume) Easily my favorite of this issue’s Thug Grab-bag. Solid production values, first of all: a nice stiff cover (with uncredited art in the style of Jim Woodring) unobtrusively bound with string; a page layout scheme that’s creative but easy on the eye (this is particularly rare); the works. But of course, it’s really all about the content, right?
Right. So: the first half is Eli S. Evans’s dead-on-target academic “Theory” parody “Toward a Sociology of the Sport Spectator: A Rare and Patented Argument”; the much shorter pieces bringing up the rear include a review of (the DVD) American Bar, a handful of (literate and entertaining) short-shorts, and the laugh-out-loud Q&A column “Tom Conoboy Knows The Answers #1.” There’s more at the website in case you want to try before you buy.
Review by Kelly Froh
(Red volume) It literally took me seven tries before I got through this literary zine. The first paragraph screams annoyance. I thought, “Oh God, I’ll never get through it, I’ll never make it.” In fact, I set it aside and only reviewed it after being politely prodded by Marc. The first and longest piece in this issue is by a Japanese writer, Toshiki Kojo. It’s named “A Funny Story of a Sad Story” and it’s 22 pages long. It’s about a book that contains a sad story, but not really, because it makes people laugh, but not because it’s funny, but because it’s sad. Or something like that. The first page goes back and forth trying to explain this book’s problem. The book goes on a journey to find “the happiest story in the world” in the hopes of balancing the sadness it contains, and making the girl who checked it out from the library happy. On this journey, the book meets and talks with other books and ends up in a different library, and then in the home of a famed “book lover,” learning more about itself along the way. Half-way through I thought, “This would be a good children’s story,” and I pretty much feel the same way after finishing it. The author, Kojo, has a kind-of tedious writing style that was really hard to appreciate, but this story had its moments. The last story in the book, a one-pager entitled, “Flour Moth/Luna Moth” was really well-written and I enjoyed it very much, perhaps because of my memories of a sad box of Maggot Bran that I innocently poured myself a bowl of. I didn’t eat Raisin Bran again for years. I believe overall that Johnny America should stick to short, smart stories and essays. This volume was just too daunting for the common reader.
Fanzine Fanatique — Winter / Spring 2007/8
A magazine in three volumes of fiction, humour, articles, and reviews of books and films. Produced by an editorial team it draws in a wide number of contributors. The writing is consistently good throughout, never too serious, and mostly a good deal of fun. Production quality is high. It would be helped by a few illustrations but that’s a minor gripe.
Review by Martha Grover
At first glance I thought this literary zine looked like the rejects from the McSweeney’s website, overly cutesy and self important, but after I got past the long-winded introduction, I couldn’t put it down. And anyways, fuck McSweeney’s. Johnny America is basically a bunch of short-shorts strung together into what makes a fast-paced and edifying read. There are several short pieces on Zombies, a couple short stories and some lists (“Animals I Might Have Sex With, If I Were Trapped on an Island Without Hope Of Rescue, In Order From Least-Likely to Most”, “Acceptable Reasons that Aaron Grill Might Provide for Blowing Me Off Last Night“). Some standouts are “Plan X” by Writer X, all work by Chris Kilgore, “The Price of Gas” by Rob Burke and “Specs” by Kyle Sundby. I found one writer, Jonathan Holley a little bit of a sexist bore — but then again maybe I just don’t get it. Are all men such pricks? Maybe they are and he’s just being honest. This is by far the best of any literary zine I’ve read, and I hope it goes far. I’d like to thank every writer involved for putting their work out there into the world.
Zine World # 25
Review by Chantel
The pieces in this small sporadically published magazine are well written and intriguing. I never expect much from publications reminiscent of literary magazines, but I really enjoyed nearly everything in this one. Oh sure, there are some clunkers, but most of the writing is exceptionally good. None of the pieces are more than four pages long and most are substantially shorter, which keeps the writing tight. Highly recommended.
Second Opinion by Alan
Unique collection of over two dozen very short stories from various writers; you won’t spend more than a few minutes on any one particular piece. Stories range from escaping brain-dead zombies to meeting old acquaintances in the supermarket. And while this issue’s cover wasn’t rad enough to glow-in-the-dark, like a previous issue’s, Patrick Giroux did do a good job with it.
Punk Planet # 80
Review by Liz Mason
This lit journal subscribes to the McSweeney’s school of design: variously sized fonts, quirky use of italics and parentheses with extra little pieces of text in odd places, and “non-traditional” text placement (say, around the margins on all four sides of the title page). Even the spacing looks McSweeney’s-y, not to mention that there are tiny line drawings, not unlike those that appear in Dave Eggers Inc.’s journals, books, and magazines. Before I even got past the title page, however, I made a bet with myself regarding whether the following pages of text would be framed by a box the way that McSweeney’s books do. Sure enough, every page thereafter was framed in just the way I imagined. The sad thing is, McSweeney’s graphic style is getting tired, so Johnny America # 4 commits the unfortunate dual faux pas of being both visually unoriginal and out-of-date. OK OK, we’ve all been guilty of copying someone’s design, so I guess I can be forgive the layout and critical of the actual writing. (This is a lit journal, after all.) The zine contains a few short stories that are pretty decent, even funny. A few of them are super short, which is where it seems that Johnny America excels — namely, being short and sweet. If this was a lit journal full of the funny one-paragraph pieces I probably would be intrigued enough to not be so distracted by the layout.
Xerography Debt # 21
Review by Julie Dorn
Sometime last year, I reviewed Johnny America # 1, featuring poetry, short fiction and humor. I liked it then and I like it now. Issue # 4 is thick and sturdy, with a beautiful cover and hand-sewn spine. The writing is funny, sparse, confusing, poignant, and dense — a little bit of everything. My biggest frustration is that right when I’m hooked on the narrative or character, it ends. Most selections are too short, or a work in progress that we never get to see progress further. Especially compelling is “Hampton Inn Room 306” by Chris Kilgore, about an accountant in Waunaukee, Wisconsin on the verge of a life-altering experience, or not. I want more, or at least information on how to get more, if the selection is part of a larger publication. Still, this is fabulous bus reading and much needed evidence that fiction zines can be well-written and entertaining.
Fanzine Fanatique — Spring 2007
A magazine of fiction, humor and miscellany (who ever she is?) is how it describes itself. Certainly the pieces are full of fun and like Johnny the Moon rabbit who lends his name to this enterprise the pace never drags. OK so some of the stories are a bit macabre even gruesome but the writing is good throughout. Great.
Review by Tom Hendricks
What is it?: A magazine of “fiction, humor, and miscellany… published sporadically by the Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society, a defunct not-for-profit corporation that is currently a mere loose collective of drink and literature enthusiasts, since we failed to pay last year’s taxes and licensure fees.”
Technical Quality: 40 page booklet is solidly made and clearly printed.
Innovative Quality: Above average. Two ideas I found here that I thought were very innovative , 1.Telling a story through lists, 2. Telling a story through romance classified ads.
Review: This anthology of 27 short fiction and non fiction pieces is first rate. That is unusual for an anthology of so many writers — fifteen are listed. I found the writer(s) subject matter, humor, style and even the long length of the titles, to be the same throughout as if it isn’t many writers but one or two voices with many pseudonyms — though one of the editors assures me it is many writers. Anyway the writing is vibrant and surprisingly engaging in all the varieties here — and there are many.
There are lover conflict stories such as: “Letter to Betty J.,” “Little Redfern’s Trip to the Supermarket,” “Sewn Up,” “Elements of Destruction,” “Specs,” “The Cure for Nudity,” “The Price of Gas,” “Prehensile,” and “The Shape of Things.” There are zombie stories such as “Fulci’s Bakery” (one of the best here where a woman hides out in an abandoned bakery), and “After the Zombies Came: Day 31.”
There are stories that tell the action through lists such as “Animals I might Have Sex With, If I Were Trapped On an Island without Hope of Rescue, In Order From Least-Likely to Most,” “Acceptable Reasons That Aaron Grill Might Provide for Blowing Me Off Last Night,” and “Plan X” (another favorite, specifically the ‘Secret Gardener’ section).
There are two stories penned as romance classifieds.
There are assorted incident stories such as “Boondock 7-11” (controversy about the price of beer), “Dragged On” (smoking addiction), “Cattle Drive” (bovine eye delivery job), and “Documentary History” (filing confidential documents).
And there are fables such as “How Man Came to Know That The Merilles Fish Was Poisonous and Inedible,” “Ligament Sandwich,” and “Long Story Short: Urig and the Most Sacred of Eggs.” But listing them doesn’t do justice to the writing.
Perhaps the only flaw to this package is the art. The cover, a rabbit on a folded newspaper boat, is a little bland and the inside illustration is only so-so. But overall the good writing trumps.
Punk Planet # 76
Review by Brian Moss
Centered predominantly around short fiction pieces, Johnny America‘s third, and loosely Halloween-themed issue hosts a wide array of writers, demonstrating varying levels of ability. Similar to any slight above-average compilation, there’s an overstocking of moderate material and a couple total jams. Johnny America contains 40 pages of small-point font, meaning there’s a lot of mundane inking to sort through in order to find the worthwhile tales. The problem lies in the polar tug-of-warring in which the strongest pieces are paired with abysmal Creative Writing 101-type essays, to a mediocre end result. Aside from the fiction, there are advice columns, a little creative nonfiction, and a few reviews. The binding and artwork — including a miniature comic book insert and some skillfully executed screen-prints with glow-in-the-dark ink — provide a nice aesthetic appeal. With some tightening on the part of the editor, Johnny America could potentially rise to the upper reaches of fiction-based zinedom. Until then, if you venture into the text, prepare to do some digging.
Review by Marc Parker
#3. Scary as Hell: Halloween 2005: It’s the Halloween issue that appeared in December, that I in turn reviewed the following September. Just in time for this year’s. It’s been a while since I read this; the attractive silkscreened cover bears thorough water damage from the time my pannier fell in a puddle. That was in February. So let’s pick up the zine again and remember what so impressed me… The vignettes or character sketches or whatever you want to call them — the pieces under five hundred or a thousand words — these make the zine. Witness editor Jonathan Holley’s “Opening Scene from a ‘B’ Novella Tentatively Titled Benny Hits the Slots“. Emily Lawton is similarly talented with brevity, as evidenced by her “It Was Extraordinarily Human“: I walked in and there they were, exactly as I’d left them: sitting on the couch, watching Extreme Makeover Home Edition. It was an all-day marathon.
There is a key near the beginning, so that when you read “That Guy with the Handlebar Mustache” (by David Holub), you’ll know who Rollie Fingers is (a “pioneer of relief pitching”). There isn’t a whole lot of spookiness for a Halloween issue — some post-apocalyptic interest in zombies comes to mind. This was appreciated. In short, Johnny America outshines all the other lit zines I’ve encountered by way of this web site.
Eagerly I waited for a story in this well-written and well-presented collection of fiction to jolt me, but I kept getting disappointed. These short stories divert and amuse, yes, but they’re also awfully empty. Eventually disillusionment set in, and to cope I decided to abandon my search for incisive, personally invested writing. Instead, I just let myself get swept along by the precise language and disquieting images. That way I was able to keep reading.
I’m always really pleased to get sent zines that are put together with a bit more verve than your typical white paper and staples. Any zine printed at FootPrinters already passes as they use that nice off-white recycled paper. Johnny America blows every other zine on Earth out of the water when it comes to presentation. The cover is thick card stock and parts of the design actually glow in the dark, now that’s just shitting cool! The pages are all printed on parchment paper rather than copied and the whole package is hand bound using silk like pink thread! Johnny America is a collection of many short stories, and when I say short I mean short, some of them are barely 100 words! I found this pretty inspiring and wrote the fairly crappy short story “Round” that is elsewhere in this issue of Beat Motel. The stories range from quaint and quirky to fairly dark and brooding. This zine is pure class, their covering letter even came on a piece of premium headed paper, headed with “Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society.” I liked this zine so much I’m going to see if I can track down issues #1 & #2. It’s zines like this that keep the genre exciting, this one is definitely going in my “keep and cherish” pile.
The success of Dave Eggers’s consistently wonderful McSweeney’s has prompted other literary journals to make humor a priority. It also has inspired do-it-yourselfers to have a go at their own modest publications. Lawrence’s Johnny America — dedicated to “short fiction, humor and other miscellany,” according to co-Editor Jonathan Holley — is one such periodical. It owes a certain debt to the staggering genius of Eggers, to be sure, but that doesn’t make its pop-culture dissertations or short narratives any less enjoyable. This Saturday, the Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society (a Kansas nonprofit that supports unusual or small-run text works) sponsors a get-together to celebrate the third issue at the Bourgeois Pig in Lawrence (6 East Ninth Street). The latest contains an essay on magic, a short story about competitive-crossword-puzzle enthusiasts and reviews of Halloween records. Drop by between 6 and 9 p.m.; admission is free, but pick up the ’zine for $4.
I hate it when I have to read zines twice just to kind of understand it. But for Johnny America Issue Two, it was kind of worth it. Well first, let’s start off with what I usually like to review about a zine: the layout. The zine is beautifully made. Awesome cover and pretty paper I like to feel and smell. The font and layout is unquestionably pretty as well. Okay, now for the content: well, in their words, it is a “small publication of fiction, humor, and other miscellany” and that is exactly what it is. It is a compilation of a variety of different work from different people. With some of the content I felt they just tried to be funny, but they ended up not being so. But I can’t have everyone’s sense of humor so whatever. I don’t necessarily recommend this if you are looking for a good read, just when you are kind of bored. I can’t promise you won’t still be bored after reading it, but for some reason, you will still like the zine and not know why (or at least I did).
Xerography Debt # 16
Review by Gavin J. Grant
Best read with a beer and a benevolent attitude. There’s “Sassy, Self-Aware Metafiction” — which isn’t about Sassy the mag; one poem, and a series of “Letters and Elaborate Contracts” which border on hilarious. Yes, there may be influences of a certain TMQC zine-like thing, mostly in the high quality design and willingness to use very small typefaces, small caps, and text as a design element. I’d suggest using a smaller leading (space between the lines), otherwise it’s a beautiful, easy to read zine which sparks of people having fun. Get in on it before they get out.
Punk Planet # 67
This extremely ambitious zine is really more akin to a post-collegiate literary journal with a few typical zine flourishes. The heavy stock paper, the thread binding, and the passage at the end explaining the origin of their font indicate an attention to detail that surpasses most of its self-published peers. The main work of fiction is a bizarre series of sketches about the narrator’s sister: She takes a Persian boyfriend during the height of the Iran hostage crisis and later develops an obsession with chickens. It may sound contrived, but it’s definitely entertaining. Another writer pens a mock letter to his slain Dungeons & Dragons character (“a puny little gnome with a negative three dexterity rating”) apologizing for his demise. The editors have sprinkled a number of unconventional reviews throughout the zine, including a detailed review of the Hillcrest Elementary School Cafeteria. The two reviews undertaking a serious analysis of two newspaper comic strips may be taking ironic deconstruction too far, but then who doesn’t enjoy seeing a sober listing of Dennis the Menace’s main characteristics: “overalls-wearing, slingshot-wielding, nuisance-making.” — Designated a “Highlight Review.”
From the title page: “Johnny America is a small publication of fiction, humor, and other miscellany.” It amuses me to no end that there are reviews of an elementary school’s Tuesday lunch, William Shatner’s Has Been album and a single “Dennis the Menac” comic strip. All this under the outer guise of a chapbook, even. By the way, this issue is a pretty swell production: silkscreened covers, twine binding, nice interior paper. Also contains lots more by Emily Lawton, Mark Brown (found treasure), Derek Gray, Jonathan Holley and others.
First impressions: Nice screenprinted cover, lovely paper, impressive stab binding — very professional. This literary zine was quite interesting and I liked a lot of the writing inside. My original flip-through was disappointing, but that’s because my lazy self focused in on the shortest pieces, like the poetry, which it turns out is the weakest material in the whole issue. I truly enjoyed the segments by “Writer X” about growing up with his sister and the way he antagonized her. He came up with some genius ideas and I only wish I could go back in time and use them on my own brother. The writing styles of the main writers seem eerily similar, as can be expected from a group of friends or people that know each other well. The writing is very sarcastic, clever, amusing, cynical, but at times quite sensitive.
There’s a very funny story about a man turned on by the smell of pine and how he does his cruising at the Christmas tree lots, and then there are the reviews of single panel newspaper comics which are surprisingly quite funny (unlike the comic itself). The segment about the modern “encore” and how it has been ruined forever because it’s so expected these days was something I’ve never thought about, but I totally agree with! Why should I stand there like an idiot clapping my hands raw when I know, because the lights are still down, that the band is coming back?
This is the first literary zine that I’ve really enjoyed reading and I whole-heartily recommend it.
Zine World # 22/23 Supplement
This lit-zine delivers. Nicely hand-bound textured papers with screen-printed covers and a book of matches with the logo to boot. J.A. contains short stories, poems and humorous pieces. What sets J.A. apart is the quality of the writing; a series of little gems unfolds as you work your way through this zine, from poignant stories, to droll commentary to deeply funny reviews. As a big fan of the Oxford English Dictionary, I enjoyed “Things I Thought of Today” where James decides to sucker punch anyone who asks what he wants for Xmas with a request for the O.E.D. I loved the slice of life writings in “To Some of the Men I Buy Coffee from in the Mornings,” “Lessons Learned from the Film Ladder 49,” and “Some Beds I’ve Slept In, Part One.” A review of a Dennis the Menace comic was the cherry on top for me. Deeply analytical and written like it was an assignment for a college lit class, I found it to be seriously funny. Recommended.
Punk Planet # 64
I’ll call this a “Poor Man’s McSweeney’s” but don’t mean it as an insult. Witty, self-referential prose is wrapped up in a beautiful aesthetic. The writers editorialize on hipsters, indulge in mainstream pop-culture inanity and appreciate typographic elements, but with the air of snarky intellectualism.
Zine World # 22
A short story zine for those with a very short attention span. A few stories are just over a page long, but most are just a few paragraphs or less. Although I admire the literary vignette from time to time, I really felt here like I was reading short story starters rather than fully developed short stories. Mad, mad props for the beautiful screenprinted cover, though.
This is the first print edition of the webzine Johnny America, featuring short-short stories and mini-reviews written in a detached, ironic style that’s often quite funny. Dry humor like this doesn’t lend itself to description, though; you try explaining why it’s funny, and not only do you fail, you end up sounding like a square who wouldn’t know “funny” if it walked in wearing clown shoes. So rather than try to describe the style of Johnny America, I’m going to imitate it for this very review:
At 8 A.M., the phone rudely roused me from my hungover slumber. I rolled away from the naked blonde and picked it up. She muttered “Melvin” and fell back asleep. Good. Saved me the trouble of remembering her name.
It was Ricko on the phone. “Got a job for you. Reviewing Johnny America. It’s the first print edition of the webzine, featuring short-short —”
I cut him off. “We all read the intro. Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Contributors include Emily Lawton and Jonathan Holley. Most stories are less than a page, so it’s a pretty fast read. What do you say? Are you up for it?”
I swung my legs off the bed and sat up. “I dunno, RB. I’m still on this Untamed Highway case right now. Could be months before I’m done with it.”
That’s when he hit me with the kicker. “It’s published by some outfit calling themselves the Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society. They’re out of Lawrence, Kansas.”
Lawrence. College town. Former home of Beat writer William Burroughs. Anybody bold enough to use that locale as a literary base either has plenty of street-cred, or cojones the size of Donald Trump’s hubris. “I’ll take it, Rick.”
I could hear his satisfied smirk over the phone. “Good. I’ll have it right over to ya by bike messenger. I need the review by May 12th.” Good ole Ricko and his unrealistic deadlines.
The bike messenger showed up half an hour later. This was no small feat, since I was 200 miles away from Rick at the time. I paid him and let him collapse in a corner of the yard. When I opened the package, a couple of gimme’s fell out — a button and sticker bearing the Johnny America logo, a starry-eyed rabbit. I smirked: obvious bribes to sway the weak-minded reviewer. (Worked on me…) The first thing I noticed about the zine was the intricate cover design: like a roll of bad wallpaper, yet somehow eye-catching at the same time.
Ricko was right; it was a fast read. I was halfway through by the time the blonde came to, dressed, muttered a groggy apology, and left. Heading home to Melvin, no doubt.
In a collection of roughly forty stories, some will naturally be better than others. If you don’t like the in-depth discussion of the best way to pop a plastic straw out of its wrapper, turn the page and there’s an amusing chat with a gangsta-rapper, in which he outlines the classical roots and subtle post-feminist nuances of the word “bee-yotch.” In other words, something for the whole family.
Is it worth three bucks? Sure, why not? I mean, otherwise you’ll spend that money on a Triple-Cinnamon Latte at Starbucks, and the surly glare you get from the dreadie-kid behind the counter isn’t nearly as much fun as the submission guidelines listed in the back of Johnny America #1. No kidding.
The typeface is kinda small; not the sort of thing you wanna read on a bleary, hungover morning. But under a good strong reading light, you’ll find the stories at least mildly amusing — if not particularly deep or introspective. But hey, we can’t all be Honore de Balzac. (The anonymous editors tell us the typeface will change in future issues — but how do we know we can trust THEM?)
I started writing the review after my two-beer breakfast, and had it winging off to Ricko by my second brunch bourbon. Outraged at my excess, he threatened to send two thugs from the Zinester Mafia around to rearrange my typing fingers. Ah well. That’s how it goes: some days you’re the gorilla, some days you’re just the banana.
Published this article covering our first issue.