Zine Review: Elephant Mess #16

20 August 2007

Zine - Elephant Mess 16 cover

A first glance at Elephant Mess #16: The Bug Issue made me think of Pearl Jam’s quirky Bugs. First, because the use of entomological diagrams to illustrate the zine reminds me of the Vitalogy booklet. Second, because they both present the thoughts of someone who notices the thousands of insects that live around and with us.

Eddie Vedder is gradually overwhelmed by paranoia about the dirty, invasive bugs he sees around him. Dan Murphy’s response is more complex: he sees them not as tiny monsters, but as “good bugs and bad bugs, too”, who “all have their purposes and reasons to live”; not so different from people. Elephant Mess #16 sets out his thoughts about bugs and slugs and similar creatures, as well as his own life.

The introduction discusses the symbiotic relationship between “bellyworms” and their human hosts, and there is a quick rundown of the contribution of insects to our lives at the fundamental level: “We need them to balance out our ecosystems, biospheres and microclimates.” But it is when Dan moves beyond providing this factual background that his zine becomes most interesting, when he uses insects to show us what he’s been thinking and feeling:

I have conversed with cockroaches that have gotten cozy on my couch. I didn’t ask them to leave, and I didn’t push them away or step on them because I enjoyed their company. They were all I had sometimes, the same way that all I have now are hobo spiders and spiders that look like miniature crabs that get all uppity when I come to[o] close.

The sadness in this passage pervades the whole zine. It’s about loneliness and shyness and crawling into private places to be alone with your thoughts. It’s about being “droopy inside, withering”, and “leav[ing] trails of tears”.

At the same time, there’s a sprinkling of happiness that keeps Elephant Mess #16 from getting bogged down in misery. It’s expressed in awe at the beauty of our tiny co-inhabitants, watching “lacewing lovers spread joy amongst the juniper berries”, and it’s expressed in admiration of the strength, organisation and achievements of such small beings. This is why Dan is fascinated by them: “bugs are my hope.”

The zine is let down a little by an incongruous poem of uncharacteristically poor quality, but another interruption more than compensates. We learn that Elephant Mess has been banned from prisons as contraband. The reason, given on the return-to-sender form? “BOOK”.

Daniel Murphy, Elephant Mess #16, roughly 1/4 size, 24 pages.
Available from Parcell Press, Sweet Pea, the author.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: