Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chiaroscuro Part One

By Dan Dunlap

Straight up science fiction comics are something that you don’t see that often. I’m not really sure why to be honest, but there seems to be a lack of them in the industry.

Chiaroscuro is a science fiction comic, and while at first it seems to be filled with science fiction and fantasy clichés, I felt that Dunlap actually dealt with them quite well. When the spooky monks come and tell the main character's parents that he is the chosen one and has to be taken away to be trained, they say that they’ve already arranged for them to come and live nearby so they don’t have to abandon him. When he encounters some “monsters” he immediately attacks and kills them.

This is something that bothers me more and more in video games. Why am I attacking these monsters? They’re wearing clothes and using tools, that means they have intelligence, societies, and culture. I should be studying them, not killing them! (Clearly I should be playing Ultimate Anthropologist instead of Final Fantasy).

However, Dunlap manages to throw a curveball at this trope, and it turns out that the “monsters” that Tog (the main character) attacked were actually just cattle of some form, and the people who owned them are kind of pissed off about it. This even leads to the question of whether Tog is the “chosen one” at all, or if he’s just wandering around thinking that he is. (Okay, maybe I'm reading too much into the story.)

While the overall style of the art is one that I enjoy, I found that certain panels and storytelling were a bit weak. I thought the designs of the aliens was generally fairly good, and although I’m not such a big fan of bipedal humanoids I acknowledge that creating non-humanoid looking species and their culture is a difficult task.

I do wonder how the creatures could evolve on a world which is static in space and thus half light and half dark all the time. Shouldn’t there be a huge difference in temperature between the two halves? Could a creature that evolved to survive on one half of the planet live on the other side for any length of time? (I over think everything.)

I also really like the cover logo. I think it looks really cool, and even works as a representative of the two different groups in the story inside.

Overall I liked this, and my only disappointment is that it’s only part of a story, and even as a first chapter it seems disappointingly short.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Halifax Comix Jam

I have to admit that I have an ulterior motive to reviewing these minicomics on this day. And that motive is that the next Halifax Comic Jam is happening tomorrow (January 31st), at 7pm, at the Roberts Street Social Centre (there’s more info on the facebook event page). You should come by and draw some comics! No talent is required.

Jam comics are comics that are made when each artist draws a panel, continuing the story (or not). They're kind of like exquisite corpses, except you can see what’s come before. The stories generally involved bizarre humour, often don’t make a lot of sense, and frequently just stop without any type of ending. They can still be funny though.

It’s strange reading several of these in a row, because I see that the same characters show up again and again as artists draw their own creations into the comics. I’m not sure who invented Hitler-Cat, Maraca-Squid (see above), or that weird little robot, but when they show up they tend to take over the comics.

One thing to remember about these things is that they are 18+, and I’m pretty glad that nobody saw me reading them at work.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bristol Radical Zine Fest

I've been asked to promote this zine event. There will be some rad zinesters attending!

The Bristol Radical Zine Fest

Sunday, the 12th of February, from noon til 6pm at Kebele Community Co-Op (14 Robertson Road, Bristol BS5 6JY) followed by yummy Kebele dinner at 6:30pm.

The range of stalls at the BRZF is set to be very exciting, with people coming from all over the country. Ranging from Other Asias, focusing on alternative underground Asian DIY culture, to Bearpit Zine, showcasing the work of Bristol artists. From the Swansea Feminist Network, to zines on cooking and self-defence, there will be a vast range of zines on offer to inspire, inform, entertain, empower and rabble-rouse! See the Stalls page for full details.

There are still a few places left for stalls – see the page How to apply for stalls/workshops and get in touch as soon as you can.

More info on their website.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Awaiting an Epiphany

By Rachel

The Manic Street Preachers don’t seem that popular in North America, and I don’t think I could even identify one of their songs if you played them (album covers I could maybe recognize). I understand there is something of a mystique around the band because of the disappearance/suicide of one of their members in the ‘90s, but I still can’t see what creates such love amongst their fans.

I’ve talked to several people who have friends that live in the UK who are obsessed with the Manic Street Preachers. It’s kind of bizarre to look at this fandom that makes zines about the band, gives them presents, and goes to multiple shows on every tour (and then waits for ages outside to see them afterward).

(Hell, living in Canada the idea of going to multiple shows on any tour seems absurd, but that’s mostly because in the UK you’re probably within two hours of multiple cities, while two hours from where I live wouldn’t even get me out of the province.)

Rachel clearly understands the appeal of the band, even if I don’t, and they continue to be one of the things in her life that make her really happy. Which is great! I’m not going to pretend I understand her motivations for some of the actions she does in relation to the band, but I’m sure I do lots of stuff she can’t understand either.

At the very least her stories about going to shows and meeting members of the band make me think that the Manics are very appreciative of their fans, and generally seem like nice people.

I addition to all the stuff about the Manics Rachel also discusses her chronic fatigue syndrome, which isn’t really something I know much about but which sounds pretty awful, and a not very good article that was published after she was interviewed. She felt she had been misrepresented in the article, and it makes me kind of sad that journalists will write about people in such a way.

There’s also a well written piece on extinct animals, and the ways humans are driving more and more spices to extinction. This piece also touches on global warming, and reminded me how, like obsessive Manic Street Preacher fans, I cannot understand what is going on in the minds of climate change deniers, or, worse, those that acknowledge that it exists, but are continuing full steam (or oil burning) ahead with destroying the world.

So overall this is maybe not the most uplifting of zines (though this isn't to say it's depressing either), but it’s well written, and if you’re a fan of the Manic Street Preachers you should definitely check it out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Culture Slut #25

By Amber Forrester

Recently I met Amber, the creator of this zine. I’d traded zines with her in the past, but we hadn’t really stayed in touch or anything. Just before Christmas she was visiting Halifax with a friend of mine and several of us got together and played Pirate Fluxx (as recommended by Alex Wrekk, super zinester gaming). We also went thrifting at a Salvation Army shop and found a book about feminist zines. We talked about reviewing zines (oh the hilarity!), which isn’t really a topic either of us get to talk about very much, and traded the newest issues of our zines.

Amber’s zine is a perzine, which, for those that don’t know, means it’s about her life. Sometimes when reading perzines I am impressed by the brutal honesty of the writer. They talk about incredibly personal things in their lives: their failures, their successes, their relationships, their problems. It’s kind of intimidating if you’re thinking about writing a perzine yourself, because you wonder what it is that you should be revealing in them.

In the last issue of Amber’s zine that I read she had just broken up with her boyfriend and moved to Montreal. This time (several years later), she’s just broken up with her Montreal boyfriend and is having a hard time. She’s dealing with her alcoholism (a pretty scary thing that definitely isn’t discussed amongst young people), her feelings of self confidence and self worth, and her times feeling suicidal.

It’s all pretty intense stuff. But the entire zine isn’t just about those things.

Amber also discusses her “job”, which is being a guinea pig for various medical experiments at McGill. These range from the banal (smelling things), to the downright bizarre (a test on genital pain, twice, during which she fell asleep), to the scary (all the pharmaceutical tests). She says that she’s not taking things that aren’t already on the market, but it’s still a bit scary nonetheless.

One of the things I learned while talking to Amber is that she writes and edits her text before she gets them ready for this zine. This may surprise some people who have read her zine, as the entire thing is either handwritten or done using a typewriter, but I think the extra effort really shows and makes Amber’s prose more readable.

If you're into perzines, or living in Montreal, Amber's zines are worth reading, even if there is a distinct lack of monsters and ray guns.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Plan B

By Laura Bifano

Unlike the zine I reviewed yesterday, this comic does have monsters! Or one monster at least. Clearly I am biased towards unspeakable monstrosities.

This is a wordless comic about a little girl (based on the author) dreaming about becoming a mermaid. She loves mermaids (like a certain person I know), and thinks that being a mermaid will be the best thing ever!

Of course when she actually encounters a “mermaid” she finds it is less awesome than she would hope, and her dream is irreparably shattered.

The art is fantastic, the wordless storytelling is excellent, and the story is both funny, and a little sad (the disappointment of the mermaid! The disappointment of the little girl). The price on this thing is (in my opinion) kind of outrageous, but Bifano is a really good artist (check out this amazing painting of a unicorn), and I feel like her work would be much better presented as part of an anthology like Flight, where it would be presented at a better size and a better price, and where far more people would be exposed to her work. Hopefully that'll happen in the future.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Filth Issue 2


I feel kind of bad saying this, but the thing I liked most about this anthology is the sewn binding (you can see it on the edge of the cover, it seems to have been done by a sewing machine). It’s kind of a weird thing to like, but I appreciate it when people have gone to the extra effort to do things like that.

The actual contents, however, don’t really appeal to me. There’s your average mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and some other stuff, and like any anthology or magazine you’re not going to like all of it, but in this case I didn’t like any of it.

This isn’t to say that the content here is necessarily bad, just that it wasn’t really my thing. I mean, I do read a fair bit (I generally finish at least two books a month, but I tend to prefer genre fiction (I’m reading Mogworld right now and really enjoying it!). At the same time, I do have a degree in Russian Literature, and read a pretty varied range of stuff, but I tend not to read stories about drug addicts, junkies, and people who like endin’ a lot of their sentences with apostrophes. (That is the weirdest complaint ever, but it’s true.) Why have I gone on about this so much? Because the two longest pieces in the book are about minor criminals and drug use. Not really my thing (I didn’t even like The Wire though, so what do I know).

I’m also not really interested in people telling me about how they became a single parent with four children. I just cannot understand their mindset in any way, and the piece doesn’t really delve into why the person actually had their children.

In fact, the most interesting thing in this zine, to me, was one of the characters talking about a prescription medication I’ve been on. And that was more of a “oh, I recognize that pharmaceutical name and very few of the others mentioned” than anything else.

Actually, that's not true. There was an interview with a musician that interested me enough (ie. it talks about how awesome robots and comics are) to look him up online, but, alas, I can find no mention of Music to Defend Reality from Marauding Hordes of Inter-dimensional Hostiles Volume 1. (Edit: Oh wait, apparently it was sent to me, I just found it in my "box of zines to review". It's actually pretty good. )

Again, I will say that none of the work here is necessarily bad (well, some of it is), just that the content matter really doesn’t appeal to me as it (mostly) lacks spaceships, monsters, humour (at least a type I enjoy), and characters I can relate to. But maybe you’ll like it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Entropy no. 4: Good Neighbours

By Aaron Costain

This short comic is an adaptation of one of Aesop’s fables and after reading it I realized that I know nothing about Aesop whatsoever. Well, that’s not true, I’ll list the things I do know.

1. Liked telling stories about animals.
2. Is dead.
3. From ancient Greece (?).
4. Male (?).

So I looked this person up on Wikipedia and discovered that “his existence remains uncertain”. Aha! That explains why I don’t know anything about him. Hell, people apparently can’t even decide what continent he was from (he’s been depicted as a black Ethiopian). The page also discusses how many of the fables attributed to Aesop were from other sources, and if Aesop did exist he certainly didn’t create all the stories credited to him. So in truth there are only two things we know about Aesop.

1. May have existed.
2. May have created stories.

But, we know that this specific comic does exist! It tells the story of the eagle, the cat, and the sow (pig). It’s a kind of weird story, and I can’t figure out a moral for the story other than “cats are lying jackasses, only out for themselves, and not to be trusted” or maybe “lie to other people, and play them against each other to provide for yourself and your family”. Either way, I don’t think I’m learning the correct moral from this story.

The comic is pretty cute though, tells the story pretty well, and overall is successful. Plus: drawings of cats doing cat stuff! Everyone loves that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meet Me In the Middle

By Gordon B. Isnor & Christopher C. Yorke

While reading this small zine of poetry two thoughts entered my head.

First: Poetry is weird, and usually it doesn’t really appeal to me very much (at least in written form, I have more time for it as spoken word).

Second: The repetition and word choice throughout these poems made me think that a computer wrote them.

To my surprise, I discovered on the last page of this zine that a computer did write these poems!

You can check out the website here It’s a pretty simple thing that takes in words and phrases and spits them out again in a random order. I think if someone spent time inputting a lot of different phrases they could probably create some neat stuff, but I didn’t do that.

Instead I quickly plugged in most of the words of this review in small chunks, and managed to make some poems of my own, which I think are better (or at least less obscene) than the ones in this zine.

on the last page
that a computer did
I discovered
entered my head
The repetition

To my surprise
and word choice
and usually
of poetry
I discovered

time for it as spoken word
throughout these poems
in the middle
and usually

And finally, the especially poignant:

write these poems
While reading this
it doesn’t really appeal


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monster Mash

By Dan Dunlap

It doesn’t really matter how much I write about politics or cooking on this blog, all it takes is one small comic and I realize that what I really love are monsters. Because they are awesome. Monsters for everyone!

This (far too) short comic is pretty simple. It just features pictures of monsters fighting each other. But all your favourite monsters are included! I would love to read a longer comic version of this, as long it was done in the same style and humour. I do not need to know the gritty origin of the ninja Frankensteins or the werewolf mummies.

I was recently talking to a zinester friend about zines we liked, and I wondered why I love monsters so much. I really have no answer for this, I cannot quantify my love. They are just fantastic! Which isn’t an argument that will convince someone that doesn’t already enjoy monsters, but if you do like monsters you should check out this comic. It made me really happy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Feeding the Masses: A Guide to Mass Vegan Catering

By The Anarchist Teapot Mobile Kitchen

The Anarchist Mobile Teapot are a pretty rad group of people that cook loads of food at protests throughout the UK. If you've ever read Morgenmuffel you're probably at least somewhat familiar with them as Isy is a member.

This zine is a guide on how to start a group that cooks food for lots of people. Not like twenty or thirty lots, but hundreds and hundreds lots. At the protests the Teapot attended they'd feed several hundred people multiple times a day, often while cooking in a field!

The zine breaks down large scale cooking into several sections, covering laws concerning cooking for others in the UK, transport, equipment needed, bulk food ordering, hygiene, and other things. While some of this may seem obvious at first, most of the information given is useful, in-depth, and probably not available in other cooking books.

The style the whole thing is written in is quite casual, and filled with UK slang which can be amusing/confusing at times ("leccy" means electricity). The information is generally well presented and easy to understand, though occasionally there are bits that are like "we didn't do this, but maybe it will work!", which are less useful.

Throughout the zine are anecdotes, stories, and examples about large scale cooking that the Teapot have done. Also included is a several page long account of a protest they cooked at in Scotland. It seemed pretty intense, but these stories are useful in that they show that yes, it is possible to cook for this many people, but you will have to plan for it.

There's also a large section on recipes, which admittedly I didn't look too hard at, as I don't think I'll be planning meals for several hundred any time soon. But if you are, then this is an incredibly useful guide, and you should probably get it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Samizdat Enthusiast

Did I mention that last year I was linked from a Russian blog that called me a Samizdat Enthusiast (энтузиаста самиздательства)?

As this combines my love of both zines and Russian stuff, it is clearly the high point of my blogging career.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ai Ferri Corti - At Daggers Drawn

Political zines are an interesting beast.

There are a lot of them, just go to your local anarchist bookfair and you’ll see loads, but if you go to a zine fair there are considerably fewer (maybe none at all!). I’m not saying that zinesters that go to zine fairs don’t have politics, or that their zines do not involve and discuss politics, just that, in my experience, there are considerably fewer overtly political zines at these events.

Why is this? Do the people producing and distributing these zines think that they will not find an audience at these events? Perhaps; There is frequently a dismissive opinion used in regards to people with radical politics. But I would think that going to these events and talking about your politics with different types of people would be more beneficial to your movement than going to political events and preaching to the converted.

But I digress.

I think one of the reasons political zines are less commonly seen at zine events is that they are hard reads. You might pick up a zine just because it has a cool cover, but you’re unlikely to delve into page after page of small type written in a fairly dry (if well translated) style.

If you’re reading this zine you probably already have many sympathies with the creators. This is not to paint all political zines with the same brush (I mean, people have to learn about politics somewhere), but that this particular zine is written in an academic manner and uses many terms and references that would be lost on someone unfamiliar with the ideas of anarchism. Or rather, if you’re able to understand a zine like this you probably agree with most of what it says (or are busy writing a term paper on the fallacies of anarchic political thought).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any good ideas in here (I especially liked “The most useful thing one can do with arms is to rend them useless as quickly as possible.”), and some of what was discussed made me think (how can you convince someone of alternatives to capitalism when they have no reference point for a world without money), just that it seems to use a utopian style of overthrowing the current society and doesn’t really have any real, concrete ideas (which admittedly is noted in the translator’s introduction).

Of course, if this had a perfect guide to convincing the general population of your ideals and overthrowing the current social structure then, well, it'd have already happened and we'd be living in a radically different world.

If you’re heavily involved and interested in reading about different forms and theories of anarchism, I’d say this is worth reading. But if you’re new to the idea in general I’d advise you find something more introductory to read first.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Olyollyoxenfree! A DIY Game Zine #1 and #2

Edited by Cheyenne Neckmonster and someone else

The zine world is small. A few months back I met a guy at Food Not Bombs. It turned out he'd lived on the West coast for a while and during this time (I think) he found a copy of Sugar and Snails/Slugs and Spice, an FNB cookbook I'd made while I lived in Vancouver. He'd liked some of the recipes so much he'd copied them down. Awesome!

(We'll get to the actual zine review soon, but first...)

A few years ago I picked up a zine called Best Zine Ever while at the Sticky Institute in Australia. I read all the reviews (of course!) and ended up ordering two different zines.

One of them was Sugar Needle, one of the creators of which ended up sitting at the table next to mine when I went to the Portland Zine Symposium in 2009.

The other was this one, and while I didn't stay in touch with either of its creators initially I later met, and became friends with, Cheyenne when she came to Halifax to do a residency at the Roberts Street Social Centre. Of course we didn't even realize this until she sent me copies in the mail after she left, and she realized that I was that boy from Canada who'd ordered a copy.

These two zines are filled with the rules to various games. Very few of them require any actual pieces of equipment, which is rad! However, at the same time most of them aren't really things that I'm that into. I guess I'd rather sit around a table and role dice instead of running around and hugging people. I'm not saying I'll never play any of these games, but apart from the Mafia/Werewolf/Batman one (invented in the Soviet Union!) I doubt I'd ever try to initiate any of them.

I do think they're neat and worth checking out, because even if you don't like any of the games included, maybe they'll inspire you to create your own.

I also seem to recall some sort of moose antler in the subway game, which doesn't seem to be included in either of these. Maybe it's from another issue?

(If you're in Halifax, check out my gaming group!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Breveteur: Cycling in and Around Halifax, Nova Scotia (Second Edition)

By Sarah Evans

This is a zine about possible bicycle trips you can take in the Halifax area. There are directions (that make no sense to me, as I haven’t lived here that long), blurry photocopied photos, hard to read hand writing and….

Wait, all of that makes it seem as though this zine is terrible! But it’s actually pretty neat. There are awesome fold out maps showing the routes you can take, brief snippets about historical sites of interest, anecdotes and stories about bicycle trips along these routes, and recommendations on various restaurants to go to.

Admittedly it doesn’t cover the sort of bicycle trips I’d be interested in, as most of these are all about just going for a ride in all that lovely nature (bleh) and most of the goals for people to cycle to are things like beaches (double bleh) and places to go swimming (blurgh).

As much as I love cycling, I love using it as a mode of transportation. I want to go from point A to point B, and whether Point B is five minutes away or hundreds of kilometres doesn’t really matter to me, but the idea of cycling a 100 km loop just to look at trees or whatever is entirely unappealing to me. (I’m not that big on “going for walks” either, although I enjoy walking and walk pretty much every I go.) I’d much rather have a guide to urban bicycle trips that could be planned. I know Halifax isn’t that big, but there must be some neat hidden things in the city that I haven’t seen!

So yeah, if you live in (or are planning to visit) Halifax, and want to go on some bicycle rides through the surrounding area you should check this out. I think I'm missing the second edition addition though. I'm not sure what's in that, or if it's just updates so owners of the first edition don't have to buy the whole thing again.

Monday, January 9, 2012

When You Can't Stand Yourself Walk Outside: Ten Foot Rule Journal Comix Spring 2007

By Shawn Granton
PO Box 14185
Portland, Oregon

I’m pretty sure I’ve read this issue of Ten Foot Rule before, but if I did I didn’t review it for this site (or at least I can’t find it). So here we go!

Granton’s diary comics are about cycling, travelling, travelling to cycle, writing about cycling, and going to lots of zine and small press events. He seems to do a lot of things, and makes me feel kind of lame for spending too much time playing Mario Kart (that is part of why I haven’t been writing reviews of late…).

I really miss cycling. I haven’t owned a bicycle since I left Vancouver a few years ago, and the last time I remember spending any significant time (ie. more than an hour) on a bicycle was getting lost while trying to find an art gallery outside Copenhagen in 2010. Reading Granton’s comics make me miss cycling even more. Okay, so maybe I don’t want to be cycling at exactly this minute (it’s cold! And it is raining or snowing frequently), but the general idea of cycling appeals to me. Hopefully in the spring time.

I like how enthusiastic Granton is about cycling, and how he makes it a major part of his life. I also liked the comics about tabling at comic and zine events. That’s something I generally don’t like doing, but it’s interesting to read another person’s thoughts on the process.

One neat thing Granton does while traveling is write postcards to himself. These are included here and are nice little snapshots of what he was doing on the day he sent them. Plus it’s interesting to see what postcards he chooses to send. (Gosh, can you tell I’m a mail nerd?)

Daily diary comics are interesting in that you are able to see what is going on with someone’s life over a long period of time. However, there are lots of limitations with the format. The short nature (most that I’ve read are only three panels) mean that they give a skewed view of what’s going on in the person’s life. They can focus on the macro (“I went to work.”) or the micro (“I ate an orange.”) and it’s only by reading lots of them that you start getting into the head of the person creating them. When a major life event can take up the same amount of space as a day when you stayed in bed and played video games you start to see the limitations of the form. Yet, I still enjoy reading them and getting a peek into other people’s lives, no matter how limited it may be.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Salford Zine Library


I was recently contacted by someone from the Salford Zine Library in the UK. They're looking for zine donations, and I figured I'd post their appeal here.

We are looking for new contributions all the time and If you would like your self-published work be to be part of the project then please post your contributions to:

Salford Zine Library
48 Landos Court
Gunson St
M40 7WT

Of you can check out their blog. It looks like they've made a film about zinesters!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mostly Paintings

By Sarah Scope

This tiny zine is filled with full colour photos of various pieces of art that Sarah has (presumably) created. The paintings are generally graffiti inspired and a bit hippie-ish, with swirling designs.

The standout pieces are the ones created on bits of food. Genius! Crackers that are art and not just what you eat at the opening. I wish I went to more gallery openings, free wine is awesome.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How I Fell in Breakdancing

By Aimee

This super tiny zine is the smallest I've ever reviewed on this site! It's a short comic about how Aimee started breakdancing and fell in love with it.

The art's pretty basic (at least partially due to the very small size she had to deal with), but the story is told in an amusing manner so it doesn't matter that much.

It's cute (though really too short for an actual review), and I hope it encouraged someone to start breakdancing (or doing something fun at any rate).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Suspended Like a Star

I was attracted to this zine by the plastic cover, and the way the words were printed on it.

Inside I found a poem. Or a series of poems. About a boy. And the author's relationship with him. And how it seemed to have been terrible, but at the time they might not have known this. And how they wanted to get out, but that was harder than they thought.

The text is typewritten, and placed on top of black and white images and photographs.

Apparently some combination of all these things meant that the poetry actually registered in my mind (perhaps it was those references to the postal service), and that I enjoyed this zine. Hurray!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The G20 Saga or How I Learned to Love the Club


The G20 protests in Toronto in 2010 were pretty horrible. The police abused their power (surprise, surprise) to assault, arrest, inconvenience, and infringe upon the rights of protesters and random people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It led to the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.

This zine doesn't really go into much detail about the events, the protests, the terrible conditions detainees were kept in, or anything else. It assumes you know what the G20 is, what the protests were about, and a number of other things.

But I found it worth reading because it gave me an idea that I'd never thought of before. It claims that the police abandoned police cars at strategic places because they knew they'd get vandalized/burnt. This had a three-fold effect. It concentrated the protesters efforts on something that didn't do anything, it captured the media's attention (and influenced how they reported the events), and then when the media did cover these things in a negative way it turns the viewer away from the causes the protesters supported.

Yeah, it's a conspiracy theory, but it sounds entirely plausible to me.