Cometbus is perhaps the best known and best imitated punk rock zine, as well as laying down the format for the personal zine. Over four dozen issues and eighteen years, Aaron Cometbus has creates his own literary form.

He started writing the zine at the young (even for zine writers) age of 13, in Berkeley, California as a way to be part of the punk scene at the time. Over the years, it became a way for Cometbus to reflect upon life, using a series of two to four page chapters to comment on his life.

Aaron Cometbus is notorious in the zine scene for being a loner, odd in a scene where many people start writing for the very purpose of making friends and aquantinces. On the other hand, he does tour and record with punk rock bands when he is not writing, including Pinhead Gunpowder, a band that also includes Billy Joe Armstrong from Greenday.

Cometbus was a radical departure when the famous issue number 26 was released. I was still in high school (this is 1990 we're talking about here) when Aaron started his long dormant zine back up. It was well over a hundred pages and featured absolutely no writing directly about punk rock music. Instead there were pages and pages of interviews with train hoppers, reviews of cereal, lists of things to do when you're bored, and a whole lot more. The important point to keep in mind here is that most zines at this time were near-autistic in their devotion to the band interview, record review, and guest column format. Most punk rock zines rolled off the assembly line in near identical lockstep. The rebirth of Cometbus minus the band interviews was the beginning of a whole new era in self publishing. Somehow no one had thought about just writing about the things that interested them without trying to put them into the context of an interview question or to analogize some record in a review. This was a big deal.

Anyway, more than ten years have passed since then. The idea of a "personal zine" has long since lapsed into the domain of self indulgent posturing which predated its current parallel, the web log, by a half decade of so. It's interesting, though. to be able to trace a near revolution in the way suburban punk rock kids expressed themselves. There are very few analogous happenings that compare to this sudden change.

Fortunately, Cometbus outgrew the legion of imitators that followed in his wake. His writing grew more focused over time and evolved into something comparable to a baby Kerouac. Aaron became a historian of sorts for the punk rock kids of Berkeley. He did this by making fictional stories out of real life events by switching some of the details, chronology, and all of the names around. I've overheard arguments about who the real subject of a story was. I might actually be in one or two of them but there's no way to be certain.

The most recent issues of Cometbus have tended towards more extended works. The structure of Cometbus is usually chapter-like anyway but starting with the "Double Deuce" issue (I forget the number) Aaron actually made each issue into a mini-novel. The "Double Deuce" issue is about one household. It details how they came together, how things got really fucked up, and how the physical split from a common dwelling effected their friendships. It's a really complete story and pushes the definition of a zine (especially since it is perfect bound and has more than a hundred pages.)

The side effect of Cometbus being so focused on the text is that Aaron's amazing photocopier manipulated graphics are limited to the cover. Nearly every page of the actual zine is paragraph after paragraph of handwritten text with nary a photo or drawing to be seen.

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