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Zine review: Johnny America #8

April 5, 2011

Johnny America #8, by The Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society. Available here.

Many Sticky regulars claim that they like to buy zines if there’s a pretty cover, and some of them are even slightly ashamed of it. There’s no need to be, of course, as it’s not necessarily the sign of a shallow mindset – there’s no dishonour in wanting to surround yourself with beautiful things, after all.

I mention this because almost everyone who discusses irregular short story compilation Johnny America instore notes upon how nice it looks. And rightly so, as issue seven’s classic-looking pink-bordered affair was delightful, while issue eight’s arresting update on the rabbit/duck visual conundrum adds a pleasing speech bubble / root vegetable element to the equation. Patrick Giroux appears to be the one responsible and for that we congratulate him.

Before reaching the main bodies of writing contained within, there are other features that naturally suggest Johnny America will be an endearing read. Part of the introduction explains what the typeface is (Perpetua) and gives a brief biography of the person the font was named after (Vibia Perpetua, the patron saint of cattle); personally I can think of very few things that could attract me more to a lit zine. Also, there is a cute-looking mini zine in the centre that gives arguably over-detailed reviews of scratchcards, a Lower East Side bar and a big ball of twine. This could be highlighting the futility of critical analysis, but seeing as reviewing is what I’m doing right now I’m going to assume it’s just for a laugh.

However, like most zines reliant on freelance contributions, especially fiction, the actual content of Johnny America ends up flawed for a couple of reasons. Firstly, editors The Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society choose not to proof-read any submissions, meaning a couple of clunking mistakes that unfortunately spoil the flow of prose somewhat. It’s not disastrous, but one more read-through from a couple of the authors wouldn’t have gone amiss. Much more awkward, though, is that even with the most stringent editorial policy in the world a zine with this sort of submission process inevitably ends up irritatingly hit-and-miss.

It is still worth getting for the short stories that nail it, mind. Deserving of the cover price alone is ‘Trumble’s Brother’ by Brian Mihok, a science fiction story in the same sense that, say, Slaughterhouse Five is; essentially, in a world that looks completely plausible, something incredibly scientifically improbably occurs. It’s warm but melancholic, occasionally hopeful and flecked with humour – more of that sort of thing, please. ‘Emergency Contacts’ by Wade Ostrowski – where a meals on wheels employee neglects to tell anyone that one of his customers has died, ostensibly so he can eat her dinners – takes a couple of pages to get going but is grimly humorous and oddly moving. ‘The Warriors’ by Jonathan Holley is a curious piece too, although it ends way too early; similarly, ‘How To Be A Literary Figure’ by Matthew Salesses (about a guy who pretends to be Charles Bukowski) is engagingly written and amusing in its idiosyncrasy, but feels too much like a premise or a first chapter rather than a completed work.

Conversely there are a couple of contributions that are just, I’m afraid, a bit plain awful. ‘The Antietam Whore’, by Shawn Maddey under a variety of pseudonyms, is a crude tale of extra-marital sex (complete with a drawing of the female genitalia) told from the perspective of a complete prick; regardless of whether it is an ironic statement by a hardcore feminist or the wank fantasy of teenage jock, the writing itself is so unsubtle and misogynistic that reading it is, if not demanding, certainly not particularly enjoyable. ‘The Rise Of Super Town’ by David Henne, meanwhile, is a wishy-washy bit of sci-fi nonsense that aspires to being a cross between Animal Farm and Smallville, but is too vague and graceless to allow much suspension of disbelief. Its “laser guns are way cool!” attitude to animals dominating the earth would make it a decent comic, but as fiction isn’t really that compelling.

At least, though, these submissions are at least slightly interesting. As much as I actually like this publication, way too much is often just unremarkable. It’s not the sort of nightmare zine that is arduous to even get through, on the contrary it’s often light and undemanding, but as such these bits tend to be a bit too unsatisfying. The feel of some of the works in issue eight (that aren’t mentioned above) is like the words are sitting on the page shrugging; on repeat readings I’ll know to just shrug back, and skip to a bit I adore instead. I’m sure that issue nine will be a similar game of chance, but it’s one I’ll be more than willing to take anyway.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2011 6:46 pm

    The sad thing is they probably DID proofread the submissions. This is why a good copyeditor is worth their weight in cheese.

    Good review. And liking the inclusion of a mini-zine made me feel dirty.

  2. June 20, 2011 1:42 pm

    Hey I just found this. Thanks for liking my story.

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