At this year’s Zine Fest, I met a husband and wife artistic team who showed genuine interest in my Melies comics. This gives me the kind of excitement that most people get when they see free puppies on the road, so I am probably biased when I review their book. Then again, zine culture is so specialized and intimate that ideas like “bias” probably don’t carry much weight anyway.
The Vagus Street Project has a wonderfully creepy concept: in the 1960s, “visionary” (read: insane) architects designed modernistic housing projects for the poor. Utopian planning was big in the sixties, but when the drugs wore off, many poor people were stuck living in nightmarish and unstable “works of art”. John and Jenn Myers have imagined such a project, and they’ve set their modern-day ghost stories within its walls. Like Phil Hester’s The Wretch (which I reviewed earlier this year), the “hook” is strong enough that I like the serviceable stories as well as the good ones. I’m happy that someone thought of this idea and drew it.
The undercurrent of race that runs through these stories is gutsy, and it lends a pit-of-your-stomach sense of reality to the otherwise somewhat cheesy ghost stories. Supposedly, the Vagus Street Project survived one of the worst race riots of the 1960s, and we can only assume that this event has something to do with its haunting. Most of the current residents seem to be black, and “Something Moved in the Schoolyard” features an old black man reminiscing about his childhood in the Project. But even more than race, class permeates the entire series. It would be more crowd-pleasing to see rich people receiving comeuppance from the ghosts of poor people, but that’s not what happens. All the project’s residents are poor (it was reopened for people affected by our current recession), so we get the decidedly NOT crowd-pleasing spectacle of poor people being victimized by the ghosts of poor people.
All the stories are five pages long. In a way this is really cool (like little glimpses into this uncomfortable word), but it’s also pretty limiting. We don’t get enough time to care about any of the characters, who never reappear. We never learn anything about the ghosts, so we’re left with short stories about anonymous poor people being haunted by incomprehensible ghosts. The art style changes every issue (Jen Myers has a wonderful range), and all the stories I’ve read are told in a different style. One story was silent. They are interesting, but they aren’t given a chance to be much more than interesting. The series does not have a discernible beginning, middle, or end, which is kind of a shame. On the other hand, it does kind of add to the “glimpses of another life” feeling.
Anyways, I’m glad that something came up with this idea and then drew it. For all the frustration zine culture causes me, this is the kind of neat thing that it occasionally produces. Comics were made for this: unusual but interesting ideas that would be butchered if they were picked up by Hollywood. This comic stayed in my head for a while after I read it, and it made me think about class in a much more critical way than some half-assed anarchist zine ever could have.
Check it out at http://vagus.typodmary.com/