Larry Oberc Now & Then (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

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Mail art by Larry Oberc (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

In the 1980s and into the 1990s in the United States, just before the widespread adoption of the internet, the earlier mail art network of Ray Johnson, Fluxus and related others evolved and exploded into a gigantic, eclectic, subversive nation of the disenfranchised. Participants were known as “slackers” and “marginals.” Many were only in their early or middle teens. The primary form of communication was the zine. The innumerable zines had editions ranging from a dozen into the thousands. They passed through measureless hands via the postal system and were sometimes copied, chopped up or sections were absorbed into other zines.

The network was a phenom that became global and reached thousands upon thousands if not ultimately millions of people, yet it was so underground the media and mainstream society missed it almost completely and – thank heavens – the universities saw nothing of interest in it, although the zines circulated freely on campuses. The network had a huge impact, for instance, on the rise of “alternative” music. Reconstructing the tides and highways during the Age of Zines is impossible, but more and more archives coming online reveal its massive scale and influence.

A new generation of underground heroes was born as a result, and one of them was illustrator Larry Oberc whose work – notably zine covers – wowed countless slackers in cities, suburbs and small towns. I was one. Larry Oberc also wrote thoughtful prose. The zines were eclectic but a post-Punk minimalist crudity was definitely in fashion. This only worked to Larry Oberc’s advantage as a foil, accenting his talent, penchant toward complexity and meditative calmness.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, Larry Oberc can be found reborn today on Facebook hosting a kind of surreal, DIY, grass roots, talk show. He crafts eclectic (I know I am using that word a lot) questions that are answered by a surprisingly large cast of characters, including some marginal legends, zinesters and ranters. Larry Oberc’s questions lean toward the theological/philosophical without being particularly religious. Yet there is an obsession there. It is not – thank heavens – yet another nostalgia group of networkers chatting about how “back in the day” was better. Larry Oberc has managed to evolve and re-invent himself. Yet he obviously maintains a high regard for the achievements of the Age of Zines.

So I am thrilled to share the contents of an envelope that none other than Larry Oberc sent me. Fans will immediately recognize Larry Oberc’s distinctive work. Maybe a few will discover his work for the first time. Unfortunately, not much is currently available online, though. We can only hope that will change.

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Larry Oberc included what is apparently a sheet of questions for his FB discussions:

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And the reverse:

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The envelope:

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Here are two scans from the archives of work by Larry Oberc:

Bob & Larry - AF&P

Poem by Bob Black with illustration by Larry Oberc in Alternative Fiction & Poetry (Illinois, USA) (circa 1987)

Larry Oberc.mallife.1

Review by Larry Oberc in MaLLife (Arizona, USA) (circa 1986)

Deepest thanks to Larry Oberc!

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2 comments

  1. tonipoet · April 20, 2016

    Fascinating about Oberc and also about the whole “zine” culture. When I worked at the UC Riverside library in (gulp) 1967-68, there was a huge collection of what we called “little magazines” that were all made by hand, printed on who knows what copy machines of the day, stapled, etc. I think if you were to look back at these you’d find a tremendous number of poets and artists, some of whom became well-known, most probably remained obscure. But what a treasure. I of course thought they were junk at the time (20 years old an knowing EVERYTHING).

    Like

    • minkrancher · April 22, 2016

      Thanks for adding to the historical perspective, Toni. Absolutely. The “little magazines” were vital in 20th century lit. going back to Modernism.

      I would consider the zines of the 80s & 90s as an offshoot of the little magazines partially. They also came out of popcult music fanzines too. I wrote specifically about the place where the zines & the mail art movement merged & reached a large audience. The skateboard kid with his zine in Indiana had no idea that he was part of an underground network created by the Fluxus people in NYC, for example. And a lot of the zines and micropresses resulted from innovations in copy technology that made printing cheaper and accessible than ever before. There was also a significant small press movement in the 60s & 70s that helped to promote work outside the mainstream. That was more fine art oriented however and we associate it with book arts today. But all these things are inter-connected.

      A lot of literary material passed through the earlier mail art network of the 60s and 70s, which set the stage for the next decades. There were lots of assembling and collaborative projects. Cheryl Penn did graduate research on Ray Johnson and collaborative books, for instance. Mail art is usually associated with the avant garde, so looking back you find a lot of experimental writing and especially visual and concrete poetry.

      So the zines of the 80s and 90s that I am writing about were a synthesis of music fanzines, mail art and avant art and writing. They’d used mail art as content but also might include music reviews of local bands alongside political rants. The dominant Punk aesthetic was raw and there was a lot of material that would be considered obscene and offensive too.

      I think an underlying concept to remember is that all this was an attempt to create an alternative and participatory culture. People who rejected or felt rejected by the mainstream found a haven there. And the now-idealized Reagan Era was, for many, a time of alienation when many felt stifled. It’s not surprising there was a thriving underground culture.

      So, yeah, it’s much, much bigger than I could gloss in a few paragraphs. Thanks for adding.

      Like

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