I remember people being afraid of an apocalyptic event as the 1990’s was wrapping up, some said it would be a huge computer crash via Y2K (anybody remember that?) that would destroy all systems politically and economically, an environmental disaster that the Greens kept predicting every ten years like their religious counterparts with the book of Revelation etc. of course none of that happened some would argue in September 11th, 2001 was an end to our way of life and now that the Coof is running rampant it looks like the end could be at hand and is being used by unscrupulous, authoritarian scumbags to push their various control freak agendas. The underground comics anthology series “Zero Zero” played on those fears tangentially and manipulated them into absurd humor by various artists.
The editor was Kim Thompson who was an editor on other Fantagraphics publications. This comic anthology series lasted from 1995-2000 with 27 issues. Kim got the name “Zero Zero” from artist J.R. Williams who is another recurring artist in the series, originally J.R. was gonna call his own series “Zero Zero” but instead ended up calling his comic “Crap” instead (insert joke here). Not only that, “Zero Zero” is another way of saying the year 2000 which evoked hope in some and fear in others, the comics themselves in between the covers, mostly black n’ white except for some two color pieces looks like it takes place in a post apocalyptic, nightmare world. In the forward to the first issue Kim says “That balance of the new and established, of penthouse art and gutter art, of quantity (page count for RAW, frequency for Weirdo) and quality remains elusive. ‘Zero Zero’ is but the latest attempt a few steps down that path.”
Also Kim shit on the then current trend of “autobiographical” comics started by Robert Crumb’s wife, Aline, when she was editor of “Weirdo” and shit balled into a crap avalanche by countless artists. Kim said in the same forward “Zero Zero’ will be something of a refuge for those who are sick unto death of the autobio comics trend, not to mention its the cousin the graphic/lecture rant, although I will let my defenses down for the occasionally extraordinary piece (this (first issue) issue’s Bukowski/Moriarity collaboration being a case in point, ‘Zero Zero’ is about fiction in comics form.” Now of course Kim would go on to not really hold that editorial position with David Collier’s comics which were rants/autobiography, Collier’s art style is very close to Crumb’s, and while the art was good I often found his pieces to get too self involved, preachy and up their own ass. Though I have to say Joe Sacco’s piece on himself and a couple of journalists confronting a dictator on Christmas at an orthodox service in Serbia was interesting, so was J. Backderf’s story on hanging out with the infamous serial killer Jeffery Dahmer in high school which was expanded into an award winning graphic novel and into a feature length movie but its very rare that an autobio comic is interesting to me.
There is a few strips that are serialized and their all good, chief among them the late and great Richard Sala with his very retro “The Chuckling Whatsit” which was later gathered in a graphic novel, Max White’s tale of greek/Christian mythology “Homunculus”, Kim Deitch’s obsession with old pop culture in both his “Molly O’ Dare” and “Search for Smilin’ Ed” pieces, Dave Cooper’s space age/futuristic put down of the man hating butch brigade in “Crumple”, Kaz and Timothy Georgarakis’ collab on “Meat Box” a comic that takes place in some absurd dadaesque/abstract world, Ted Stearn’s adventures of a Teddy Bear and his chicken friend in “Fuzz and Pluck” and David Mazzucchelli’s “Pop. 66” that takes place in some hellish town in Italy or Spain, not one of these serials bored me they were all entertaining and I couldn’t wait for the next episode in each issue.
Some of the names that show up are the old guard of the underground comix scene mixed with the new, you’ll get some nastiness from Mike Diana, Henriette Valium, Max Andersson, Glenn Head, Skip Williamson, Blanquet, P. Revess, Chris Ware etc. You get a bunch of different art styles which makes the anthology overall interesting. Some pieces don’t hit, some fucking nail it. While the series is mostly black and white there is Al Columbia two color sections and that was my whole reason for searching out this thing, because Al Columbia hits the ball and the park for my money, in issue 4 Al has the two color Fleischer toon inspired nightmare “I was Killing When Killing Wasn’t Cool” with his two recurring characters Seymour Sunshine the clown and Knishkebibble the Monkey Boy which was supposed to appear in his own “Biologic Show” comic issue 2 until he canceled the series and gave this to “Zero Zero” the title is a play on the song title “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”. Ole’ Al has a inside cover color job in issue 8 called “He Didn’t Wake Up”, issue 15 back cover has Al’s depiction of “Walpurgisnacht” that will send every safe space crybaby running for their mama, God I loved the Un PC 1990’s! Issue 16 has Al’s two color dark fairy tale “Blood Clot Boy” a boy born of, what else, a blood clot who goes on twisted adventures, issue 20 Al steps up his art game in the two color nightmare featuring Sunshine and the Monkeyboy called “Amnesia” not to be mixed up with his grotesque animated movie poster collection from the 1930’s comic, “Amnesia”, in this one Al out does himself by using photo realistic backgrounds and with his characters layered on top of them, no wonder Al’s issues sold out real fast, he’d continue this new artistic direction in issue 26 which is considered the “last” issue with “Alfred the Great” a hinged mouth freak who can juggle anything with his tongue, of course this goes south really fast and then the wrap up issue 27 Al does the cover of a monkey in front of an unappetizing plate of meat and he does back cover featuring his other recurring character “Cheapie the Guinea Pig”, he said this will be a character he is gonna use in future comics but with Al its “I’ll believe it when I see it”. But Al’s work shouldn’t overshadow anybody else in this series, the whole damn series is interesting, I’d even go as far as to say almost better than the classic “Weirdo” and “RAW”.
On the back of every issue was the feature “The Signs of the Impending Apocalypse” which has comical and satirical depictions of apocalyptic scenes done by the likes of Daniel Clowes, Marky Ramone (yes that Ramone) among many many others. Kim said the back covers were to suggest a Jack Chick comic tract.
So “Zero Zero” isn’t a zero, every issue is regular comic book size but even with a majority of black and white pages this is one of my favorite comic anthologies, this is one I will pull out and read again and will sometimes pick up an issue and just thumb through it and revel in the weirdness of it all. You won’t be bored by it either, some stuff is tear jerker funny and some of it is messed up. If you want to find issues, good luck, try amazon, and remember there is a total of 27 issues and the Al Columbia ones especially come at a high price, I was lucky enough to find a whole set and I am too embarrassed to tell you how much I paid for it, I will never pay that much for anything again but I don’t regret one bank emptying penny of it either. “Zero Zero” is an embodiment of the alternative “comix” and zine culture that spread through the 1990’s, whacky, surreal, weird, slackeristic (I made that word up), cynical, maniacal etc. Set them gauges to “Zero Zero”.
To at least read the first issue with the awesome Gary Panter cover go here: https://archive.org/details/zerozero1/mode/2up
Marc Arsenault talks about his experience working on “Zero Zero” as an art director, how it was like to work with editor Kim Thompson and owning his own comic and zine shop here: https://wowcool.com/zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero/
To find copies go on amazon, ebay, abebooks etc. Get prepared to dig into your wallet and have your paypal account scream and cry like a little bitch. Good luck.