Xerox Cowboys

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Few civilians know much about the bloody East Coast vs. West Coast zine wars of the mid-90s. They were such horrible times, such sad times, with many of our brightest talents lost. In the years 1994 and ’95, it seemed as if there were a funeral every week.

And for what? A nod in Jim Romenesko’s Obscure? A mention in the next Newsweek "zine explosion" article? To enjoy the company of Jim Hogshire on your couch during his latest cross-country flight from justice? Hollow prizes, all.

I worked my way up from the Philadelphia crew. After suffering countless initiation indignations–I’m still trying to forget that night with Darby Romeo and the donkey: which was which?–I was eventually invited to the New York City headquarters, operated in secrecy out of the cramped back room of See Hear. I was valuable because I’d infiltrated San Francisco’s Factsheet 5, the great zine bible for which I was a columnist.

Understandably, the NYC capos assumed the nexus of West Coast power to be in California. First, they sent their most talented provocateurs, Jim and Debbie Goad, to act as undercover agents in Los Angeles. (Such dirty politicking was not unusual. In hindsight, it’s painfully clear that Paul Lukas was a West Coast agent sent out to pasture by way of regular appearances in the Voice.) At the same time, they tried to crack the San Francisco zine ring.

We soon realized that then, as now, Los Angeles and San Francisco were culturally irrelevant and could never support such a powerful publishing putsch. So we sent the Goads northward, to the last possible candidate: Portland.

The Oregon cultural capital was always known for being weird. All those near-queer, almost-hippie, coffee-drinking types–they offended our slash-and-burn, kill ’em all sensibilities. We held little hope of understanding this new breed of zine, but little did we imagine that Portland was the sapling that would grow into a mighty rival oak.

Then, along came a Craphound. And we knew.

Clearly, the power of the West Coast was based around the dangerous and unpredictable Craphound–Sean Tejaratchi’s deceptively simple cut-and-paste juggernaut that funded our rival cartel. Worse, we feared that he was communicating with his own sleeper cells within the seemingly mumble-jumble, discordant pages of the fun-and-games zine.

That’s when the slaughter began. Those of us on the frontlines will never forget the toner and blood mixing in the gutter, the corpses of poets and punks, side by side, long-arm staplers clutched in futile defense. Years later, with the killing fields covered with daisies, it’s easy to dismiss the hell of war. Back then, though, it was life or death.

Like his heroes Che Guevara and Keyser Soze, few had ever seen Tejaratchi in the flesh. So when I returned from an Eastern European recruiting mission earlier this year, I was surprised to find the mysterious publisher sitting in the art director’s chair at this newspaper. Tejaratchi. Even the name was sketchy: Is he Japanese, or just an artist? My fighting instincts kicked in, leading to more than one broken bone during copierroom power struggles.

I’d like to think that during our four months of working together, Sean Tejaratchi and I made great efforts toward peace. With help from the company therapist, we grudgingly accepted that the Great Zine War is over and, in the simple act of producing this newspaper–together, as one–proved that there’s more to life than drive-bys and vicious turf battles.

Last week, my new friend and respected peer said goodbye, leaving behind a legacy of tears and–I’m told–more than one bastard child. His admirers in the editorial department wish him only the best, and this aging zine guy prays that his return to the West Coast foretells more cooperation and understanding, and not a return to the pointless bloodshed that so scarred our twenties.

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