I have been reading, and greatly enjoying, the ADD TONER: A Cometbus Collection, published by Last Gasp in 2011 and collecting various stories, interviews and art from the long running Cometbus zine by Aaron Cometbus. This is one of the legendary publications to come out of the American DIY punk scene – specifically in the Bay Area around San Francisco – that I had always meant to read but have never gotten around to until now. What attracted me primarily to the work by Cometbus is the fact that many of the zines contain short fictional works, some issues containing entire short novels, such as the one reprinted in this collection, Lanky, which was originally issue #47 of the zine.
I really enjoyed Lanky, an episodic novella about an eighteen-year-old young Jewish punk guy (I presume modeled on Cometbus himself though he says it is not autobiography – as a fiction writer, I believe him) and his first real love, Larenka, the ‘Lanky’ of the title, as they live their lives in San Francsisco and Berkeley in 1984. Nothing much happens: the narrator works at a photocopy shop run by Iranian refugees who fled the ‘79 revolution. He listens to Millions of Dead Cops and Code of Honor. Takes acid, neglects his girlfriend, ruminates on what punk and community and life itself all means. It’s a wonderful snapshot of a time and place, a coming-of-age story with no big revelation: Larenka disappears from our narrator’s life, as inevitably she must, and life moves on.
ADD TONER also collects various interviews with people involved in the ‘Back to the Land’ movement of the 1970s and a workers; cooperative cafe in Minneapolis, various short stories all illuminating further aspects of a life lived DIY and punk, flyers (including, very pleasingly, evidence Oi Polloi visited California) and more.
It has made me slightly nostalgic for the punk and DIY community zines I grew up on in the UK – Fracture and Last Hours being the two best examples – and made me take a fresh look at the brilliant Savage Messiah by Laura Grace Ford that meshed punk zine aesthetics with London psychogeographic practice and a sense of post-gentrification doom.
I feel this is a tradition that needs to kept up and pushed forward. Maybe you’ll see something from me soon.
In the meantime I have ordered as much stuff by Aaron Cometbus as I can find, as I am eager for more.