Zine Roundup: Sweet simplicity
by Rebecca Clarren
Dan Price’s media empire is centered in a kind of hobbit hole in a meadow in Joseph, Ore., where his 2003 Toshiba photocopier prints 200 copies every two months of a zine called Moonlight Chronicles. One of five experiments in natural/sustainable building that Price has erected over the years, the 6-by-10-foot wooden structure is partially sunk into the ground and covered with boulders, except for a skylight and three porthole windows. Price heats it with a ceramic wood-burning stove at a cost of about 25 cents a day. It’s a fitting home for a publication whose mantra is simplicity.
Zines, with their roots in punk rock and anarchist culture, tend to be fleeting, self-published and narrow in scope. Moonlight Chronicles is something quite different. Price, 49, travels throughout the West and beyond, writing, photographing and drawing the often-overlooked details of the landscape and populace: the eyes of streetlamps in Roswell, N.M., the dome of the Capitol in Helena, Mont., farmworkers picking strawberries in Southern California. The Chronicles is full of snippets from books, and carries the Web addresses of alternative building sites, gas-efficient cars and local artists. It connects a tangle of modern "hobos" in search of something beyond the everyday tumult and sprawl of the West today.
Price’s readers are of all ages. "I’ve gotten hundreds of letters from people who say, ‘Thank you, thank you for what you do. You’re making me look at the little things in life and slow way down.’ I think (my work) gives people a license to be creative for some reason," he says. "When you’re doing such an oddball thing, you kind of wonder sometimes. That mail really keeps me going."
A heartbreaking divorce spurred Price to change his lifestyle and dig deeper into his art. Since 1992, he has created 55 issues of the Moonlight Chronicles, filling approximately 100 4-by-5 1/2-inch pages per issue with the quirky lines of his fine-tipped pen. The second-oldest zine in the country, the Chronicles won an Utne Independent Press Award in 2004.
Simple Shoes, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., prints 5,000 additional copies of the Chronicles to give to customers, paying Price for the printing rights and for additional artwork used in marketing. Some in the zine community have accused Price of selling out, but Price, who has worked as a logger, carpenter and cemetery caretaker, says working with Simple helps him "spread a positive message to as many people as I can."
Price says he operates in the tradition of Jack Kerouac (he’s read On The Road at least 10 times). Others call him a modern-day Thoreau. "My life and the Chronicles have been about trying to simplify in the modern day world," says Price, speaking from a cell phone in the middle of the two-acre meadow he rents for $100 a year. "I don’t want to become too preachy and teachy, but the Chronicles tries to subtly say that we are all here to find beauty and happiness, and get a connection to something that means something."
Purchase current or back issues of Moonlight Chronicles for $5 at www.moonlight-chronicles.com, or by writing to Dan Price at P.O. Box 109, Joseph, OR 97846.© High Country News