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.
Larry Oberc included what is apparently a sheet of questions for his FB discussions:
And the reverse:
Here are two scans from the archives of work by Larry Oberc:
Poem by Bob Black with illustration by Larry Oberc in Alternative Fiction & Poetry (Illinois, USA) (circa 1987)
Review by Larry Oberc in MaLLife (Arizona, USA) (circa 1986)
Deepest thanks to Larry Oberc!