Rael One-Cloud doesnt want you to know how old she is Eek! Cant I just be twentysomething? and she pleads the Fifth when the conversation shifts to money. But she rants and raves about nearly everything else in her long-running Burlington-based zine, Alphabitch Afterbirth.
Zines derivative of magazines are published by writers and artists more interested in disseminating a message than making money. Unlike the processed product of mass-media corporations, zines offer uncensored snapshots of their creators reality. Some, like Bust and Hip Mama, have become professional endeavors almost indistinguishable from magazines.
Not so Alphabitch. After six years and 18 issues a long lifespan in the world of zines and even magazines Alphabitch remains raw, urgent and imperfect, true to the DIY zine ethos. One-Cloud is doggedly determined to present the universe as she sees it, typos and all, whether shes writing about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, publishing a how-to guide on writing porno novels or praising her favorite indie record label.
And like any good zinester, One-Cloud is unafraid of controversy. Even devoted readers will find something offensive not surprising for a publication that guest editor Sea Creature describes in Issue #7 as late 20th Century underground low-rent bulldada it shall soar and arise up under the skirts of time and finger the pud of literature. Even I was shocked shocked to find an image of Christ crucified on a cross of erect penises.
But this sort of provocative gesture is exactly what makes Alphabitch worth reading. Theres simply nothing else like it in Vermont.
Besides its controversial nature, Alphabitchs most unique feature is the deranged, twisted, overlapping collage art featured in every issue. These crazy compilations are the result of what must be endless cut-and-paste sessions with a cast of mysterious characters, such as Sea Creature, Ozzy and ~*Kether. One-Cloud, the mastermind behind the whole enterprise, calls herself the editrix.
Trying to understand everything about Alphabitch its wild art, its psychedelic poetry, the shifting allegiances and pseudonyms of its writers is like flipping through 500 channels and trying to watch them all at once. Its best to take it slow. And to remember that sometimes, as one particularly well-placed bit of clip-art warns in issue #8, the icky factor is very high in this.
A Burlingtonian who came from Brooklyn and likes to travel, One-Cloud speaks about her outlandish and overstimulating little mag from a friends house in Athens, Georgia, where she is spending most of the winter. When shes away from her North End apartment, shes either crashing around like a Rainbow hippie or staying at hostels, says the zinester, whose Cherokee heritage inspired her to relinquish her birth name in favor of her current moniker.
Her zine travels quite a bit as well. Its available at Wuxtry, what One-Cloud calls a record-comic-book-sci-fi-weird-stuff store in Athens, and makes its way to New York, Olympia, Washington, Amsterdam, Australia and to a zine library in Hawaii. In Vermont, readers can procure copies at the Rhombus Gallery or peruse them at Radio Bean and at The Space, above Battery Street Jeans.
One-Cloud also has a mailing list, but most of the copies go to people who see her zine somewhere and send her an envelope and a few dollars for production and postage. She keeps the overhead and technology low; she doesnt have a long-arm stapler, so she sews together the 20-page issues by hand.
One-Cloud says she got into the zine scene after meeting David Kime, who produced the zine Transcendent Visions. Good old-fashioned feminism had something to do with it, too. I was hanging out in Olympia before the whole grunge thing, and the Riot Grrl scene at that time was inspirational, explains One-Cloud. I wanted to get older feminists writing out to younger kids.
Alphabitch got its name, she says, from an encounter with a whelping dog that bit her leg. One-Cloud was forced to come to terms with the word bitch, and decided to reclaim it. She outlines the process in the Alphabitch Manifesto, concluding that, Womyn used to eat their placentas, to get back the protien [sic] they lost in giving birth. We gave birth to the UberPater, and he turned on us But his time is over. Eat the afterbirth, take back the power you need.
The Manifesto appears every few issues or so, starting with Issue #2, but Alphabitch has changed over the years. For one thing, there are fewer feminist quotes. After a while anyone would become desensitized to the dorm-room poster passage that proclaims, Because womans work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious we are part of the womens liberation movement.
Another change is that the layout has become somewhat less overwhelming; Issues #15-18 actually contain white space. It was a scarce commodity before.
But the biggest transformation has been One-Clouds own personal growth and its impact on the zine. She used to write more about relationships she was having at the time, which in hindsight she finds embarrassing. The turning point came when the editrix took a two-year hiatus. In the introduction to her first issue back, #10, she writes,
In the past, when I did this zine, I tried to keep it fairly openended, favouring the 3am rants over lucid gripes about my current situations, the womyns issues & punq rock sociopolitics broad instead of localised. I guess tho, in spite of it making this zine dated I wanna talk about ME for once? Is that egotistical? Yeh, maybe. But the fact I finally GOT an ego, after years of either being a doormat or exploding into a psycho-postal megabitch, is something I got a RIGHT to take some pride in. I GO babee.
Since then, One-Cloud has become more of a gadfly, taking locals to task, especially local artists. Theres too much of a very clique-y arts scene in Burlington, she complains.
One-Cloud has also used Alphabitch to chastise the city government for embracing Filenes, and has run items by fellow gadfly Ken Lawless criticizing the conduct of the Burlington Police.
But despite her anarchist sentiments, One-Cloud is not above self-censorship. She recalled the first printing of Alphabitch #17 after the September 11th attacks; that issue contained a passage advocating the explosive destruction of Burlingtons new Starbucks. She replaced the cut text with her own rants about the war in Afghanistan.
Which is not to say that in her moment of discretion she was cowed or obedient her rants included the suggestion that George Bush Senior might have been involved in planning the terrorist attacks with his old CIA buddies.
The terrorist attacks, the war and the fear of a government crack-down on the freedom of expression has made One-Cloud even more passionate about zines. I just think the zine thing has to flourish, she insists. Sometimes its the only way to get heard. I think zines are the only way people are going to be able to express themselves beyond the cliques, beyond the laws.
And yet the changing world situation seems to have mellowed One-Cloud just a bit. In the introduction to Alphabitch #18, she confesses.
I guess Im glad tho, in spite of the sloppy stupidity of my youth, that I have survived to see this birthday I am dreading the other alternative would be death, after all, & in spite of my need to bitch about all thats bad in our society, Im still enjoying it all.
One-Cloud says shell continue to deliver look for Issue #19 someday soon.