Like Bottled Messages

OCMAs mall-walled zine scene

Courtesy of the Orange County Museum of ArtGay people have the best zines. This should be so obvious that it shouldn't even have to be said. But it's totally true!

There are dozens of zines clothespinned up in the Orange County Museum of Art's small South Coast Plaza satellite for "Zine Scene." And some of them really aren't very good at all. But the Patty Duke tributes, wherein a young and blonded Patty (clipped and copied from an ancient teen-azine) "tells you how to IMPROVE YOURSELF"? Awesome! And The Super Ted Danson Tribune, brought to you by a boy who looks like Boy George? The best! And Precisely Right: The Story of A Man's First Perm? Well, authors Lenora Jean and Pottsey may not be officially gay, but their honorary memberships should have come in the mail long ago.

Why are all the best zinesters gay? There's an easy answer, and it's the same answer to another popular question (Why are all the best circus acrobats gay?): it's the alienation, darling. Running away from your dreary, phobic little town to see the world and be a star? Gay! Sitting in your basement creating little chapbooks so as to escape—if only for one star-spangled moment—the fact that you live in a dreary, phobic little town? Gayer! Ask the purveyors of "mail art" in the '70s (which anybody could immediately and accurately cite as the forerunner to the zines that started cropping up in the late '80s) if they are gay, and they will tell you. Yes, they will say. We are gay. (In a canny move, the installers of "Zine Scene" reproduce that suburban basement right in the gallery, with fakey-fake blond "wood" paneling and sofas on which to read the works. Brilliant!)

Despite its location in the malliest of all God's malls—and next to Oilily, no less, which sells children's smocks for several hundreds of dollars that doubtless would otherwise be used to spark up a cigar—the OCMA satellite has some shredding shows. There was a run of Walker Evans' photographs for his collaboration with James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It showed starving, filthy babies, making a lie of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City." Poor people are totally dirty!

There was an exhibition of Andy Warhol's portraits, where anybody clicking their heels through the greatest emporium of riches in the West was accosted by an entire wall of vivid-hued Mao Tse Tungs. Crusty old codgers even complained, which made me terribly happy.

And now, nearly as subversively—considering its location, location, location—come the desperate mewlings from those trapped in the suburbs. They're like bottled messages. Seems you're not alone in being alone.

In a fabulously democratic call to arms ripped off from the Huntington Beach Art Center, OCMA asked local scribblers for entries to its "Zine Scene." (The original exhibit was curated for Michigan's Cranbrook Academy of Art and traveled here.) Some of the entries are incredibly poopy. (One girly zine ends with a quote from Fiona Apple, and though it's a really terrific song, it doesn't make a compelling poem.) But even poopier is Big Poop. In what could be a trenchant analysis of society's ever-devolving stoop toward the sewers but isn't, "Big Poop" is spelled out in photocopied refrigerator magnets. That's followed by "Poop It Big," illustrated with a line drawing of a toilet. Now, when my younger brother was a tender eight years old, he made me a poop cartoon for my birthday that was not just virulently disgusting—it also had extremely intelligent foreshadowing and displayed in just four or five panels incisive character development and interpersonal politics. It was marvelous. But Big Poop? The refrigerator magnets and line drawings don't have much foreshadowing, and there are no characters beyond a toilet and a roll of T.P. I guess there's something to be said for straightforward. Or maybe not.

Another, less bad one, is authorless and titleless. Its pages are stitched together by hand, and each is emblazoned with two small construction-paper cutouts in the shape of dead-body chalk outlines. The cutouts are applying the Kama Sutra to their everyday lives. It's charming but surprising in the museum-satellite context. (It also, with its wordless dirtiness, avoids the common zine plague of way too many words for the page—a prescription for an endless headache should one try to actually read the single-spaced, marginless, how-many-frat-boys-can-you-fit-in-a-phone-booth design disasters.)

There are some real stinkers in the exhibit—if you want to find out which, bring a couple of spare hours to veg on the couch and make your way through them. But more happily, there are some bizarro ones that are perfectly charming. Super Sci-Fi features a guy and girl in superhero suits that look like garbage-bag diapers. Photos of them climbing walls and such are cut on the page to make a live-action comic book. How much fun they had!

The Super Ted Danson Tribune has an article about being lost in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands—the professional traveler went there because Danson had made noise about wanting to save our li'l marsh, but the writer assumed the Wetlands were a strip club and had to survive five days in the bog with only silk shirts for shelter. Precisely Right: The Story of A Man's First Perm is a delightful photo essay chronicling Pottsey's first perm. "That is precisely right," he says at the end. "I look like Bob Dylan—thank you, Lenora!" And they hug. And of course, there's a zine for everyone. As a woman nearing 30, I was almost embarrassingly in love with Jenna C. Stephens' Boy Scout Handbook for Women Nearing 30. It had funny clips about stalking—actually taken from page 166 of the original—but it also had terribly romantic poems. In fact, Stephens has the prettiest, most romantic (and yet still wry) lesbian imagery this side of k.d. lang's moonbeam of a voice. In Reality, she says, "It would be nice to be in bed with her right now, touching her "But it's nicer to be in my own bed, alone, fantasizing about being in bed with her and touching her "I think." Most attractive of all, Stephens seems to be a happy person. In the prose poem Calcium, her doctor suggests that since she is 25 now, she might wish to begin taking calcium supplements. "This made me so excited!" she writes. "I'm a grown-up! An adult! Every morning when I take one, I just can't get over it! It's sort of just like being a real woman!" Stephens has either sent her message in a bottle or she has up and joined the circus. You can't beat unalienated like that. "Zine Scene" at the Orange County Museum of Art's South Coast Plaza Gallery (near the carousel), 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (949) 759-1122. Reception Feb. 11, 6-8 p.m. Open Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Through April 27.
 
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