From off the streets of Durham comes …

Cover of Mineshaft magazine, issue #44, by R. Crumb.

Now available for holiday giving, issue #44 of Mineshaft magazine dropped into my mailbox in a plain brown envelope a few weeks ago, and as usual it’s a magazine to spend a few thoughtful evenings with. (And you can impress your friends when you leave it on your coffee table.) Among the highlights are tributes to the late Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Diane Noomin from Bill Griffith and others; a new, haunting story called “Nostalgia” from Christoph Mueller; Mary Fleener‘s meditative “Between the Worlds” travelogue; a Skip James portrait from R. Crumb; co-editor Everett Rand’s ongoing saga of Mineshaft itself; and great new stuff from Simone Baumann, Glenn Head, Drew Friedman, and company. I wrote a little more descriptively about Mineshaft here.

Mr. Friedman has called Mineshaft “the best magazine being published in the 21st century,” and who am I to argue with Drew Friedman? Certainly it’s one of the few magazines to which I maintain a subscription (the others are Acoustic Guitar and The Syncopated Times, which shows you where my head is at these days). You can yourself join the illustrious Mineshaft community easily enough; the current issue is available here, and you can sign up for a subscription here. And while you’re there, why not give the gift of bemused alienation to someone close to you?

Below, The Mighty Millborough himself discovers Mineshaft, as told to Christoph Mueller in 2011:

What, me worry?

Mad magazine is still staggering along lo these past 71 years — I started reading it myself in 1971 or 1972, when I was about 10, and moved on a few years later to National Lampoon. Even though my subscription was short-lived, I credit Mad with changing my perspective on the world in a way that a lot of other Mad readers acknowledge too — and it still makes me laugh when I page through the collections I still own. It was best put perhaps by Brian Siano in a 1994 issue of The Humanist:

For the smarter kids of two generations, Mad was a revelation: it was the first to tell us that the toys we were being sold were garbage, our teachers were phonies, our leaders were fools, our religious counselors were hypocrites, and even our parents were lying to us about damn near everything. An entire generation had William Gaines for a godfather: this same generation later went on to give us the sexual revolution, the environmental movement, the peace movement, greater freedom in artistic expression, and a host of other goodies. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Similar encomiums came from Art Spiegelman (“The message Mad had in general is, ‘The media is lying to you, and we are part of the media.’ It was basically … ‘Think for yourselves, kids'”) and R. Crumb (“Artists are always trying to equal the work that impressed them in their childhood and youth. I still feel extremely inadequate when I look at the old Mad comics”), though Mad publisher William Gaines topped them all when he said, “We must never stop reminding the reader what little value they get for their money!”

Though National Lampoon‘s efforts in other media — including films, television, and the stage — were far more successful, it’s possible that the magazine went Hollywood too quickly, leading to it and its form of satire having perished many years ago. Mad tried too: a moderately successful stage show in 1966 (with original music by Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim) and a moderately successful television show beginning in 1995, but a disastrous 1980 Mad film Up the Academy destroyed any ambitions the magazine had of finding its way to success in movie theatres. In 2006 its director, Robert Downey Sr., touchingly observed that it was “one of the worst fucking things in history.”

I myself have written about National Lampoon in the past, and that magazine recently enjoyed the documentary treatment, but it’s been surprising that Mad, which played such a central role in humor and comedy in the post-war era, has remained without similar recognition from documentary filmmakers — until now, that is. Now in post-production, When We Went MAD!, directed by Alan Bernstein, may be the documentary we’ve all been waiting for. Featuring a history of the publication as well as interviews with many of its staff and enthusiasts, the film promises to be to Mad magazine what Ken Burns’s The Civil War was to the Civil War. No release date has been announced, but the trailer for the film is below.

Durham dispatch

The uniformed representative of the United States Postal Service slipped the latest issue of Mineshaft magazine under my door a few weeks ago, and for that I am grateful. This issue, the 43rd, is as usual an excellent exhumation and examination of various features of the American landscape, and they’ve really outdone themselves this time. The late Aline Crumb and Sophie Crumb trade mother/daughter stories of their experiences with abortion; editor Everett Rand describes the challenges of zine publication in these fraught times; Christoph Mueller explores the environs of 1970s and 2020s New York in the company of Fran├žoise Mouly, founder and editor with Art Spiegelman of the groundbreaking Raw; R. Crumb provides a few meditative landscapes; and there’s so much more behind that fine cover image from Drew Friedman (with lettering by Mueller).

Mineshaft is a magazine that should be read from cover to cover, straight through; Rand and consulting editor Gioia Palmieri create a unique journey through American culture with each issue, beautifully paced and befitting a magazine which, perhaps more than any other, is a contemplation of a passing American scene. Its lucid perspective (like those of its contributors) transcends nostalgia without neglecting a sense of loss; its surreality is the result of the past as seen through the prism of an angst-ridden present. And not just in America: In this issue, the final cartoon by the Italian Ivan Manuppelli, one of Mineshaft‘s new finds, speaks to me, and if it speaks to me, it speaks to others as well; Mineshaft is the antidote to this despair. You can purchase the issue and subscribe to future Mineshafts here.

This issue is dedicated to Justin Green, Diane Noomin, and Simon Deitch, who recently shuffled off this mortal coil, as did Aline Kominsky-Crumb after the magazine went to press. I raise my glass to all of them. And I should mention that contributors Drew Friedman and Noah van Sciver, both favorites of mine, will be featured guests at this year’s MoCCA Arts Festival here in New York at the beginning of April. I’ll be bringing the kids.

A toast to Mineshaft

In many ways, I’m still an analog boy in a digital world, and when it comes to leisure material for reading, watching, and listening, I prefer the hand-made sort of entertainment, whether it’s mid-budget comedy movies from the 1930s or what’s generally become known as roots music. Books and magazines that suit my temperament are harder to come by these days, though.

Fortunately there’s still Mineshaft magazine, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Inspired by underground magazines and comics of the past, Mineshaft is a modest and resolutely hand-crafted periodical that’s issued about three times a year, published by Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri in Durham, NC, far from the media meccas of New York and Los Angeles. Produced through the increasingly quaint offset printing method, the magazine’s prose, poems, and comics are resolutely free of cant and pretension. The Spring 2019 issue (No. 37) features recent work from veteran cartoonists and illustrators Drew Friedman (front cover), R. Crumb (back cover), Art Spiegelman, Bill Griffith, and Mary Fleener; poems and paintings by Billy Childish; and work by a number of artists who are unknown to me, such as Nicolas C. Grey, David Collier, and Noah Van Sciver. What they all share is a rootedness in the physical, not the digital, world; like the magazine, the work has a distinctively handmade quality, and the comics especially share a meditative and contemplative marriage of laconic prose and atmospheric inkwork pioneered by, among others, Harvey Pekar in the 1970s. There’s a melancholy that hangs over the whole, a feeling that the analog world it depicts is being lost, if it hasn’t been lost already. That the work has a particularly satiric quality, then, doesn’t come as much of a surprise, especially when it refers to the digital realm, and it’s not much of a shock to find, tipped in with this contemporary work, a reproduction of a detail from a painting by William Hogarth.

Both single issues of No. 37 and back issues are still available from the Mineshaft web site, and you can pony up for a subscription there as well. Obviously the magazine, itself a beautifully, lovingly produced object, will be an acquired taste for those who have drunk deep from the well of the internet culture; it’s not for everybody. But it is, in many ways, for me.