Previously on AMC’s Your Horrible Family
“Put it down, Danny!”
“Is that right?”
“YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD”
“I promised Maggie I wouldn’t go there…”
“Heh. Heh heh.”
And now: our thrilling conclusion
Every zine has a history. Perzines, often and to their credit, will slam this history in your face, every minute personal detail relished for all of its honest glory. Zines like Waseca AfterDark capture history in a dissimilar way, casting a wider net to pinpoint a specific moment of space as well as time. But you should know this already if you read Part One.
So every zine has a history, that much is established. But no one tells zines that history exists on a spectrum. Issue #2 of your zine, such a fantastic achievement at the time, can be grist for the Mortified mill by the time you hit #17. Stories I wrote in high school represent a person I disagree with, resent to a degree, yet am obliged to identify with. It is a reflection of my “was,” the token of my past that I have preserved through immutable words. The world changes, but the word does not.
Waseca AfterDark is the “was” that precedes an iceberg, a mammoth story lurking beneath a seemingly barren surface. My research into the zine’s origins began with a frightful discovery. I sought out founder, editor, and ersatz Waseca historian Michael W. Flynn to inquire about purchasing back issues, but learned via online obituary that he had passed away in February 2014—only two weeks prior to the day I purchased the zine. Commence chills.
In AfterDark’s “Techno Spotlight,” a column about technology trends, Flynn writes with idiosyncratic nonchalance: “Man creates technology to help him alter and control his surroundings. But technology is a double edged sword. It alters and controls its creator.” Though primitive in its technological import, the zine in my possession had become altered by the state of its author. The zine was already a compelling artifact, the product of one man’s attempt to “control” his small and vivid Wasecan life by committing it to pen and paper, but news of his death lent it an intangible weight. I felt like I had stumbled upon a post-mortem Facebook of an acquaintance. My heart nearly broke.
It was 3:00 AM CST, the rest of my Albany Park apartment soundly asleep, and I needed some catharsis. Was there anyone else to talk to about the joy of Flynn’s celebration of southern Minnesota’s music scene? Or the weirdness of his concluding essay “America!”, a digressive treatise on patriotism that touches upon everything from the Bill of Rights to Pee Wee Herman? Waseca AfterDark felt like such a bizarre, personal touchstone that I could not handle it alone.
With only the physical address of the AfterDark office circa 1998 to go off of, my hopes for learning more about this mysterious zine were rapidly fading. Then, I realized the solution. He had been staring me in the face all along.
The man known as Hawk—whose actual name I am withholding out of tact—the subject of AfterDark’s cover story, whose goateed Mona Lisa smile beckoned to me from the Quimby’s shelf, was the answer. He was a family man, a tattoo artist, and a KISS superfan (dude draws a mean Gene Simmons portrait). At the end of Hawk’s brief AfterDark biography, Flynn remarks that he planned on starting his own tattoo parlor called Hawkster Ink. Lo and behold, some quick googling showed that Hawkster Ink still stood, Simmons and all. Sixteen years after-AfterDark, everything seemed to be coming up Hawkster.
But I noticed something a little off.
The Hawkster Ink of today was not located in Waseca, nor was it a tattoo parlor.
I reached out to Hawk via the site’s contact form. Our brief email correspondence pulverized the AfterDark rabbit hole, leaving a city-sized crater.
Beneath the sports bars, the taxidermy store, the spots for Domino’s Pizza, the portraits and photographs of local color, the vibrant music portraits, the blues harmonicas, the rambling essays, and the defunct telephone numbers—beneath it all lay a drug conspiracy, a renegade judge, and three tons of marijuana moving across state lines.
I am omitting a link to the court transcript (though publically available) that describes these goings-on of southern Minnesota’s seedy underbelly out of deference to Mr. Hawk, who I am sure values his privacy over a semi-stranger rehashing the crazy shit that went on in his past. Plus, he also told me that he would one day like to write a book about the whole shebang; by all rights, the bizarre drug conspiracy lurking under Waseca AfterDark’s surface is Hawk’s story to tell, not mine.
So what, then, is the story I am left with? For a chance pick off the bargain rack at a Chicago bookstore, this unassuming pamphlet packed in untold calories of food for thought. I have read comics that made me bowl off my bed with laughter, and I have parsed perzine scrawlings that burned my eyes with welling tears. Still, nothing approaches Waseca AfterDark’s strange bouquet. The product of a niche I can never possibly represent—a time far gone and a space far, far away—it has value as a piece of outlandish art* as well as a thoroughly unique cultural artifact, collecting the ultra-specific past while reflecting the melancholy present.
“The jam goes on,” Flynn writes, describing the weekly jam sessions at the Office, a defunct bar in Owatonna, “Bring your axe, sit a spell, play a while and just listen to what the area musicians are up to. It’ll surprise you.” Waseca AfterDark may not publish anymore, but it has not succumbed to history. Its jam goes on, and I have the musings and mullets to prove it.
*- I realize I spent very little time actually talking about Flynn’s essays, which have really remarkable cadences, or the non sequitur cartoon by Michael Miller. I plan on attaching most of the pages in the zine to this post once I get access to my scanner so y’all can see for yourselves.