Zines: small circulation magazines, cheaply produced and self-published, collaging appropriated designs and text for minority subcultural interest. Little magazines of the weird. The content of my creative life can be found in five zines from 2006-2010.
What do we really measure our lives by? The psychological melodramas we compose of our lusts, our egomanic accomplishments, the meaningless consumption of emotionally-draining work, the screen and pint-based media of distraction? Our family and friends, and the disputes and worries felt with both that consume time and wonderfully really give some structure and event to our lives. Or the future: kaleidoscopic visions. Or substantive and redemptive sonnets of who we are now (first verse), and who we should be, where we should be (second verse), maybe some maudlin section about lost love, or boredom, or longing – some humourous and catchy imagery, waiting for someone to finish in the bathroom maybe, or a pub queue, the phrenological features of passers-by. Or some insignificant political or community issue to which our actions can have no effect to whatsoever, but make our banal views seem somehow important and worth subjecting one’s time and behaviour towards. The damp poetics of 10pm skyscapes, hunger rattling through the synapses, an old song on the mind, a moon that knows us wickedly better than anyone else, perhaps with the exception of our closest confidantes aged 15, the perspiration of plans shared together and worked towards, a book, a play, a plot to grid time against and progress over. Of course a third of the world lives in acute poverty, and when you have the health and the wealth living is far more easy and dreamy than it really ought to be. Meat-head/method narcissism: words addressed to no effect. But why’s that so tough? I love all this emptiness and wouldn’t abandon it for the world. It was better than supporting a football team and is the textual equivalent of an inferior Zounds live recording. What do we measure our lives by? Little. Stare too close and your eyes hurt. Eyelashes flicker, obscuring the gaze, which fundamentally is of nothing at all. Ecological armageddon, that one day it all disappears. The consolation of lukewarm tea and social democracy. A walk into the night. A message in a bottle that quickly fills with Thames water, achieving the obscurantist aim all in all. An afternoon in St. Ann’s vestry wondering what they’re doing today, the discovery of allowing time to pass without regret.
My other life: I wrote these zines from the ages of 19-23: at the same time I was in a couple of abortive bands, I studied hard. I worked in pubs, in publishing, above all with adults with acquired brain injuries. I wrote on the side, in time spared. I’ve written for longer, but I loved zines, loved discovering them at the 56a infoshop. The third and fourth issues of Savage Messiah were a revelation, I still feel their effects, that energy and style, that contrast. Rachel gave me the enthusiasm to work together on the first zine, J’en ai marre, one of the most dreadful yet curious statements of late adolescence – its faults are down to me. It’s not a bad scan: it was self-printed in such bad quality, and usually incorrectly stapled, preventing the reader from seeing about a fifth of the page at any one time. Really my writing has hardly improved since then: still all these morbid preoccupations with the flesh, alcohol, death, wretchedness and revolution. I made the zine with Rachel M, who helped with the second issue. In the first three issues I got contributions regularly from my friends Nick Donohoe, Mike O’Neill and Sarah of course, as well as various other occasional people. Look through the zines below and see.
It was about a year before I finished J’en ai marre #3, probably my favourite of them all, in late 2007. This time I worked obsessively on my own, and the zine is really a series of short stories. I gave it a bad name, ‘john marr zine’. Life and work got in the way for a while. I returned to zines at the end of 2009, making Fortunes of the sea-sick, with The Ship of Fools following about 5 months after.
Why bother with this? A good few zine fairs confirmed the minority interest of my text-heavy zines. Clearly each zine – and each one was been produced by great many hours of writing, designing, walking, supergluing – reeks with adolescent odours. A strange enterprise. But writing really is necessary, one goes mad otherwise. Well no – perhaps the writing has been a reflective aid on the process of becoming mad. The zine is a convenient format for processing and expending stress and feeling into some creative product. I left many copies of the first issue in public places – excellent correspondences ensued. That’s been one gain of doing these. Anyway with things as they are, and with projects brewing – and with the fact that I’m now running out of these – I’ve finally uploaded and scanned them online. Virtual posterity. Click the titles to read via Issuu, and below that is a little description from a previous zine distro site I used to keep up.
My most recent zine from early summer 2010. A dark and melancholy distillation of a lot of writing I was doing at this time. Features 6 for 5 – 6 pathetic stories for the price of 5, a harsh mix of styles ranging from a chicken shop walpurgisnacht, the song of a supermarket cashier, a revolutionary letter against the entire world, and plenty of spleen. Features also a biscuit review and an avantgarde story I wrote that was published elsewhere, as well as pickled kidneys, the amistad via the 149 bus, a search for the north-west passage, a new theory about nitrogen and an exclusive daft reveal of Simon Cowell’s plot to take political power !
Produced at the end of 2009, after a long period of not writing, this marked a new style in some ways. It’s a mixture of gallows humour and po-faced ennui, featuring reviews of biscuits and South London caffs, a piano nocturne I composed for readers to play at home, fragments of poems by myself and my friend Nick Donohoe, and bitty shards on Tesco Express, Fish and Chip deities and a Burial and skunk-infused tale of being a Penge clerk.
The epic John Marr zine was produced out of about a year’s worth of writing, whilst at university. It began easily but soon spiralled out of control, and the final text is huge – a huge zine produced primarily by myself, with a play from Nick Donohoe and some poems, comics by Sarah H, and some other poems by Mike O’Neill. Inside are biscuit reviews, a review of birds (I was reading a lot of occult shit at the time), features on the theatre, gentrification in south London, as well as short stories about dog racing, the beautiful Dorothea, a Woolwich burial and, the one I’m most proud of, In Vino Veritas. This zine I feel is the best I’ve made, and I reprinted it not so long ago, and there’s a few still in stock.
A dark effort which defined the style I’ve been working in since, and a solo project too. J’en Ai Marre means ‘I’m fed up’, and this one uses stark monochrome to achieve a harsh effect. Inside is a Down and Out booze review of what’s commonly referred to as ‘tramp’s lager’ or ‘rat’s piss’, alongside a biscuit review, an anatomy of lust, some comics, a poem about the A-Z, a stoic swansong and a couple of nihilistic spleen-splutterings.
The original zine I made with a girl called Rachel about 4 years ago. The production is dreadful – of the 45 or so originally made, I printed each one with cheap ink on my home-printer, and forced a tiny stapler to press each A5 edition. After initial shock that the world would not lovingly embrace our unique zine, I became quite cynical and most of these zines I left in random places or gave out – resulting in quite an interesting range of correspondence coming back. I have about 3 left now.
In hindsight, it’s actually a lot better than I remember. It wears its heart on its sleeve, and there is great poetry here from us all, as well as a spoof of the Metro newspaper, a piece on the fourth sex, some excellent comics and collages, jokes books, biscuits and bus reviews well before Smoke magazine became known for this. And a searing attack, ‘The Modern World Is Shit’, which only a far too serious and far too caffeinated 18 year old could have written.