More so than anywhere else in the country, San Francisco has been a mecca for alternative and underground literature. Kerouac and Ginsberg arrived in the city on the cusp of a revolution of literary talent. Robert Crumb published his groundbreaking counter-culture comix here, selling them on the corners of Haight and Ashbury to any Deadhead who’d give it a read. And before it was a registered trademark of mass corporate synergy, even Rolling Stone was founded in our little city by the Bay. It should come as no surprise then for its tenth anniversary Litquake would feature an event solely dedicated to San Francisco’s rich history of alternative press, with Underground Exposed: A Zine Retrospective.
Discussing their experiences in underground publishing, the panelists included veteran zinester John Marr of Murder Can Be Fun, Maximum Rock N’ Roll coordinator and columnist Layla Gibbon, the one woman force behind the long-running comic Bitter Pie, Tena Scalph, and Erick Lyle, best known for his work on SCAM and Turd Filled Donut, who’s new book On The Lower Frequencies collects some of his proudest work from the titles. Moderating the event that night was co-editor of Instant City, Eric Zassenhaus, who opened up the evening with questions of how they became involved in publishing zines. Marr recounted his fascination with strange and bizarre deaths, and how MCBF was created as a chance for him to talk about the gruesome reports he came across. Lyle responded the zines he put out were the only venue for him to write, explaining, “I was a teenage runaway, I never thought I was going to become a writer.”
Another interesting point in the discussion was Gibbon’s transition in becoming a coordinator for MRR. “I just started off as a reviewer, then I got a column, and then I’m putting it together,” she jokes. “It’s hard to live up to this thing Tim [Yohannan] created.” Other highlights included a full group discussion of print versus web zines, crazy fan mail from county lock-up, and the joys of scamming copies from their local Kinko’s.
The second half of the evening consisted of each creator doing an individual reading. Gibbon had prepared a punk rock manifesto celebrating the likes of artists she’d been influenced by, while Marr relayed some of the essential basics of serial killing he’d come across in his years of research. Erick Lyle delved into the pages of his book, reading an excerpt composed of various fan letters he’d received while publishing his zines, which resulted in an eclectic mix of downtrodden aspirations and rebellious declarations. Scalph was the final reader and passed out copies of the latest issue of Bitter Pie so the audience could read along while she narrated, added sound effects, and on occasion, her own unique breed of comedic commentary. By the end of the night every person left with a zine in their hand and at least a few stories behind them, hopefully with a new appreciation for the art of the underground and its creators.
Words and photos by Sean Logic