Thursday, December 15, 2005

Strategical Thoughts Part I

One can't understand the ULA and our battles without understanding OUR history and background in the zeen scene of the 1990s.

The most interesting new aspect of the literary scene of that decade was the rise of "zines"-- self-published tracts and pamphlets. Fanzines had been around since at least the 70s. It wasn't until the publicity generated by the Seth Friedman version of Factsheet 5 that the media mainstream began giving the resurgent print underground notice and attention.

ULAers like Jeff Potter, Tom Hendricks, Yul Tolbert, Owen Thomas, Jack Saunders, and myself-- and ex-ULAer Doug Bassett-- were minor but representative figures in this new literary movement. (I had a short essay in F5 in 1995 which examined 19th century forerunners of zines.) Stars of the movement were phenomenons Doug Holland and Aaron Cometbus, who, along with Friedman himself, were based in the San Fran Bay area.

"Cometbus," who traveled the country selling zeens, spreading the message like Johnny Appleseed, quickly became an almost mythical figure-- as did Doug Holland in San Fran, who would sell hundreds of copies of his "Pathetic Life" zeen at street fairs. Holland was at the very center of underground literary activity-- a new bohemia-- in that city. The striking point about both Holland and Cometbus-- beyond the fact that both were excellent writers-- was that they both embodied in their lives and ideas the "Do-It-Yourself" philosophy. Both writers began to attain mainstream attention as far away as New York City. Doug Holland being profiled in the ultra-hip Interview magazine was a sign that this wave of zeendom had arrived.

It must've dawned at some point though, on the literary establishment and attached media puppets in NYC, that neither writer was a likely candidate to be bought-out (though lesser figures like Pagan Kennedy and Lisa "Suckdog" Carver certainly were). Holland went in the other direction with his creation of Zine World: A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press. (Long-time zeenster Michael Jackman, himself an excellent, grittily-real zeen writer, served as Holland's #2.)

An Analogy: Remember the rise of a small card company named Recycled Paper Products? Using a couple original cartoonists, this company made the giant Hallmark look stale and stodgy. Though the market share taken by the upstart must've been miniscule, the giant reacted by issuing inferior knock-offs-- near carbon copies in some instances-- of what Recycled Paper Products was doing.

How did the literary monopolists react to the rise of print-zeensters? Did they manufacture an inferior copy in order to co-opt us?

Stay tuned.

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