Aaron Cometbus and the Community Function
January 6, 2010

Aaron Cometbus is not my Hero (singular) because I don't have those anymore. But he is one of my heroes (plural).

Here's a photo of him, via Text.Werkstatt.
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Aaron Cometbus doesn't seem to care much for publicity, celebrity, notoriety, society, the many bitty little itties that seem to our age what quasi-philosophical -isms were to the 20th century (communism, capitalism, existentialism, anarcho-syndicalism, et ceterism).

Here is what I know about him: Real name Aaron Elliott...founder of the long running zine Cometbus (53 issues! 28 years! sells for $3 or less! no fucking web presence!)...epitome of East Bay punk culture...former Green Day roadie...former drummer for bands like Crimpshrine & Pinhead Gunpowder whom no one much cares about but are legendary in their subcultures and have great names...a modern day Jack Kerouac...

I'm cribbing most of this from Wikipedia but, still, it gets his essence across -- albeit not quite as well as this recent Amoeba Records blog post. Point being, he lives an authentic, coherent, no bullshit, beautiful kind of existence. His means are equal to his ends. His modes of execution match his intentions. His work is rooted in real communities, and is addressed to real communities, not imagined psychographic profiles.

I'd never seen a picture of the dude before doing a Google image search while writing this post. It's unlikely you have either. Cometbus is about as internet-unfriendly as any person can get these days. More likely is the possibility that you've seen a copy of his equally internet-unfriendly zine tucked away in the magazine stand of your favorite independent bookshop, record store, or anarcho-vegan-co-op-type situation. Here's what it looks like when it's not tucked away.
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I recently purchased issue #53 and came across a quote that speaks to the role of the Community Function in creativity which I would like to share with you all.

I call it the ninety-nine percent success story. The noble failure. Hundreds of novels lie around completed but not published, albums recorded but not pressed, tours booked then hastily cancelled, articles written but never sent. Vast and impressive castles are built, but they're not inhabitable. Just one small nail in the right place and we could move in, but I show up with a hammer and they block my way. "No," they say. "Not yet."Why is everyone so scared to put in that last one percent? Having gone through the pains of labor, can they not bear to see their child leave the nest? Having own the seed and plowed the field, how can they stand by and let the fruit rot on the tree?


As a community, it's our duty to try to bring everyone's creativity and ambitious plans to the fore, and to fruition, instead of passively watching and encouraging that potential to be wasted. To keep laughing, but keep the hard work and the hope that comes with it from becoming a joke. As a friend, it's my duty to try to be that one percent.

Aaron Cometbus also happens to be a xerox & pen artist par excellence. I will leave you with some samples. First a tale of his Green Day roadie-ing. Image via Nothing Wrong With Me:
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Next an image from issue #51 aka "The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah," a secret history of Berkeley's Telegraph Ave and the entrepreneurial booksellers that line the avenue. Via Fecal Face:
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Another via Print Fetish:
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Unfortunately, I missed this issue. Cometbus the zine is published in one-off editions of about 8,000 to 10,000 copies and they tend to sell out within 6 months of being released. (He's also published a few books through the San Francisco-based counterculture publisher Last Gasp.)

For those whose interest has been piqued, let me be frank: The quality and accessibility of the zine project varies. Some issues are novellas set in Cometbus's neat, hand-writing and structured as a series of brief, poignant chapters. These are usually wonderful. Other issues, however, are grab bags of immature poetry, contributions from friends that you'd be hard pressed to care much about, and scene reports-slash-interviews with bands and entities you almost certainly won't care about unless you are an ardent follower of some extremely niche subcultures. In large part, the zine seems designed to be inaccessible to those who are more looky-loos (in the David Hickey sense of the word) than fellow travelers. The particular issue about the booksellers is said to have been an ideal introduction. I'll try to remember to let you know when another one appears. For now, if you're curious, I'd suggest picking up his debut novel Double Duce (which I haven't yet read) or issue #52 (which I have) via Last Gap, which seems to be his main (and certainly his most reliable) publishing & distribution partner in this venture, one I hope will last a lifetime.

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