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Zine Review: The Shell of the Nut

The Shell of the Nut

Litzine, Zachary C. Wilkins Leonard Fresquez, 17 pgs, zacharycw@aim.com, $6

 

shellWilkins’s poem “A Behemoth of a Human Being, or, Throw my Body in the Nearest River” finds itself attached here to Leonard Fresquez’s photography with an uneven result. The combination of the two, The Shell of the Nut, is a saddle-stitched folio, ink-jet printed and a little insubstantial, produced in a run of 100 copies. Fresquez’s photography is a highlight, capturing the street life intoned in Wilkins’s poem to good effect. The photographs print well, casting long shadows of slouching figures who are seemingly unaware or unconcerned with their observer. For a quick fold on stock printer-paper, these images are certainly worth paging through.

Wilkins’s narration, alternatively, is less forgiving. He begins with the annoyingly detached observation, “He felt suicidal and considered deleting his account, but instead added quotations to his search. | ‘Noah’ | ‘Where is Noah’”. The poem’s narrative follows this homeless Noah, exploring his storied wanderings and arguing subtly that it is Noah’s insignificance which makes him exceptional. That being said, the poem can’t cast off the smugness that accompanies a narrative which sets its crosshairs against a reader’s expectations. In one example of this, Wilkins describes: “He was on his way to a birthday party, handsome as Tupac, a bright red Nintendo gun tucked in his waistband. | The cops cut him off in the middle of an intersection, and kept him face down on the hot, dirty asphalt. | Whereas, the Jamaicans who’d robbed and pistol-whipped him the week before, had propped him up in a chair”. In combination with Fresquez’s work, The Shell of the Nut has a few things going for it, but cannot escape its sense of self-importance. (Joel W. Vaughan)

Comic Review: Ball Means Appetizer

Ball Means Appetizer

Comic, Ben Duncan, 22 pgs., facebook.com/ballmeans, benduncanmadeit.storenvy.com, occasionalheadbunts@gmail.com, $10

 

ballExquisitely drawn and dementedly conceived, these 22 black-and- white pages are issued as a teaser for Duncan’s full color, 64 page Ball Means Volume 1 (separately available as of this writing). Recurring characters grace the selection of comics that range from short four-panel strips to multipage stories. An ever-smirking, oversize gumball-headed, axe-wielding character appears to be Duncan’s primary calling card, although there’s also the “shrimp with a shiv”, who appears in multiple strips.

Duncan’s cast of characters inhabits a surreal, unsettling, violent world. If dragon-hunting knights aren’t torturously liquefied within their armor by their prey’s fiery breath, they’re split head to waist by another knight’s sword, bifurcated butcher-shop style. Duncan prodigiously brings the putrefied, mutilated details of these grisly deaths to full cartoonish reality: soggy skin flayed open, dark flesh exposed like steak, charred, disfigured faces grinning, drooling, blowing bubbles.

Duncan’s work stirs a visceral reaction for me: bewildered curiosity at all the writhing smoke and gore, but also dark, creeping nausea. Much in Appetizer taps into our fundamental contingencies as meat bags, reminding us via these cartoonish surrogates just how fragile and tentative our physical existence is, and how horribly it might end. My own repulsion at the nature and vivid detail of the terrible, exaggerated violence in Duncan’s work is probably due in part to how arbitrarily it’s dished out, but it might also be because arbitrary, exaggerated, horrific violence isn’t that unusual in the real world. This is comics cast as a mirror on reality, and it’s beautiful work. (Joshua Barton)

Chapbook Review: Wax Lyrical

Wax Lyrical

Chapbook, Klara Du Plessis, anstrutherpress.com, 15 pgs, $10

 

waxThe body as self, house of ritual, object: Klara Du Plessis’ Wax Lyrical examines these representations with an eye for pragmatism. It’s an exploration of self and identity — sure. But it’s presented with a voice that lays bare the odd habitual tendencies of modern life: pubic shaving, sex, pissing the bed. It’s all in there, ripe with humour, wit and self-reflexivity.

“Feminists fuck like a real man” speaks unabashedly about social and sexual roles: “You’re always unfastening buttons you don’t need to. / It’s very manly. / You must admit that I’m good at bras. / So good at bras, it’s like I never wear them.” Du Plessis is really good at dressing large, complex ideas in simple packaging, exposing the inherent absurdity of it all like a bare midriff.

Still, she’s constructive in her ponderings, and some poems strike a more serious chord than others. Namely, “Beings not being” takes stock of personal identity with creation myths and science, but without the certainty that such archaic and authoritative tales allow: “I guess constructing a universe within my skin / is the closest I get to representing myself, / like a double of myself within myself.” Laçan’s promises offer only temporary comfort, muddled by pronouns and diagrams: a multitude of harsh assertions. But at times, the speaker comes up for air, a breath of perspective: “My body is a microcosm of the world I live in”. Yet it’s not clear if this maxim holds the positivity we’re looking for, the hopeful and easily-duped readers that we are. But eventually a conclusion is reached: “As of tomorrow I will start caring for my heart. / If you fold a piece of paper in two, / then draw half of a heart along the dividing line, / you can cut out a whole, mostly symmetrical shape. / It’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to perfection.”

Wax Lyrical has a nice cardstock cover, which houses the chapbook’s simple, clean design. And there’s a nice little illustration on the cover by Plessis, herself. Overall, I’d say Wax Lyrical is one of the better chapbooks I’ve come across recently. (Jeff Low)

Zine Review: Razorcake

Razorcake

Daryl Gussin (Ed.), Issue 93, Razorcake/Gorsky Press, Inc. PO Box 42129 Los Angeles, CA 90042, $4.00 USD

 

razorcakeThe latest issue of that *other* west coast punk fanzine brings you cover stars Basement Benders plus interviews with Aaron Cometbus, Lenny Lashley, and Eureka California. Those familiar with this mag know the format. Highlights include a sweet comic by Ben Snakepit, a transcribed Narduar interview, a cool photo of Murs, plus more reviews and top fives than you can shake a stick at. What I love about Razorcake is it is such a product of love founded in the obstinate belief print and punk rock still matters. I appreciated that co founder Todd Taylor lets his interviews go long, offering a depth of content not always present in our attention-span challenged media landscape. Hearing Aaron Cometbus reflect on his deceased parents or what his songs mean to him decades later when their subjects grew older was pretty cool. Plus Razorcake still does zine reviews which gives them a thumbs up from this guy any day. (Chris Landry)

Chapbook Review: a portable typewriter/une dactylotype portative

a portable typewriter/une dactylotype portative

Chapbook, Jill Mandrake, 12 pgs, Vancouver Desktop/Geist, geist.com, $5

typewriterJill Mandrake has created something that lies at the intersection of the concrete, typewriter and visual poetry styles. Each of a portable typewriter’s 12 entries consists of a one-liner poem/title, followed by an image that’s built from typewriter keystrokes — the ASCII art of the pre-computing era.

Decoding Mandrake’s illustrations is a bit like staring at a Magic Eye poster. It takes a minute of studying her image of a music box, for example, to realize she’s built it with the letter b (lower-case) and pound signs, mimicking the symbols for musical flats and sharps. There are a few veiled jests hiding in the snippets of text, as well. Over an image of a house, Mandrake explains: “here’s a vancouver special / it can’t help itself,” referencing a much-maligned architectural style found in British Columbia.

Such textual insights aren’t the norm, however; the focal point of this chapbook is its illustrations, and the time, care and ingenuity that must have been required to assemble them. That being the case, there isn’t much reason to return to a portable typewriter after an initial perusal. Mandrake’s creations would probably be better utilized as larger-scale artwork. (Scott Bryson)

Book Review: The Year 200

the year 200 agustin de rojasimage via restlessbooks.com


The Year 200
, Agustín de Rojas, 640 pgs, Restless Books, restlessbooks.com, $18.99

Agustin de Rojas, dubbed “the father of Cuban science fiction”, begins the last instalment of his famous trilogy with a provocation to “those who choose fear.” This dedication would seem to champion the characters in the novel who refuse to be fearful of expressing and standing by their ideologies, but by the end of the novel, it seemed to me an ironic reference to de Rojas’ own obvious fear of the disabled.

The novel describes a utopian future where the Communist Federation must face Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ style sleeper agents sent to reignite the Capitalist Empire. The communist society includes “normals”, cybernetically enhanced robot-human hybrids referred to as “cybos”, and “prims” or primitives, who choose to forgo modern technologies and society by living in nature, all of whom are free to select their own fate and future.

All of this high concept world building, along with the complex, tension-mounting plot, is intelligently and beautifully written. However, the beauty of the novel is undermined by an obvious disdain for disability, which shatters the story’s illusion of utopia. The cybos come into being in order to “fix” mentally disabled humans, who are otherwise encouraged to “give up” through suicide. Several ableist slurs are used. Individuals stripped of their souls to become vessels for the capitalist insurgents are described as “vegetables”, and modern lonely-hearts are considered “nothing more than mutilated cripples who dream of recovery, of obtaining something [they] have never known.” In de Rojas’ utopian vision, all mentally and physically disabled individuals should be cognitively or prosthetically enhanced to become communist heroes, capable of contributing to society, or otherwise disposed of through suicide.

An otherwise intriguing speculative tale describes a utopia I have no desire to be a part of. (Nicole Partyka)