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This zine rules in hell!

My date with two teenage masters of xerographic mayhem


The local DIY rag Dunk and Piss is the bastard spawn of two Chili kids with punk rock on the brain and too much caffeine in the veins. It's funny, and packed with tales of adolescent frustration, obscenities, weirdly charming anecdotes, zine reviews, curmudgeonly quotes, and an ongoing section called "Short Stories for Short Attention Spans."

            At 4.25 by 5.5 inches, up to 64 pages per issue, this fine Xeroxed periodical is compact and easy to use. But, as editor Alex Yoshi informs us in issue number six, it can serve more than just reading purposes. "Dude," one of his readers told him one day, "I don't mean this as disrespect or anything, but we were out of toilet paper the other day and I used your zine to wipe my ass!"

            The fact that Alex ran this little episode on page one indicates just how seriously the Dunk and Piss crew takes its work.

            The infrequently published zine, which is up to issue nine, is both a labor of love and a total throwaway. Cut and pasted on comic book pages, the text of Dunk and Piss sprawls and meanders like a sermon delivered by a drunk. Brain-damaged stick figures pop up here and there, along with a few semi-pro strips. But it's mostly just Gates-Chili High School students Yoshi and Mike Hideous (who provides a regular column about horror movies, called "NY Dungeon") ranting about the vagaries of middle-class teenage life. (Alex and Mike insist they be referred to by their assumed last names.)

            Main topics: sex and the lack thereof, petty crime, punk rock, family weirdness, other zines, caffeine, mutant teens, and the local scene. It's literate and cretinous at the same time. It's disposable, yet Alex spends a lot of time putting it together. And it's cheap. For the price of a Little Debbie snack cake, you can provide yourself with hours of fine reading. And yeah, it's just the right size to fit on the back of the toilet.

Huh? What's a zine?

Certain principles apply here. A zine, to be a zine, must be low-tech and low-fi. The slicker it gets, the more suspicious the average zinoid gets. Yeah, Maximumrockandroll can be purchased at Borders, and these days it's the best source of zinic info. But MRR still looks pretty rough around the edges, and the editors encourage readers to buy issues from small outlets, not big chains.

            A zine almost never makes money. Producing one is not so much an avocation as an obsession. Why would somebody spend endless hours keyboarding, cutting, pasting, copying, and stapling when they know only a few hundred copies will reach readers? Not for fame and fortune, that's for sure. These don't exist in the zine world. Zines exist because their creators have to get out the word. Whether it's punk rock or veganism, weird sex or anti-war politics, disability rights, pleas for understanding, or raw spews of rage, the zine is the direct hit. It is unmediated, unapologetic, and untamed.

The secret of Dunk and Piss (or, how to make a zine)

You can follow Alex's lead: Type thousands of words into your computer. Make sure you mention your band at least a dozen times (17th Class! 17th Class!). Include references to your parole officer, troubles with your hairdo, CDs you like, kids in school who scare and/or annoy you, and complaints about how miserable it is to live in your town (sample: "There's nothing to do in Chili. You can get drunk or break stuff. We weren't popular, so we broke stuff.")

            Then print all your verbiage and slice it up into little strips. Buy some old comic books (Drunk and Piss faves: Monsters on the Prowl, Creatures on the Loose, Where Monsters Dwell). Using a glue stick, fasten all your deathless prose to the chopped-up comic pages and lay them out on the four quadrants of an 8.5-by-11 page.

            Get your mom to copy it at her office. Or go to a copy shop that uses, as Alex calls it, The Honor System (hint: avoid places that rhyme with "stinko"). Make a few hundred copies. Cut them up into little pages, collate, and staple.

            Alex and Mike move most issues of Dunk and Piss by selling them at school for 50 cents. (They'll send one to you in the mail if you send them $1.) They'll also go to amusement parks and toss them off the Ferris wheel. 17th Class shows have become a good place for the Dunk and Piss crew to move a few copies, as well. Once they've distributed between 300 and 400, Alex and Mike will start to think about the next issue.

Way below radar: Jet Alert

The stimulant of choice for the Dunk and Piss-ers is good old-fashioned caffeine. But Alex and Mike are not what used to be called "coffee achievers," discussing life and literature over a cup of liquid gentility.

            Mountain Dew in one fist and strong diner joe in the other, Alex pours America's favorite legal drug down his throat as we talk. Mike pulls out his latest Kmart purchase: a couple boxes of Jet Alert caffeine pills, the official drug of Dunk and Piss.

            At only $3.29 for 90 caplets, this is easily the best buzz-buy on the market. The packaging declares that Jet Alert is "Easy t' take" and is "preferred by night crews."

            According to Pat Vogels, spokesman for Jet Alert's manufacturer, Wendt Labs, Jet Alert is a value brand competing with the more expensive No-Doz. Typical customers for Jet Alert are "older citizens looking for a pick-me-up, something to get them started in the morning," Vogels says. Alex and Mike are in good, respectable, company. Vogels also says that "police, health care workers, and military people" like the value and kick of Jet Alert. Less comforting to contemplate are those "workers in hazardous industries" who like Jet Alert, too.

            The package contains this reassuring statement: "The Appointed Panel of Government experts agreed Jet Alert active content is safe for fast pickup." When asked about this endorsement, Vogels said that he couldn't say which panel or even which government gave such grammatically flamboyant assurance.

The golden days

It was during the Reagan era that zines began to percolate from (in legendary zinester Bob Black's phrase) "beneath the underground." Predecessors were homemade music mags and mimeoed science-fiction fan publications. But with the explosion of cheap xerography, anybody could be a publisher. And anything could be sent through the mail.

            Perhaps inspired by the bizarre, alternative postal system in Thomas Pynchon's novella The Crying of Lot 49, thousands of weird, self-published objects began to circulate in the '80s. And I began to collect them.

            One day I received the complete forensic photos of Jeffrey Dahmer with a Post-it attached, saying merely "wanna trade?" Documents three inches thick, flimsy homemade postcards, scrawled messages, and beautifully rendered works of art --- the ugly, the brilliant, the idiotic, and the sublime --- floated through the US mail before the Internet worked its homogenizing powers on personal expression. (Internet zines, or eZines, are now scattered across the Web by the thousands. But many of them are far more polished and, of course, missing the tactile qualities that make printed zines unique.)

            Hakim Bey, with a few dozen books to his pseudonym, is my favorite prophet to emerge from this milieu of freedom and wildness. He wrote of the postal-marginal network as follows:

            "There's something magical about the mail --- voices from the Unseen --- documents as amulets --- and something very American, democratic, and self-reliant --- mysterious urban folklore --- old ads for AMORC in crumbling yellow magazines --- Hoodoo catalogues, dreambooks --- ancient spirits of place intersecting with modern communication networks that are placeless, spooky, and abstract. And the mail itself now seems antique --- a lost modernity, 19th century, sepia, violet ink --- a fitting medium for the transmission of secrets.

            "Do-it-yourself Enlightenment? Why not? It may not be the best way or the only way, but it is a way. A genuine vein of initiation runs through the 'plane' where one finds Dr. Bronner's soap labels, the lost Books of Moses, the apocryphal grimoires of Marie Laveau, Hollow Earth theory, old Theosophical journals, Noble Drew Ali's Moorish health-products, the mail-courses of Druids and occult orders, millenarian tracts, mysterious classified ads, Mexican lithography, etc."

Short stories for short attention spans (from Dunk and Piss 5)

1. One time, a few years ago, my mom was reading a book in her room or something. Being the constantly bored kid that I was, I scrawled on a note: ENJOY THESE MOMENTS, THERE'S NOT MANY LEFT.

            She thought it was cute or something. My mom loaned the book after she was finished with it to some lady she knew at work. Also, she absent-mindedly left the note that I wrote in the pages of the book.

            Later, I found out that my cute little playful note made that lady piss scared. I felt bad for writing it. I didn't want to make her worry. Unfortunately, the next few weeks for her were spent in nerve-wracking fear for her own life.

            Not too long afterwards, I found out that the lady died from a heart attack. No lie.

            Kinda weird.

2. Being the loser that you all know I am, I recently visited the Web page and while I was there, I didn't exactly find a girl in the Rochester area.

            But I did stumble upon some profile from a girl who was straight edge and would only date someone else that was nailed to the proverbial X. ("Ow! Someone nailed that to my hand! What the hell is --- an X?")

            That wasn't the odd part. That's pretty normal, actually. But she made some comment like, "If you live near the blah blah area, you probably know me as the one-armed punk rocker. For a picture, go here."

            My curious side got the best of me and I hunted down a picture to see if she was kidding. She wasn't.

            On this Web page were pictures upon pictures of this straight edge girl with one arm. I looked at these pictures with a hopelessly puzzled look on my face, and wondered where she put the second X. Maybe on her stub, near the end of it. THAT would be punk rock.

            It reminded me of when I used to play soccer with some kid with a stub for an arm. At the end of the game, when everyone slapped hands with each other, I got to slap his stub. It was pretty cool, actually.

Nine greatest zines of all time (a random selection)

1. Heliophobe

            "The only beauty and health journal exclusively devoted to pale-skinned women." Hymns of praise to "melanin-deficient" girls, classy photos of wan redheads, vampire spreads, and Goth fiction.

            2. These Exit Times

            The official organ of VHEMT (pronounced "vehement"): the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. No, they didn't promote suicide. They just thought the human race had done enough damage to the globe and it was time for a big change. Slogan: "Live Long and Die Out."

            3. Insect

            Roy Tompkins produced some of the most disgusting and well-executed comix ever done. E.g.: Fred Flintstone's suppurating head on a spike, Bugs Bunny putting carrots where carrots should never go, and those horrible kids from TheFamily Circus with sharpened bones driven through their still-quivering torsos.

            4. Balloon Animals

            Yes, there are indeed people who find balloon animals sexually arousing. And, out of the goodness of his heart, editor Xydexx put out a few issues of this "community-oriented zine for latex fetishists with specific interest in balloons and inflatables."

            5. Moorish Science Monitor

            Secret Wisdom, crypto-Islamic lore, strange prophesies and revelations, and lots of pictures of guys in fezzes. And for a while it was published right here in Rochester.

            6. Bimbox

            Surely the boldest of Canadian zines --- unrepentantly gay, totally un-PC, vulgar, wild, and funny as hell. Where else could you find pop-up genitals, pictures of the old Bush naked and covered with clothespins, and scurrilous tributes to the Partridge Family? This one was so cool, you couldn't buy it for any price. Only those who proved they were worthy got on the list.

            7. XYY

            "Thrill-packed tales of genetic defectives!" What do Billy Graham, Jerry Lewis, Christopher Walken, Albert Fish, Joseph Stalin, and Bud Adams ("world's largest manufacturer of practical jokes and magic tricks since 1906") have in common? They were all profiled in XYY#4 and they're all REAL MEN.

            8. Murder Can Be Fun

            Death, death, and more death. Well-researched and well-written, it had a much longer run than most zines. Sample titles: "Bloody World of Mormon Cults," "Target: Andy Warhol," and "Karen Carpenter: she's skinny, she's sexy, she's dead."

            9. Mondo B.M.

            The craziest, most obscene and obsessive periodical ever produced. Though a number of zinoids have searched for the truth, to this day, no one knows who produced this bizarre Bible of Scatology.

Unfortunately, all of these are long out of print. But to get hooked up with some current mail-order marginal madness, send a few bucks, or your own self-published masterpieces (zinoids love to trade) to:

Dunk and Piss
11 Alger Drive
Rochester, NY 14624

PO Box 460760
San Francisco, CA 94146-0760

Hoi Polloi! Skazine
PO Box 13347
Rochester, NY 14613-0347

A message for you: Hoi Poloi! Skazine's John Vaccaro

Call it a "skaclopedia," if you will. With a precise attention to detail and an unwavering love of the skankin', rude-boy, back-beat idiom, Rochestarian John Vaccaro has pounded out Hoi Poloi!Skazine on an annual basis since 1996.

            Hoi Poloi! is a veritable ska reference guide, jammed with show reviews, record reviews, banter, commentary, interviews, lists, and musings almost exclusively from Vaccaro himself. Laid out in a slicker and more concise manner than with the cut 'n' paste anarchy of standard zines, Hoi Poloi! still has that DIY feel.

            Vaccaro puts out roughly 250 copies of each issue. And though there are no official avenues of distribution, word of mouth, touring bands, and underground ska networking have put Hoi Poloi! in hot little hands all over the world, in places as far away as Indonesia. The zine is not a lucrative business venture, or a vehicle to promote any particular band, but rather a labor of love of ska.

            "I felt it needed to be done," Vaccaro simply says.

            Though Vaccaro acknowledges the power of the almighty web (he writes for the eZine, he still digs paper-based zines the most.

            "There's something about having it in print," he says, "about holding it in your hands." He even admits to having been initially "sort of anti-web."

            Vaccaro pays to print his zine entirely out of his own pocket, despite the presence of plenty of national and local ads. He collects no money from advertisers, only the $5 cover charge. (He also collects a lot of free CDs --- roughly 30 percent of the music reviewed is from discs comped by labels). He believes charging labels and retailers would add unwanted pressure and obligations.

            "I would feel forced to put it out every month," he says. "That's the same reason I don't take subscriptions. I just don't have confidence in selling enough copies, I guess."

--- Frank De Blase