Mixed Reviews


In 2004, Aaron Cometbus, author of the highly regarded Cometbus zine, announced that after twenty years of self-publishing his writing in zine format that he was going to pursue other avenues for that writing. Since that time, Aaron has produced 2004’s Chicago Stories and 2005’s <Mixed Reviews.

The two titles share a considerable amount from their small, pocket size format and short length to their esoteric topics, but it is the absence of Cometbus’ distinctive handwritten prose and cut-and-paste layout that previous readers will most likely notice. Instead of being a photocopied zine, the two books were published in a comparatively stale font, thus removing much of the personality of the zine. While the writing in Chicago Stories, drawn from pervious issues of Cometbus held up well despite the layout, the same cannot be said for Mixed Reviews. Most of the material in Mixed Reviews has been published elsewhere with the content drawn from recent writings in the New York Press, the Philadelphia Independent, MaximumRocknRoll, Tokkion, Rip It Up, and Round Things. Some of the writings, such as the short stories “When the Cat’s Away,” “XXX,” and “Marta” cover the same areas that the zine did—love, books, and rainy nights—and consequently are decent, if somewhat uninspired reads. However, the various reviews, with the exception of the lone book review, were not terribly interesting.

Unfortunately reading Mixed Reviews will likely only make one yearn for the days of the photocopied zine and make those new to Cometbus wonder about the hype. Readers should instead consider picking up a copy of Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus, an anthology from 2002 that includes a large selection of writings from previous issues of his zine presented in their original layout.

Aaron Cometbus, Mixed Reviews, (Internationalist Publishers, 2005).

Chicago Stories


Aaron Elliot’s Cometbus is perhaps the best known of the fanzines that once provided the lifeblood of the underground punk rock scene in the San Francisco bay area, and to a large extent, the United States as a whole. For much of its nearly 20 year history, Cometbus has documented punk culture, describing shows, chronicling the travels of the author through various punk scenes, and providing a personal documentary of punk culture. Cometbus’ success has always been that rather than simply interview bands and review records it address the intersection of punk rock and the personal and how the ideals and ethics of the punk scene manifest themselves in the author’s everyday life.

Chicago Stories collects numerous stories from Aaron’s tenure in Chicago, all of which appeared in previous out of print issues of Cometbus, and compiles them into a sharp looking pocket-sized book. However, while the stories are the standard Cometbus fare–and as such are well written–the book is typeset rather than handwritten which considerably detracts from the personal nature of the zine. Certainly longtime readers of Cometbus will recognize Aaron’s writing, and new readers will appreciate Aaron’s tales of growing old, spending time in diners, and passing the day browsing book stores, but without the “Cometbus” handwriting, the book loses the charm of its zine counterpart.

Cometbus has long been one of the best zines and Chicago Stories provides some introduction to what all the hype is about. Aaron has a knack for taking seemingly mundane and trivial aspects of both life and punk culture and making them seem at once significant and interesting. While Chicago Stories is a good way of becoming acquainted with Cometbus and the zine underground, readers looking for a more through introduction would be better served picking up a copy of <Despite Everything for a more complete anthology of Cometbus.

Aaron Cometbus, Chicago Stories, (Self Published, 2004).

Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture

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In the mid-1990s there were a number of books published on the “zine revolution,” many of which seemed more about cashing in on the new “trend” rather than exploring it in a worthwhile manner. While I read most of those books, I somehow managed to miss Duncombe’s book, which is a shame, because it is without a doubt the best of the bunch and the only book on zines I would actually recommend to people.

Duncombe relies heavily on actual zines for his content, dividing the book into chapters that cover the various types of zines that can be found in the zine underground, while admitting that such attempts at classification are always imperfect given the variety of zines. He mixes the right amount of quotes from actual zines with political/social analysis without relying too heavily on one or the other.

Duncombe is at once both optimistic about the oppositional and radical nature of zines, as well as realistic about their limited scope and their prospects for achieving influence outside of their underground scene. His analysis of the politics of alternative culture and the inclusion of various sociological theories works quite well–the book retains the sense of passionate opposition that makes zines so great while putting them into a larger context without taking the excitement out of them.

Stephen Duncombe, Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, (Verso, 1997).