[9 September 2009]
With a name like Galactic Zoo Dossier, you know you’re in for an interesting ride, and that’s exactly what Drag City’s newest all-purpose magazine delivers. Drag City, a long time record company, and home to acts like Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Red Crayola, and Joanna Newsom seems to be branching out further still by offering a fanzine on top of many of the LP’s and CD’s it likewise releases. Similarly, this year has seen the release of comedian Neil Hamburger’s Variety Show on DVD as well as former Silver Jews-leader David Berman’s book of comic art The Portable February.
If you’re still scratching your head as to why this review is in the comics section of PopMatters, let me clear up a few matters. This particular incarnation of the Galactic Zoo Dossier, issue #8, is particularly interested in exploring the world of comics. Alongside numerous short rock bios of past psychedelic and rock acts, numerous comic-style drawings accompany the descriptions, ala comic artist Charles Burns’ work with The Believer magazine. In fact, the work done here on various rock acts past also bears a striking resemblance to R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, and Country book done a few years back also in that it includes an accompanying CD that comes with it.
Along with the drawings, there are both commentaries on different themes in various old trade comics, a section called “The Wonderful World of Comics,” as well as new comic material from Leslie Stein’s strip “Eye of the Majestic Creature.” But what all of this together does best is highlight the similarities between underground comics communities and music communities. As one of “The Wonderful World of Comics” sections points out, “Comics and rockers were always friends, mutually inspiring each other and borrowing imagery of the visceral, colorful type…. With words, pictures, and sounds one had all!” Underground music and comics, while both inspiring each other, too, inspire a lot of similar fan behavior as Galactic Zoo Dossier demonstrates. The ruminations on lights and patterns in old trade comics aren’t wildly different in tone than those bemoaning the lack of accolades that 1960’s girl-group The Cake got.
In fact, both fan cultures for comics as well as underground music have become well-known for such arm-chair philosophizing and have subsequently been heavily parodied in other medias. The mythology surrounding both music and comic fan cultures has been well-documented in such figures as the “Comic Book Guy” on The Simpsons, or John Cusack’s character Rob Gordon in the film High Fidelity. Whether self-consciously or not, Galactic Zoo Dossier #8 affects this same sort of fan-boy expertise that reads like a group of record-collecting friends arguing their favorite underground garage-psych band that never gets its due credit or alternately discussing how Steve Gerber’s illustrations for Daredevil had a really awesome psychedelic edge to them in a heavily-postered high school bedroom ( Galactic Zoo Dossier contains the adjective psychedelic in various forms, perhaps more so than any other publication I have ever pursued).
In general, the art is pretty well-rendered in Galactic Zoo Dossier’s 8th incarnation, but it’s nothing revolutionary. Neither is the idea of a comic or music fanzine, but all and all it’s a fun romp. The writing is largely snarky and in-the-know, but is amusing at turns as well. For the most part, it reads like a salon of underground music, comics, and culture where different fans meet and discuss in a sort of incohesive, but nonetheless entertaining manner. While Galactic Zoo Dossier #8 might not be for the uninitiated, it certainly should find some open arms in the similarly-minded record and comic aficionados whose tone it (unconsciously? consciously?) affects.