More ziney loveliness: Shawn Granton (via Charles Pope, cyclist and diarist)

blog

Let’s just file this one under “things I was convinced I’d already blogged about but…2020?” and pretend it’s not already December, okay?


As well as the recent zines I have been enjoying, earlier this year I was a very happy recipient of a nice selection of work by Shawn Granton, behind the wonderfully-titled Urban Adventure League. A Portland resident, Shawn has a number of interests which dovetail neatly with my own: he’s regularly out on his bike, camping, taking pictures with film cameras, or playing with a short wave radio. Often all in one trip!

In fact, the detail that first led me to Shawn’s online presence was his use of the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, a lovely 35mm range finder camera I’ve talked about several times before. The Hi-Matic gets a nice amount of coverage on blogs, Flickr and Instagram, and it’s always nice to see what people get out of theirs when you know the exact tool they’re using (differences in film stocks aside).

And as well as an enthusiastic film photographer, Shawn is also a great blogger. He’s been at it for years, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him in a distant sort of way via his blog posts which cover all of the kinds of hobbies I mentioned above.

As I was getting more familiar with his interests this past summer, during the same period I had been reading a lovely book called A Golden Age of Cycling, being a collection of recently-published selection of diaries kept by Charles Pope between 1924 and 1933. Pope wrote – somewhat prosaically at times – about his cycling adventures around the UK, and occasionally on the continent.

The mileage Pope would rack up on a given weekend – and the sheer numbers of weekends he spent awheel in any given year – boggled my mind. A lot of the places he visited were familiar to me, and it was always nice to see how much detail he wrote about the places along the route itself – or rather, the names of those places, if not vivid descriptions of them. Pope rarely waxed lyrical in his diary entries, but they often read as though he was frantically jotting down details at the end of a long day’s pedalling, or while he wolfed down some gargantuan breakfast, keen to hit the road again. At the very least, his route listings helped me to visualise a mental map of his route – or occasionally would lead me to actually try and plot the route he took on a map featuring today’s roads.

This always gave me pause, though; Pope was cycling Britain’s roads at a time long before motorways and dual carriageways, but also quite early on in the British love affair with the motor vehicle. These roads were old, windy – and very quiet by today’s standards.

Crucially, Pope could navigate towns and cities of various sizes without having to contend with vast ring roads, junctions and multi-lane roundabouts. He could instead weave his way in and out by the old roads which were still carrying the size and volume of traffic they were used to.

He did of course occasionally grumble about the vast numbers of day-trippers in their gas-guzzling automobiles clogging up pretty little Cotswolds villages, so I mustn’t presume the roads were entirely empty of cars. Pope was not a fan of this new menace. And it was therefore especially gut-wrenching to learn via this book that Charles Pope ultimately lost his life on his bicycle after a road traffic accident.

But despite this tragedy, what a happy book it is to read. The tales of his adventures have inspired a few of my own, and although I constantly needed to remind myself that British roads 100 years would be virtually unrecognisable to Pope, there are still pockets of the countryside – country lanes and pretty little villages – that would be instantly familiar to the man, as he propped his bike up and strode inside the nearest pub for his trademark refreshment of bread, cheese and Bass ale.


I provide all this detail into the Pope book because, as I read it, and as I became more familiar with Shawn Granton’s blog and general demeanour (not to mention his obsession with British three-speeds), I knew this would be a book Shawn would enjoy. Having read his blog for a while, I was aware he had a public PO Box address on his site, so it was clear what I had to do next: I sent Shawn a copy of the Pope book.

To my delight, not only did the book arrive in what seemed like less than a week, but in not much more time than that, I had received a reply by post from Shawn as well! I sent the book via what I presume used to be called ‘surface mail’ (Royal Mail’s International Economy) and had imagined it would be flung into the bilge of a creaking wooden ship and might wash up on the eastern seaboard of North America some time after a storm broke up its hull. Then, through snow/rain/heat/gloom it would eventually cross that vast continent and make its way into Shawn’s hands long after I had forgotten ever sending it.

But no! Even in a pandemic, the postal service blew me away, and did Shawn proud too: his neat little package was a joy for me to unpack, stuffed as it was with varieties of the stuff he makes and sells. You see, not only is Shawn an entertaining and knowledgable writer, but he’s also a great artist, sketching comics and logos for all sorts of projects.

I was thrilled to find in the pack he kindly sent me in gratitude for the Pope book a series of photography- and cycling-related comics, zines and stickers.

Thanks so much, Shawn – and if any of you reading this would like to see some of Shawn’s work, his Etsy store is the place to pick what you’d like: https://www.etsy.com/shop/urbanadventureleague – or just check out his blog at https://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/ – if you like the things I’ve been blabbing on about for a thousand words now, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Shawn’s blog, too.

Oh, and PS: after mentioning my delight at seeing some of the other recent zines in e-ink form, I should add that I regularly read Shawn’s blog posts on my Kindle – and here’s a recent example which just shows off how great e-ink makes certain types of illustration look:

Some recent reading

blog

Somewhere along the way discovering more cool, individual, personal websites recently, I found that some people who dedicate their time to creating such things, also – gasp! – sometimes turn this creativity to the making of zines.

Of course!

Incidentally, I think this also sort of explains my lack of posts here lately: I’ve gone a bit into ‘receive’ rather than ‘transmit’. It happens. These things come in waves.

Anyway, it’s been nice to tap into an undercurrent of creative little publications – particularly the genre of autobiographical life-writing (a particular favourite of mine). In recent years I’ve found more and more examples of the kind of memoir and recollection that discusses the author’s life growing up on computers. I guess that generation is just of the age where a) they could grow up with computers, b) they are feeling nostalgic enough about that time to now write about it.

It’s a bit like the saying about the music you listen to when you’re c.14 years old being really important – it can also be applied to computers: the computers you use, and the games you play, and of course the internet communities you inhabit during those years inevitably has a profound effect on what kind of human being you grow into.

With this in mind, here are three zines that I found recently that scratch that itch for me:

First up we have a couple of submissions to the Lost Histories Jam run a couple of years ago that ran with this pitch:

[…]what was something specific to the way that you played or experienced videogames that you feel like hardly anyone ever talks about? How can the community-based, experiential, specific, overlooked and personal enrich the common-knowledge history of videogames?

Perfect! Personal histories in relation to videogames, but with a specific slant on those areas that may be overlooked by mainstream recollections.

The first find was the intriguingly-titled “I have always liked sci-fi, anime, and sex” by Freya C. But what I hoped would be a fun read was actually so much more interesting than that: Freya was born assigned as a male* and is now a trans female. Apart from that, they seem to have had a very similar computer life to me: I loved Freya’s recollections of storing school IT work on floppy discs.

* I’ve always found it is good to read things that cause me to look up a word or investigate a referenced work; in this case, the term ‘AMAB’ occurred just a few words into the first page and I had never come across it before. It stands for ‘assigned male at birth’ and can also be used as AFAB, for female. I’m really glad Freya thought to include this introductory text as it helped frame the work, and I learned something at the same time.

I loved the fact that as well as touching on the subject of wanting to play as female characters from quite early on, they also discussed games on Palm Pilot devices (of which I had one), and even something as niche as Terminal Velocity, a game I lost many hours to.

The next submission to the Lost Histories Jam was this neat little zine entitled “In the beginning we all played Family”. It’s made by an Argentinian called rumpel talking about how widespread videogame piracy was there when she grew up, how many Argentinian families kept playing the Famicom (or Nintendo Entertainment System / NES elsewhere) for years after its release, and how she feels that as videogame piracy is now less rampant across the console market there, a counterculture has somehow been lost.

Obviously I loved both of these for their mix of the familiar and the esoteric – a world I feel I know and understand well enough, but viewed through a lens I do not possess – but I also loved that they took the form of neat little digital zines. Even better, these A5-ish PDFs were the perfect size to be read on my Kindle. I even read Freya’s zine in the bath. Sorry, Freya.

I’ve talked before, I am sure, about how much I love how text and certain types of illustrations are rendered in e-ink; I much prefer to read the majority of web articles on my Kindle at bedtime using Five Filters’ Push to Kindle tool, but all the better when I can email a well-designed PDF to my device to enjoy. If it’s natively sized to fit the Kindle’s screen, all the better, but a bit of pinching and zooming where necessary is fine too.

And finally, a zine which wasn’t available digitally, but rather was pointed to from the author’s website. I can’t remember how I found Olivia’s neocities website, but it was very pretty, and had a button labeled ‘InternetNostalgia’ which I clicked faster than the speed of sound. On that page, which might have been enough on its own, she opened with the line: 

Hey, first of all, I wrote a zine specifically about my 2005-2007 internet nostalgia that goes into more detail than this section, and you can buy it here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/581796534/nostalgia-whiplash-1-the-internet-of

So naturally I clicked that as well – albeit slightly more warily – but found that she wasn’t charging very much at all for her zines, and I figured that chucking £2-3 at a creator I don’t know is something I like to do every now and then, particularly when there’s the promise of a little physical doohicky coming in the mail. So I ordered a copy.

To my delight, the zine (along with another – thanks Olivia!) turned up on Tuesday morning, having been posted from Connecticut on Friday evening. That’s mad! That would be surprisingly fast in normal times, but lately the post seems completely out of whack everywhere, so it was especially surprising and pleasant.

Anyway, it was all I hoped it would be: a deeply personal reflection on the experience of growing up online – in Olivia’s case in a home-schooled, religious household which put pressure on her to conform to certain ideals, but also allowed her enough freedom to discover communities which would allow her in turn to discover her own creativity. That’s awesome. 

As Olivia closes her zine by saying: Ah, the internet! 🙂