There are a lot of things that can suck about being a freelance writer: long, solitary hours, throwing pitches at magazines like so much spaghetti against a wall (with nothing sticking), low pay, no benefits, having to discipline yourself to stay in the saddle, while sunshine, or a nap, or The Daily Show strum their sexy siren songs. One thing that does not suck is getting lots of free shit: books, CDs, movies, t-shirts, free trips to exotic locales (if you're the type that succumbs to the latter, somewhat questionable, job perk). When I knew I was going to be doing this-here Boing Boing Guest Blogging gig, I wrote off for some books I might want to review. I saw in my latest issue of Hi-Fructose that there was a new Chris Mars book, called Tolerance. And there was that new Attaboy postcards collection. Oh, and there was also that last Ron English book. I sent an email off to the Last Gasp PR guy and asked if I could see review copies of these. He wrote back and said sure and he'd send some other titles I might be interested in as well. A week or so later, a box showed up on my front porch which was so heavy, I could barely muscle it into the house. I can't tell you how excited I was as I recklessly knived into it. It was crammed tight with thick, nutritious tree meat. Besides the books I'd asked for, there was a collection of legendary montage artist Winston Smith's work, called All Riot on the Western Front, the horror-comedy manga of Tokyo Zombie, a book from the godfather of low-brow Robert Williams, called Through Prehensile Eyes, an oversized book of unsettling kiddie-pink perversion from Gary Baseman, called Dying of Thirst (taken from his "I Melt in Your Presence" show), Limited Edition: The Art and Design of GAMA-GO (the only place you'll find all of GAMA-GO's limited-release designs), a lovely, hefty tome of Basil Wolverton's lifework, called The Original Art of Basil Wolverton, the list goes on. This motherload of fringe-art awesomeness arrived just days before Christmas. It was like my very own Christmas Story, except my winning prize sucked a lot less than a mannequin leg lamp. I ended up getting some nice gifts for the holidays, but I couldn't help coming back to that box, both literally and figuratively, as the real Yuletide score. So, a million thanks to Last Gasp. I cherish these amazing books that you sent, but I may have to boil and eat some of them if times get any tougher. Interestingly enough, with all of these books to ogle and sniff, it was the two I asked for in the first place, Chris Mars' Tolerance and Ron English's Abject Expressionism, that got the biggest rise out of me, and my art-student son, Blake. Chris' work is undeniably strident in its political message, but the rawness of the anger, the clarity of the shouting, is so crystalline-sharp, and its all rendered with such technical virtuosity. This guy is definitely the George Grosz of the 21st century. I love the way all of his figures look almost like they've been flayed alive to reveal their naked truth beneath. Like Grosz, he manages to render macabre beauty in the most staggering depictions of ugliness and terror. My son and I reverently paged through Ron English's book, laughing, gasping, and generally marveling at the perverse genius behind it all. It reminded me of being high and watching TV with the sound off, the rank idiocy of "the Spew" so clearly revealed. English Cuisinarts cultural icons, commercial trash, and sacred cows (literal cows, even) into such an intoxicating slurry, I literally felt like my consciousness had been altered by the time we were through. Ron English shreds icons and brand identities like a guitar hero. He's the Jimi Hendrix of culture jamming.
Gareth Branwyn has been dog-paddling the waters of sidestream culture, as a participant and chronicler, for his entire adult life. He's been involved in the commune movement, the DIY and zine scenes, cyberpunk, steampunk, punk-punk, and has written for bOING bOING (print), Mondo 2000, Wired, Esquire, Details, and numerous other magazines and dailies. He is the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine's blog, and is currently editing a collection of his work: "Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems."