Past and Future: Mineshaft #26

Posted by on February 9th, 2011 at 5:07 AM

Rob reviews the 26th issue of the comics zine Mineshaft, edited by Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri.

Two things stood out after reading issue #26 of Mineshaft, the last bastion of underground comics/Weirdo-era culture.  First, the move to a greater page count (56 pages) was made with great ease.  The editorial choice made was not to keep up Mineshaft’s frequently breathless rat-a-tat pace in adding more pieces, but rather to let select articles and stories breathe a bit.  The second thing I noticed was how editors Everett Rand & Gioia Palmieri are going out of their way to publish young talent that’s a great fit with the rest of the material.  Indeed, a couple of the short stories in this issue were some of the best I’ve read recently.

In the case of bits that had a chance to breathe, I’m thinking of the eight pages devoted to R.Crumb’s dream journal and the seven pages allotted to William Crook, Jr. as he discussed his origins and philosophy as a landscape artist.  The former was fascinating for the way in which Crumb’s dreams are haunted by visions of the apocalypse, while Crook thinks of himself as Crumb meets Hopper.  Both men are consumed by a vision of a past now gone.  On the visual end, the many intensely detailed pages from Christoph Mueller held a disturbing emotional power, as though the artist were attempting some sort of self-exorcism on paper.

Of greater interest to me were the comics by contemporary artists.  One of the stars of this issue is Canadian soldier-cartoonist David Collier.  While his own observations have always had an eccentric charm, he’s also had a distinguished career collaborating with others.  This issue focuses on that a bit, as he and his eleven-year-old son did a comic together about their time together on vacation, as well as D.Collier’s feelings about the passing of Harvey Pekar.  His insight into Pekar was an interesting one–that he didn’t spend enough time out in nature and was the poorer for it.  Collier also illustrated an autobio anecdote from the great Dennis Eichorn about booking a particularly strange geriatric comedian.  Eichorn’s eye for detailing the excesses of the odd people he has met remains his greatest skill.

The key feature of the issue was “August 1976”, by Serbian-Canadian artist Nina Bunjevac.  She has a startling, black-dominated style that she used to work out her feelings about her father, who died in an explosion that was likely politically motivated given his status as an exile who was actively trying to overthrow the Yugoslavian government.  It began by quoting a letter from her mother to her father and then segued into an unsettling series of nude images that were juxtaposed by Bunjevac’s disgust with so-called patriotism and activism.  Saddest of all was an image of her father holding her as a child, a moment of bliss shattered forever by an explosion, and as Bunjevac would argue–for what?  The comic is notable for its focus on that forced isolation, as her father was depicted nervously sitting in an empty room, simultaneously worrying about his own fate and perhaps pondering what he left behind.  There was no abstract payoff to his actions (abstract in the sense of patriotism or revolution), but there was certainly a concrete loss in the way that his family was forever shattered.  That comic was introduced by a one-pager from Serbian cartoonist Aleksandar Zograf (well-known for his dispatches from the ground when Serbia was being bombed in the 1990s), creating a bridge between history and Bunjevac’s own experiences.

Adding that international element to Mineshaft is no surprise.  For the most part, the zine tends to attract contributors who read it and immediately want to be a part of it, which in turn changes its makeup a bit more.  The international flavor of this book reveals that Mineshaft is less about a particular time and place and more about a particular mindset and aesthetic approach that has endured and has outposts all over the world.  Mineshaft is not simple nostalgia, but rather a forward-looking publication that refuses to abandon artists who may otherwise be out of style but still have much to say as well as providing a venue for their like-minded contemporaries.  In a market where most artists have to produce graphic novels to have a legitimate career, Mineshaft offers an opportunity to publish a little at a time, for editors who know just what to do with their work.

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