V. Vale of RE/Search on Piltdownlad

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From the RE/Search Newsletter #118, September 2013:

This year’s San Francisco Zine Fest seemed particularly poignant in that more people than ever before came up to yours truly and gave him (that is, me) their zines. Plus looked me full on in the eye. Now in this day where so-called virtual reality has replaced so-called real life, the above is not to be under-rated. About 150 years ago if you wanted to hear a real human speaking to you, you would have to be in the same room (or at least nearby). Therefore you could note their total physiognomy, body language, gestural vocabulary, nuances of vocal inflection, eye movements, smell (if any) and a thousand other subtleties (and obvious-ities) telling you WHO THE PERSON REALLY WAS. (Unless the person is a skilled psychopath; the kind Burroughs talks about who can con you super-fast out of anything you have.)

Monday morning I became ill – therefore a perfect excuse to lie in bed and read all the zines. By luck, the first one I read had a fire to it so contagious I am forced to share it with you NOW (excerpt follows):

“[I] discovered ‘Ex-Animation,’ a photo-copied monstrosity that sh-t all over the glorified desktop publication that I had just created. I mean, this thing was rough! Most of the text was written on a typewriter with a few broken keys. The rest was hand-written and pasted half-assed onto the page. The collages and line drawings were primitive at best. The images were oversaturated, as if the creator had made copies with the Xerox machine lid open. And the staples were bent in half from using the wrong kind of stapler and then bending them in half with pliers or something.

“Not only was this self-described ‘zine’ the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in print, the writing was poignant and personal. There were short pieces about traveling to England, working as a stripper and getting molested as a kid. Even a few poems. I was blown away. The writing wasn’t polished or stylized. It was just raw. Obviously written without drafts or revisions. Just straight words from the soul. It was apparent that this hot mess existed because it had no other choice but to exist. Which was what made it so compelling. But what astonished me most was the candor. At that time, honesty was very difficult for me. I was all about facades, living in a fortress of fantasy. I wanted to write without reservation, but I was afraid to go deep, in case I exposed the hidden wounds from a f-cked-up childhood and spending my teenage years in institutions and foster homes. Besides, I figured nobody wanted to read about those kinds of experiences anyway. So I kept writing about what was safe: the lost years of my twenties, wasted in a constant state of inebriation, chasing drugs and alcohol with dysfunctional and abusive relationships. And I never used my real name. I put out several more zines before I moved on to chapbooks and then eventually started publishing paperbacks by other writers. In the spirit of DIY ethics, I handled all the aspects of publishing myself, from design to distribution. But I was going nuts from the pressure. And it’s not like I ever had any money. After a while I realized that drive and determination were not enough when the walls were crashing down. So I threw in the towel.

“I never lost the itch to put words and images on paper, but I always swore that if I were to start publishing again I would only do a hand-made photocopied labor of love. I hadn’t forgotten about ‘Ex-Animation’ and how I felt when I realized that the glory of publishing wasn’t in competing with the newsstand. It was about raw honesty. Truth. Conviction. All the things I was still struggling with. I’d always believed that my past experiences were a disease and that sharing them would infect others with my trauma. Mine was a story I never wanted to tell. I’d kept it buried so deep, for so long, that I figured it would eventually drift from my memory. But twenty-five years later, it still follows me. Even today, I may have given up the drugs (the f-cked-up relationships were harder to kick), but I am still just as lost as when I was in my twenties. The past may never make sense to me. But if I’m ever going to be whole again, I have to purge these memories by embracing the pain. A few years ago, I started writing everything down. As honestly as possible. Every day I wrote. Once I’d opened the flood gates I couldn’t contain the deluge. The process was like draining an abscess… When I was finished, I had over a thousand pages. Most of it crap. But I figured I was ready to do what I’ve wanted to do since that fateful day when I picked up my first zine…” [end of excerpt]

I ended up reading every word of this zine, titled “The Nasty Oh-Dear,” aka “Piltdownlad” issue #4. The author also gave me #1, “The Guero Chingon Stories – Five short tales about growing up a whiteboy in East L.A.”, and #3 “Junior Careers: Adventures of a Teenage Door-to-Door Salesman – Trying to make a buck selling candy in the San Gabriel Valley.” These were completely fascinating and felt like they had been written back at the time they were LIVED; I’m guessing the author kept journals or-? Then I tackled the perfectbound 5″x8″ 307-page BOOK titled “A Masque of Infamy” and it was hypnotizing. I thought **I** had had a bit of a “challenging” childhood, but compared to THIS narrative, I felt I had totally “lucked out.” Finished the book this morning. Understood why he called this “a novel” rather than an “autobiography”-America is far too litigious a society to permit a **true*! * autobiography from ever being published!

Then I read his zine #6 “Institutionalized” containing legal documentation for what had happened, small narratives from four points of view, etc. This total experience-zines plus “novel”-combined to give possibly the richest “autobiography” I’ve ever read: complex, multi-faceted, uncensored, honest-yet “creatively (and invisibly) engineered” to provide a compelling narrative that I didn’t want to put down…

I recommend this book and ALL the zines that this author, “Kelly Dessaint,” has produced– essential 21st century noir reading…. Oh yes, Punk Rock plays a “beacon”-like role here…

Manchester-Based punk Zine “Sticky Sounds” interviews Piltdownlad and Ryan Mishap

The following are interviews with two zine writers who both produce zines of a personal nature. Kelly Dessaint is based in Los Angeles, USA, and is the editor of Pitldownlad. He is also the author of A Masque of Infamy, a novel which is available on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle. Ryan Mishap is based in Eugene, Oregon, USA, where he produces Mishap Zine.

[I’ve reproduced the pages from the print-based zine Sticky Sounds, Vol 7, December 2013, here with permission.]

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Piltdownlad #07 – The Murky Realm

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“The Murky Realm” is a biographical sketch of a tragic union with some creative engineering…

My parents never should have gotten married. But even though my father was gay and my mother was chemically imbalanced, this was the 60s, when single men in their forties did not identify as queer and people with personality disorders were rarely diagnosed, much less treated. And marriage was inexorable. The tragedy, of course, is that, besides ruining their own lives, five children came out of this unhappy coupling. But that’s not the point of this story. That comes later. “The Murky Realm” is about how these two people got together, fell apart, came back together, then fell apart again only to get back together again…

I pieced the facts together from what we were told growing up, what I remember from talking to my parents as an adult before dementia set in. I used my imagination for the rest, after walking many miles in both their shoes.

The text is typewritten on my Olympia Manual. The size is 5.5 x 7 and the cover is black cardstock with a handwritten title piece glued on. The page count is 44.

COVER VARIANTS:

 

REVIEWS:

 

THE FINISHED PRODUCT:

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Piltdownlad #01 – The Qüero Chingòn Stories

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Originally published as individual micro-zines (2.75 x 4.25) under the title “Güero Chingòn” and distributed around downtown LA during the summer of 2011. They were written on my Olympia typewriter but transcribed into InDesign. My friend “Art Mark” illustrated them and Irina did the cover graphics.

I printed fifty to one hundred of each issue and attributed them to “Piltdownlad.” When that name went from a pseudonym to the name of the zine, the five Güero Chingòn issues became Piltdownlad #1. They were collected into one zine with a new introduction.

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The first issue of Piltdownlad has been reprinted multiple times.

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Get to Know Piltdownlad

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From a questionnaire “Get to Know Your Zinester” for the 2014 LA Zine Fest that was never posted.

What was your first zine about and when was it made?

The first zine I made, in late 1998, was called Vagabond. It was a comp zine about living on the skids, traveling and urban life. I cut and pasted the first issue together on a camping table in my friend’s living room after taking apart somebody else’s zine to use as a guide. I went to Kinko’s and printed 100 copies, taking advantage of their long-armed stapler. As far as I know only one ragged, heavily annotated copy exists. I did three more issues of Vagabond before moving on to other publishing endeavors.

Describe your most recent zine.

Piltdownlad is a typewritten, mostly hand-scrawled personal narrative zine. I write autobiographical stories about my past using literary techniques like plot and dialogue. I call it “creative engineering.” Each issue is subtitled and centers around a featured story, with some issues including letters and zine reviews. Because I write about abuse, the most common statement folks make about Piltdownlad is that it’s “not for everyone.” A recent reviewer said I should include a label warning potential readers that my zine can be “triggering.” Yes, I deal with very heavy topics, but in light-hearted ways. For me, it’s easier to deal with a painful memory by ripping it apart and recreating it from another angle. I like to think that honest writing is accessible to one and all, but I guess if somebody is sensitive to topics such as male sexual abuse, a sordid family history, growing up in the inner city, being a foster kid in small town Alabama, teenage rebellion, drugs, punk rock, blasphemy, alienation, bullies, vandalism and the pursuit of love or just some sense of belonging in the world, then Piltdownlad is probably not for them.

Of all the things you’ve ever made, zine-related or otherwise, what’s your one favorite?

Around 2000, I started a series of zines and chapbooks called the Pick Pocket Books. They were short, quarter-sized and hand-made with a unique binding. I combined edgy poetry and twisted stories with even weirder comics and illustrations from a variety of underground writers and artists. I sold them for a buck. My tag line was “Read Cheap.” Another one was “…made on a budget so tight, it’s criminal.” To get them printed, I charmed, cheated and stole thousands of free copies from the various corporate copy shacks around LA. I used all sorts of trickery and fast-talking. My specialty was complaining about any possible flaw in the print quality so they wouldn’t charge me for those copies, then pointing out how wasteful it would be to just throw them in the trash. Sometimes I enlisted my spike-haired younger sister as a “distraction.” (Her silhouette was my logo.) I finagled paper from Kelly Paper Supply by demanding a discount for using my name! It never worked, but it made them laugh and they let me slide on the sample sheets of the premium stuff. Once, when I was printing my first paperback, I left 100 bucks under the trash can in the bathroom, as directed by two shady employees, while they loaded 500 dollars worth of paper into the trunk of my car. In all, there were 23 Pick Pockets in the series. I printed hundreds of each title and disseminated them far and wide, selling them anywhere I could and giving them away when I couldn’t. I must have printed and assembled over 10,000 copies during the two year run.

Name three of your influences and how they affected your work.

As far as writing, Hubert Selby is my biggest influence. It was through him I learned that if it doesn’t make you cringe, it probably isn’t worth writing about. And to always love the people you write about, no matter how despicable they may be. When it comes to publishing, my first influence was Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights. Once I discovered the world of zines, I was blown away by the immense diversity and quality, which motivated me to make my stuff look as cool as possible. To keep up and hold my own. Of course, this was back in the alt.zines days, where people were less afraid to tell you what they thought of your stuff. Still, there is so much inspiration in the zine world and small press community. I really respect folks like Fred Argoff and Aaron Cometbus who continue to put out zines year after year. V. Vale is a legend who’s still at it. Maximum Rocknroll too. Fred Woodworth is up to, what, issue 120 of The Match? The proponents of atavistic printing technology, the kooky mail artists, even some of the indie book publishers who shell out the big bucks are all so inspiring. To me, the papernet is most interesting when the lines between traditional publishing and DIY culture intersect.

What do you do when you’re not creating and how does it help or harm what you do artistically?

Like Ramo the graffiti artist said to Kenny the DJ in the movie Beat Street, “These things we do, they’re EVERYTHING!” when I’m not creating, that is, when I’m forced to do things to pay the bills that prevent me from creating, life sucks. It’s not just harmful, it’s soul-crushing! But unavoidable, right? Especially since zine making is such a lousy way to make a buck.