Despite all pretense to the contrary (smarmy comments at gallery openings, friends who paint/photograph/draw/screenprint, having traded mix CDs for prints), I am not an art afficionado. However, as the saying goes, I know what I like. This collection of the complete run of the ’70s Detroit ‘zine, Destroy All Monsters, from Primary Information, is one of the most fascinating books to come into the Nuthouse mailbox in quite a while.
Visually, this collection is akin to an idea I once had for punishing children: you lock them in a room with nothing but a strobe light, fog machine, and a stereo playing nothing but the Butthole Surfers’ “Sweat Loaf” on infinite repeat at maximum volume. It’s confusing and frightening, but after a point, you give in and accept the fact you’ll have to live with not knowing what the hell’s going on and accept what fragments you can catch glimpse of.
This is a facsimile edition of the ‘zine, meaning what you’re reading is pretty much identical to what was put out in the mid-’70s, complete with different-colored paper, strange Xerox color pages, and the odd smell of mimeograph paper. All that’s missing is the occasional staple. It’s still an engrossing read, even at a nearly 40-year remove from its time,. The advantage of having all the issues in one volume is that you can see how Cary Loren, Mike Kelley, Niagara and Jim Shaw all had their artistic vision and abilities change over the years. The first three issues are far more single-image focused than later ones.
With the fourth issue (coincidentally, the Christmas issue), Destroy All Monsters began featuring much more composite, collage-style art. While it incorporared elements shared with the first three, which would run through the entire run of the magazine – such as film stills, prose and poetry, and a plethora of camp imagery – the pictures and art within began layering far more deeply, and the art and words were more intertwined. The Xerox color insert in the fifth issue only takes the layering and composition to its apex, incorporating psychedelic elements that leave the mind whirling and eyes agog.