The Zine Scene

Cross ConnectOyster Boy ReviewThe Alsop ReviewArchipelago

Each month the editors of Eclectica bring you reviews of the Cream of the Crop, the Best of the Web, the Elite of the World Wide Web. These sites represent the best of their kind... the eclectic kind of course! Scores for each site are on a scale of 1-10 in three different areas of quality: Content, Layout, and Navigation.

Cross Connect

Score: 29 = Content - 10, Layout/Design - 10, Navigation - 9

Everything about CrossConnect (Xconnect), under the obviously enthusiastic and capable stewardship of Editor-in-Chief David Deifer and cohort, exemplifies high-class and high-quality. From the elegantly laid-out, yet modern front page to the no-frills Table of Contents, from the invariably high quality fiction, poetry and reviews to the complete notes, guidelines and PR information, nothing has been overlooked. In the current issue (Vol. 3, No. 1) are stellar pieces of fiction and poetry by (among others) William Lantry, Toby Olson, Theron Montgomery and a selection of photo-collages by Masumi Hayashi that must be seen to be believed.

As if the web-site alone is not enough, Xconnect has also-- as part of its striving for "techno-literary interconnectivity"-- come out with a print anthology that has received considerable critical acclaim. As far as I know, Xconnect is the first lit zine to do this, though I believe it will become a trend in the near future (we here at Eclectica are also planning to do the same thing each year).

As an editor, Xconnect represents one of the best litzines in the business, one that I continue to watch and learn from, as a writer and avid reader, it is the home of a continuous flow of work that inspires me and keeps me believing in the power of the web in bringing good words home.

Oyster Boy Review

Score: 29 = Content - 10, Layout/Design - 10, Navigation - 9

I first came across the Oyster Boy Review a year ago while searching for material on Harry Crews. I have since come back again and again for a consistently enjoyable-- and different-- reading experience. OBR is a bit more experimental and edgy in its content than most of my other favorite lit zines (such as the Blue Moon Review and CrossConnect), but it maintains a commitment to quality that many other less traditional zines lack.

The current issue features a small but diverse selection of work by six poets and five poems. OBR publishes new voices, but they also (admirably) continue to publish some of their best "discoveries" in multiple issues. This made for a wonderful reading experience in that I was able to discover authors like Terry Spohn, Judith Chatowsky and Lucy Harrison (one of whose pieces was a 1996 E-Scene Award winner) and then look back at work in previous issues to get a real sense of their work.

The layout in OBR is a dream: easy to navigate and pleasantly presented without any mass of large graphics or browser tricks. I especially liked the use of free web-fonts from Microsoft (which Eclectica also uses) and fresh techniques with tables and other standard HTML markup to make the layout clean and efficient.

The editor, Damon Sauve, has also compiled the most extensive annotated bibliography and web-site about Harry Crews I have ever seen, as well as another for Charles Bukowski which is smaller, but due to be upgraded this fall. I think the professional nature and intense amount of work which both of these sites exhibit, as well as the kind of authors which Damon has chosen to concentrate on, says as much about OBR as any review could!

The Alsop Review

Score: 28 = Content - 10, Layout/Design - 9, Navigation - 9

The Alsop Review is not really a zine per se, but a constantly changing collection of material that harnesses the fluid nature of the World Wide Web in a positive manner. Instead of producing a monthly issue, which could potentially have put the site in the position of publishing sub-standard work or publishing very thin issues, the editor (Lewis Gresham) and his squadron of fifteen volunteer staff members decided to simply add only the work that really impressed them whenever it happened to come along. This makes browsing TAR a real pleasure and often a surprise, since one never knows what is going to appear next.

The editing in TAR is great. The selectivity of their editorial process shows in the consistent quality of the work both in terms of content-- which is always good, if not great-- and presentation-- which is simple, with little to get in the way of what is obviously of primary importance: the words.


Score: 27 = Content - 10, Layout/Design - 8, Navigation - 9

Publishing four times per year, this impressive journal of "Arts, Literature and Opinion" is now on its second issue. Archipelago is a more 'literary' publication than others I have reviewed, featuring critical pieces and close readings in addition to art, poetry and fiction.

The current issue has a long piece by the underrated and relatively unknown Irish author Hubert Butler (who was also featured in the June 12 issue of the New York Review of Books) along with a critical examination of his work by Richard Jones. Also included is a stunning selection of work by Michael Sarki, a poet I have seen in numerous print publications, and an intriguing essay by contributing editor K. Callaway that begins with the etymology of the word 'archipelago' and ends in a discussion of anti-Semitism and racism.

This is the strongest web-only publication of its kind that I have seen, combining creative and critical work that would be at home in any of its prestigious print counterparts. Although some web literati might condemn this zine as being too 'staid' or 'intellectual' rather than being 'fresh and avant garde' (and it commits the digerati-sin of promoting its PDF version for reading on paper-- a feature that I think more zines should offer), I don't find the former to be true and the latter is hardly a black mark. If quality intellectual material is a web-sin, I don't mind… I will just continue reading Archipelago and say a few Hail Mary's in the morning.

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