I recently received the most recent issue of MINESHAFT, #22, after reviewing an older issue. MINESHAFT's best attribute is its unabashed enthusiasm and embrace of unusual corners of culture and subcultures. Case in point: a long photo essay about the "Muscle Beach Beauties". It concerns female bodybuilders, acrobats and daredevils who performed on the beaches and boardwalks of California in the 1940s and 1950s. Like many of the pieces in MINESHAFT, this article (delving into the archives of OJ Heller) is revealing of a time and place, illuminating a subculture that was quite unusual for its time. Heller is obsessed with "women of strength", and it was amusing to see an R.Crumb sketch on the back cover, surrounded by photos of girls that Crumb certainly approves of.
As per usual, there are a number of unusual comic strips, stories and completely unexpected material. Mary Fleener's drawings of weirdly-dressed women at the San Diego Comicon was typically hilarious, with the punchline of Fleener being annoyed that she had to sell her comics behind a tented area while so many women were displaying their "wares" so openly. The most stunning highlight of the issue, especially for fans of underground artists, was the wager between Kim Deitch and Jay Lynch. The wager involved them writing the words for a country music song, encouraging MINESHAFT readers to come up with music for it and record it, and the winner would be which cartoonist got the song into a top-50 chart! While the songs they wrote are funny, it's punctuated by an amazing 2-page jam piece, featuring Lynch and Deitch sitting across from each other, with their cartoon creations sitting on their laps.
The excerpt from a longer work by J.R. Helton ("Pat and Corky") is very funny, with the situation the characters find themselves in growing ever more extreme and weird. Paroled prisoners, lots of cocaine, pedophiles, freebasing at parties, overdoses, and much more general weirdness are described in a deadpan, matter-of-fact manner. Jay Kinney contributes a rant against pretty much everything (occasionally veering into "get off my lawn, you kids!" territory), while Aaron Lange wrote an interesting review of Kim Deitch's work that puts it into the context of its time. He asserts that while the 60s were a political and cultural failure in nearly every respect, its cartoonists emerged relatively unscathed and stronger than ever. It's an interesting point, especially since I'd agree that the comics of Crumb, Deitch, Griffith etc. only get better as they get older. Finally, there's a long letter of comment from Crumb, who reveals all sorts of fascinating personal details as he comments on the latest issue, specifics of editor Everett Rand's life and the struggle he knows it takes in keeping a publication like this going. It's clear that MINESHAFT is the passion of Rand and co-editor Gioia Palmieri, and their readers are the beneficiaries of their obsession.