I’m not sure if 2009’s quality crop of zines was a reaction to the sad state of print media, but it would hardly surprise me if that was indeed the case. Through casual observation, a thumb-through of the Microcosm Publishing catalog, a walk through stores like Quimby’s in Chicago, or Spoonbill & Sugartown in Brooklyn, you see that a culture thought to be dead or dying is thriving.
If you need proof that 2009 was a better-than-average year for DIY publishing, look no further than Aaron Cometbus, who published two issues of the influential zine that bares his punk rock surname this year. “The Spirit of St. Louis,” which came out earlier in the earlier half, was a welcomed shift back to the personal narrative he became known for in the 80’s and 90’s, while issue #53, a collaboration with contributor Maddalena Polletta, is also mostly storytelling, but contains one of the more fascinating accounts of the life and times of Punk Magazine I’ve read since every other publication concerned with punk rock beat the subject to death.
One writer who has possibly taken a few cues from Mr. Cometbus is Aaron Lake Smith. His “Unemployment” was recently published on Microcosm, and is laid out to look something like a Chick tract, but reads like Holden Caulfield under the influence of Jack Black’s (the writer, not the actor) You Can’t Win, or the CrimethInc. book of anarchist essays, Days of War, Nights of Love. While those associations might conjure up images of bomb throwing radicals or wandering derelicts, reading through “Unemployment” leads me to believe that the writer is a gifted observer with a talent for understanding the absurdities of everyday life, and whatever political ties he may or may not have are completely irrelevant.
What sets Lake Smith apart from what Tobias Carroll referred to as a “post-Cometbus generation of punk rock memoirists” is his ability to balance the silly with the serious. He goes through bouts of guilt that would make any Catholic jealous, and is constantly haunted by the dark shadow of capitalism. Whether or not Aaron Lake Smith is happy watching what he refers to as “the crumpled and fading empire of America” is of no matter to me, but the fact that he documents it so well is what matters.