Waseca AfterDark #18: Ghost Town Literature, Part 2

Previously on AMC’s Your Horrible Family

“Put it down, Danny!”

“Is that right?”


“Oh boy!”

“I promised Maggie I wouldn’t go there…”

Ponderous stare.

“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.

Waseca AfterDark #18: Ghost Town Literature, Part 1

Every month in the Great City-State of Chicago, the Chicago Publishers Resource Center hosts a zine zine club (as opposed to a zine book club, which would just be daft) that, as you might guess, I am a pretty big fan of. This month’s meeting date was just confirmed via newsletter: October 9th, 7 – 9 PM. If you can make it out there, come say hello! The discussion is lively, the snacks are plentiful, and, for one month only, the zines will be spooky as hell.

Because, duh of course, it’s the witching month. Halloween is in a scant 30 days and October’s zine club tasks participants to bring a “dead” zine, one long out of print, lost to the world, or of a similarly ethereal nature. When John, ChiPRC honcho and zine zine club moderator (as much as a small circle of like-minded folks need a moderator), announced this theme at the end of last month’s meeting, I almost jumped out of my seat and saluted the heavens. I had the perfect zine for the occasion. So perfect, in fact, that I can barely wait another 8 days to talk about it.

Here’s the sneak peek: no, it isn’t a minicomic, nor is it a perzine or an issue zine. Waseca AfterDark #18 (No link, sorry, cannot find a trace of it on the internet) fits into no category but its own. This zine, this spooky-as-hell zine, is preoccupied with the state of a  small town of Waseca, Minnesota circa 1998. Standing 9,000 folks strong as of the latest census, Waseca is a city I have never visited, likely may not ever visit, and apparently had a zine documenting local culture through the ’90s. I don’t know when it started production, or when it ended, but issue #18 fell into my hands off the Quimby’s shelf for only two quarters. Within 30 seconds of spotting it, and the smiling, mullet’d man gracing its cover, I was mesmerized.

First, I wondered how Quimby’s, a mere 7 hour drive from Waseca, came into possession of this zine, and this issue in particular. After reading it cover-to-cover a couple times, my mind turned to research: forget how it got to Chicago, where did this come from at all? I’ve heard to zines documenting trends and culture in big cities like New York and Boston, but who could have expected a product of a culture so small and specific, 16 pages dominated by advertisements for local tattoo parlors and sports bars and laser toner cartridge stores, rounded out by a handful of essays written by one Michael Flynn? I did not, but I was amazed. Once again, zines proved to be extremely versatile editorial objects, capable of capturing even the smallest cultural ephemera.

I was ready to put Waseca AfterDark #18 back on the shelf. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Something strange, implacable, still compelled me to it. Butterflies crowded my stomach.

I needed to know what happened to it, what happened to Waseca, the man on the cover (“Hawk,” who apparently was just starting a tattoo parlor at the time of #18‘s publishing), and Michael W. Flynn, the man behind it all. I needed to dig deep and open the time capsule.

And that’s when Waseca AfterDark started to get, uh, dark. Very dark.