Letters From Old Friends: Mineshaft #25

Posted by on May 19th, 2010 at 5:33 AM

Rob reviews the 25th issue of the comics zine MINESHAFT, edited by Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri.

If you’ve read an issue of MINESHAFT, you pretty much already know whether or not it’s for you.  Any comics fan interested in the underground and post-underground/early alternative eras of comics, or anyone interested in general underground culture from the past century or so should be buying every issue.  This labor of love continues to combine cultural flotsam and jetsam from a generation of artists who may not have a regular outlet for things like short stories, drawings from their sketchbooks, short strips and other ephemera.  At the same time, this isn’t a musty nostalgia zine.  Editors Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri also publish work by younger artists whose comics fit in with MINESHAFT’S overall aesthetic sensibilities.

For example, issue #25 features art by Sophie Crumb and new strips from Elizabeth Koenig and Nina Bunjevac.  This was all dark work, as Koenig’s strip told an anecdote about living with her mentally unbalanced mother, while Bunjevac combined deep shadows and naturalism with character design that reminded me of 1930s animation.

The 1980s alternative scene was well-represented by a Pat Moriarty strip that had a number of funny-looking characters discussing global warming and a striking pointilist drawing by Jim Blanchard.  The real treasure of this issue was a new strip by Carol Tyler on the inside back cover.  It was a lovely evocation of a perfect moment on a beach with her daughter that was tinged by a sense of dread over potential medical problems.  The way Tyler subtly altered her panels to reflect the motion of waves was clever without being emotionally intrusive.

As always, MINESHAFT has a heavy presence from the 60s generation of underground cartoonists.  Their contributions are frequently quite unusual, and this issue was no exception.  Robert Crumb contributed a number of incredible drawings, including one he did of a fan who knocked on his door in France, demanding that he sign books and do a special drawing for him.  He also gave us the latest excerpts from his dream diary, which are as odd as one might think and reflect the simultaneous attraction and repulsion to sex and woman that’s a hallmark of all his work.

Kim Deitch wrote a review of Crumb’s GENESIS that was interesting in how it emphasized the influence that Basil Wolverton’s bible adaptations likely had on Crumb and spoke to Crumb’s influence as someone who experienced it first hand.  Kim’s brother Simon contributed exactly the sort of strange picture-essay that MINESHAFT is known for, regarding the dodo bird, its odd appearance and its relatively recent extinction.  Jay Lynch wrote a funny short story about the early 60s and the use of egg white as a hair-shaping tonic–and the day that it was so hot, that it fried in a friend’s hair!

This issue’s photo essay felt a little less ambitious than some past efforts, as it presented photos of extremely obscure comedians and vaudevillians.  While some of the photos were interesting in that they showed either the stink of desperation or clueless arrogance, there wasn’t quite enough context or background information to really let the reader in on what was going on, unlike past efforts.

At its heart, however, MINESHAFT is a personal project of its editors, who have just so happened to have developed friendships with a number of artists.  As such, we get to see a short story by Rand and a lovely anecdote from Palmieri about the birth of her daughter and how it allayed so many of her fears about her child’s health.  MINESHAFT is the last of the great comics zines, and like so many great zines, it’s both a form of personal expression and a personal record.  At this point, it’s become an institution of sorts.  Like many institutions, it requires support to keep it going, so let me encourage readers to consider buying back issues of this magazine, since that helps them keep it going.

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