Photo by Chrissy Piper
“People are a little flaky, and the people who have the best stories often don’t get around to putting them on paper, so you either interview them or you eventually just start telling their stories for them,” explains Aaron Cometbus, who took his surname from his legendary zine of the same name, which has chronicled punk and outsider cultures for over 20 years.
“I find that a lot of the literature and magazines and newspapers and books coming out don’t seem to really capture the spirit of people’s lives,” he continues. “Whether that means people in punk or in the underground or just the real breadth of experience in terms of suffering and hardship and sex and things that are considered on principle not to work for advertising-driven publications.”
Cometbus started out in Berkeley, CA in 1981, hand-producing a zine chronicling the burgeoning punk scene’s basement bands, clubs and magazines while playing in a litany of short-lived groups, including a brief stint in pre-fame Green Day. Described as a “punk anthropologist,” he has since travelled around America, documenting different kinds of alternative communities.
“A lot of the people involved are punks, and punk runs through it like a fault line, but it’s more the scenery, it’s just the country it’s set in. It’s not so much about punk itself,” he explains. “I had an issue that was all about interviewing the children of back-to-the-landers, people who’d left the cities in the ‘70s; I had an issue interviewing members of a collective café, about the nature of collective business.”
While Cometbus has toured the United States extensively, passing through or briefly settling in many of its cities, this weekend marks his first visit to Montreal.
“The longevity and the quality of his project is really amazing and that it’s done and distributed independently and so inexpensively is a real testament to the values of DIY and punk rock,” explains Jeff Miller, a fellow zine veteran (and Cult MTL contributor) who campaigned hard to bring the author to our shores, citing Cometbus as a central creative inspiration for his own work. “Aaron was one of the first to realize that there was a culture of punk that doesn’t have anything to do with the bands, a culture of people who travel and live cheaply and help each other out.”
Cometbus’s approach exemplifies the spirit of this weekend’s annual Expozine small-press, print and zine fair. While the sale offers a forum for indie artists and writers to move units, the event also strives to build bridges and share skills, to breed a sense of community through workshops, product swaps and mingling. It’s a celebration of choosing to participate in these communities, to make stuff that’s personally meaningful rather than market-ready or potentially lucrative.
“In the long run,” says Cometbus, “what seems like a proud stance is more like your only choice. Your only choice to live in a way that’s natural to you and dignified, whether that means scavenging or squatting or whatever that means. It’s not that I don’t want to work, it’s just that I want to work on my own work and my own creative projects rather than for someone else, if possible. And so, to do that, I have to live kind of cheaply.” ■
Expozine happens in the basement of the Église St-Enfant Jésus (5035 St-Dominique), Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16–17, 12–6 p.m., free entry
Aaron Cometbus is participating in Expozine’s “No Fear of Zine Failure: Perspectives on Zine Culture” round-table discussion, alongside Eloisa Aquino, Kerri Flannigan and Louis Rastelli, moderated by Jeff Miller, at 5035 St-Dominique on Saturday, Nov. 16, 1–2 p.m.
A more in-depth conversation with Jeff Miller about the Cometbus zine takes place at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard W.) on Sunday, Nov. 17, 7 p.m., free