Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Advanced Brains: Hardcore Punks Against Dead Guys The Role-Playing Game

By Jesse Harrington

We approach the building. It looks empty, though was that a light on inside? We'd heard this was a good place to put on shows, but I'd never been to one before.

We try the doors. Locked. I remember hearing something about a key hidden somewhere so we check the alley around back, but there doesn't seem to be anything there. We search more of the grounds and eventually find the hidden key holder.

It's also locked.

The lock on this one is a combination lock. We try a couple of variations, hoping to figure out what the right combination will be, but with no luck. Then I remember a friend! We give her a call and she tells us the combination. We're in!

We stumble around inside, before managing to get the lights on. Hey! This would be a good place to hold shows. We start setting up for playing music and scrounge up some cables and manage to hook up the ancient equipment we find. Success!

And then more people showed up and we were able to actually start playing Advanced Brains, a game where we broke into an abandoned building in order to put on a punk show.

This is a homebrew RPG that is pretty extensive in the rules it includes, and I have no idea how well it would work if you'd never played something like this before. I had to keep checking back and forth through the book to find out what the players should do when a security guard starting chasing them, or how being drunk would affect their combat against zombies.

However, everyone that played had a blast, and playing an RPG in which you go dumpster diving, shoplift alcohol, crash vans into zombies, and play punk shows (poorly) was really fun. After we finished the adventure included in the book, we started going through the rest of it and trying out various things we hadn't had a chance to do (dine and dash! smashing more things!).

The consensus seemed to be that it would be fun to just play the game without any plot ("Let's go dumpster diving!"), and see where it grew from there, instead of following a premade story. I can certainly see the appeal of that, and the number of actual RPG campaigns that have been sidetracked by any number of things is countless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Empty Orchestra no. 1

By Cheyenne Neckmonster

Personally I'm not really a big fan of karaoke. Or at least I'm not a fan of the style of karaoke most common in North America. I'm not really a big fan of bars in general, so going to one and watching people I don't know sing songs I don't know or like seems like a pretty horrible way to spend an evening. Plus I don't particularly want to stand up and sing in front of strangers either.

But something I do like is reading Cheyenne's zine about karaoke. Feeling that karaoke was not a big enough part of her social life, she spent a summer dragging her friends and co-workers to karaoke nights all across her city. And then she wrote incredibly in depth and awesome reviews of them all. How awesome? So awesome I bothered to type up the entirety of the first one so that you can read it yourself, because I don't think I can describe the charm of this zine in my own words. If you like this there's a bunch more in the zine itself and you should definitely check it out.
Todd's karaoke Bar and Grille is on Lane Allen Rd, nestled behind a Home Depot, in the same strip mall complex as a Big Lots, a game shop called The Rusty Scabbard, a Chinese Restaurant that always looks closed, and Cash America Pawn & Check Advance. The cultural epicenter of a bottom-rung commercial Bermuda Triangle. Though location is somewhat peculiar (as is the decor - a leftover assortment of holiday decorations that never get taken down), it somehow adds to its charm. The crumbling parking lot, the closed storefronts of pawn shops and nail salons, the battered cars assembled out front, arranged haphazardly, as if the occupants were so eager (or drunk) that they felt no need to heed traffic etiquette: these conspire to enhance, not detract from, the full Todd's experience.

Todd's doesn't open until it gets dark, which is probably for the best. The sticky, carpeted floor, duct-taped seats and tattered tablecloths wouldn't be as endearing if exposed to sunlight. In fact, I think they might deteriorate. It fancies itself a "Bar and Grille." They get the "bar" part spot-on, standard choices like Bud or Bud Light, Coors or Coors Light, Miller or Miller Light, cheap vodka, cheap whiskey, canned juice, and soda. But the "Grille" part? I think they might have had some bags of chips somewhere. I'm glad I didn't go expecting actual food.

The first time I went to Todd's it was the summer, and the last dying rays of the day kissed the tinted windows as the door was opened to the smoking, hollering regulars outside. I stepped in, head down, and found a table at which to peruse the song selection. The hefty binder sat, spine broken, rings off-kilter like cracked ribs, on a table in the corner. Little slips of paper and failing ballpoint pens were strewn on various tables from the parade of nights before. I leafed through the wavy pages, trying to decipher the tiny print in the poor light, and waited for my friends to arrive. Three Library & Information Sciences students, a co-worker, and one guest made it to the bar. That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Anyway, we poured over the collection in the fading daylight that snuck in from the parking lot. Vague wafts of old cigarettes and car exhaust swirled around and mingled with the musty carpet and stale beer smells. I ordered a Miller High Life and scribbled some tiny letters and numbers onto a slip of paper, which I gave to a man sitting in front of a computer attached to the bar. Turns out he was Todd.

A guy walked by our table with a box of delivery breadsticks, making small talk with us in order to brag about being a professional singer who came to Todd's to keep his vocal cords strong. He knocked out the crowd, not with his song selections, which were pretty weak and modern, but his range, which was impressive. He introduced himself as Josh.

Alanna, a fellow LIS student, was classically trained in stinging but had never done karaoke. Eager to get more people on the stage, I insisted that she choose a song and give it a shot. She choose a song from the Phantom of the Opera. When it came on, Josh ran into the bar from outside, exclaiming to us -- "This song has a male and female part!! Should I get up there??" To which I could say, "YES!! DO IT!!" He faltered. "But, does she know me? Won't that be weird?" I shook my head. "No, it's not weird, we know you! You're Josh!" That was convincing enough for him, and he swept the mic off its stand just in time to start "All I ask of You."

The force of both of their strong, well-trained voices overpowering the cheap synth version of an opera song brought the bar to a grinding halt. Everyone sitting at the bar gawked at the stage, unable to process what was unfolding at the back of the room. People leered in from outside. Nobody at our table knew what to think. It was kind of beautiful, the two of them, the meek library-in-training and the self-assured, fashionable dude, singing like they had a real audience instead of a mostly empty bar, standing easily onstage in front of the broken chair and the tinsel curtain and poor lighting, wiping the grimy edges of the world away for a second.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Peach Melba #s 32, 33, & 34

By Pearl
PO Box 74
Brighton, UK

Three more issues of the most regularly produced zine I've ever seen (one issue a month for three years!). Amazing! Especially when you discover that Pearl is only 15. I don't know what I was doing at that age. Reading a lot of comics and playing a lot of video games. Wait, that's exactly what I do now. Dang, maybe that is why I make so few zines...

On each issue's cover Pearl features a postage stamp. I'm not sure how she chooses these but these issues have some pretty awesome ones! There's one for Alan Turing (there's a neat statue of him in Manchester), and one for the Fantastic Mr. Fox (as illustrated by Quentin Blake). The last time I noticed the stamps on the things I sent it was when I specifically requested ones that didn't have the British royal family on them.

Each issue of Peach Melba is filled with lots of different types of lists. These issues include a drinking game based on UK politics (wait, how old is Pearl?), some of Pearl's life goals ("drink gin", "win a game of Scrabble"), characters from ancient myths, London Tube stations that contain all five vowels (only four!), and a "Mystery List" of letters and numbers. What do they mean?! Secret code? Library reference guide? I have no idea. Clearly I am no Alan Turing.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Triumph of Our Tired Eyes #1

By Amber Dearest

(I'm in Montreal right now, so clearly it's a good time to review a zine by  Montreal resident. Though, admittedly, she did make this zine in Halifax.)

The Triumph of Our Tired Eyes is the new zine by Amber Dearest, who was the creator of the long running Culture Slut zine. Amber came to the Roberts Street Social Centre earlier this year and stayed in our shed for two weeks working on this zine and other projects.

A lot of perzines deal with depression and other mental health issues. These can be tough things to read about, and tougher still when you know the person who wrote them (should I have noticed? Was there anything I could have done?). In this zine Amber says that she never knows if she should tell people who ask how she really feels, and I think it's interesting how she won't tell her friends about her feelings, but she will write them down so that strangers can read them. Many other people (including me) have done the same thing, and it's kind of strange to think about why this happens.

Amber also writes about dealing with sobriety, writing letters, gentrification, punk femme aesthetics, and more.

This isn't my favourite zine by Amber; I feel that it's too slight to be a satisfying read after some of the other issues I've read. This is despite the fact that I know that this issue is shorter because it was made under a tight deadline as part of the residency program, and that reading more about her depression would have made me feel worse. Still, I look forward to reading the next issue when it's finished!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hewin' a Nutshell: Tales from Past Lives

By Hew

Perzines are a pretty common thing in the world of zines. (Probably the most common thing.) People writing about their own lives, what they're doing, and what they're thinking. But there really is a difference between writing about what you did for yourself (in a diary or something) and writing for other people. Everyone's personality and viewpoints will colour their recollection of events (and eventually you end up with memories of memories that might have little to do with what actually happened). Writing for an audience can create an extra layer that separates the written word from reality, as you edit what you want other people to know about.  At some point I'd love to read two different zines that cover the same event, and see how different people recall and put emphasis on different things.

What a ludicrously long introduction.

This zine is a perzine, but in some ways it seems more "authentic" than other perzines because it is mostly just reproductions from Hew's old notebooks. There's still an editorial process as he chose what to include and what not to, but none of the content was originally created with others in mind.

There's a collection of things from various to do lists ("build 2 sawhorses"), random poetry and lyrics, things Hew had written down to look up and never looked up (something I know all too well), and random stories and doodles. It's pretty chaotic, but there's some neat stuff in here too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chase the Sun #2 Westwarder-Bound

By Emily

So those of you blessed with amazing powers of observation will notice that the title of this post differs from the text on the picture above. This is because I, in my infinite wisdom, managed to scan the back cover instead of the front. And I'm too lazy to go scan it again.

When I went to Portland a few years ago I used the Zinester's Guide to Portland. I thought it was a pretty awesome guidebook that told me where lots of cool things were. I've travelled quite a lot, and used guidebooks that told me little that actually interested me (Lonely Planet's guide to Japan being the most disappointing*), so I was excited to use a guidebook that told me where all the vegetarian restaurants and thrift stores were.

When I went back to Vancouver I drew and made my own guide to the city. It was fun to make, though it could have been improved in about a million ways. I left copies in a bunch of places, and one of my friends said that they gave copies to people that visited them.

This zine made by Emily is similar in many ways. It's a tiny zine she made for her friends who visited Vancouver. It tells you about vegetarian restaurants, parks, libraries, used bookstores, and other neat stuff. I enjoy how personal it is (the guide on how to get back to her house and the phone numbers in the back mean I can't just give this to other people), though a more general one would have been good too.

Ultimately, I love travelling to cities and I love zines, so zines about cities are one of my favourite things. You should definitely make a zine guide to your city and then send me a copy!

*When it talked about castles and geisha-girls being the Japan of "your imagination" I realized I had the wrong book. The Japan of my imagination is full of robots, neon, and comic books.