March 19th, 2014 by Amelia
Alex Ratcharge first got on my radar due to his columns in MRR that reeked of too many cigarettes and a version of reality I could get behehind. He’s done a slew of art for MRR, his comics are on the money with their punk commentary, and a bunch of rad zines including a split zine with Accept the Darkness. He additionally has a veneration for great zines like Game of the Arseholes and is very humble about the fact that he did not emerge from a punk vacuum but is open about his influences and gives appropriate nods where due. I give you Alex Ratcharge.
What do you do with your art, other than zines and contributing to MRR so we can have cool shirts and buttons…
Well I ain’t one of these art students type who’s always working on some sketches and tryin’ to “improve his craft” or whatever these people call it, I ain’t tryin’ to find any gig either, I only draw when people ask me to, which means I don’t draw much, just a few posters for local punk gigs here and there, some fliers for a place called La Luttine (basically four walls of an ex-squatted building where local scumbags booze it up and talk shit every Saturday), then the MRR stuff once in a blue moon… I don’t even draw much for my own zine ’cause I’d rather feature better artists in there… Like Nagawika or Abraham Díaz or Ben Lyon… The most recent shirt I’ve done was for a new band from Finland called KYTÄNSOITTAJAT, same design as their 7″ cover. Next I’ve been asked to draw a tote bag for Ediciones ¡Joc Doc!, a small comics publisher based in Mexico City. If you want to look cool, you know what? Just send me a blank shirt and $20 and I’ll draw a one of a kind piece of clothing for ya, give me a list of a few bands you like and I’ll pick one and do it. But not just you, Amelia: anyone reading this. With that said I’m always dumbfounded when people seem to take me kinda “seriously” as a “cartoonist,” I don’t do any efforts to get better and I can’t draw anything but retarded boogerface characters… My thing is writing, which feels much harder hence much more exciting to me. Anyway, not to say I don’t enjoy drawing but to me it’s more of a “whatever” kinda deal. In the past I’ve done art for LEXOMYL, WHITE LOAD, WHITE COP, TÉLÉCOMMANDE, BURNING ITCH, ROGERNOMIX, Izu Giroa (fanzine), Negative Guest List (cult Aussie rag) and a few more I’m forgetting.
How did you start doing Ratcharge?
Back in 2004 I was young and bored, living with some Argentinian expatriate in a room the size of your toilets in the center of Paris. During the day she’d go to work her ass off to pay the rent and bills, and while I was waiting for her, useless and unemployed, I decided to start a new zine since there was nothing else to do, no TV channels/no computer/no turntable/etc. First issue was all hand-written and featured articles about such things as Spanish disco band DESTRUCCIÓN and the mighty Dennis Hopper (RIP).
Did you do other zines before Ratcharge?
Yeah, I did a zine about video games called Mad Pad when I was thirteen, then in high school I put out two issues of a comic zine called Phoque Land, then fourteen issues of a hardcore punk zine called Black Lung between 2000 and 2004. For the latter I interviewed bands like TEAR IT UP, YOUNG WASTENERS, NO HOPE FOR THE KIDS, LEBENDEN TOTEN, GASMASK TERRÖR, and people like Eric from Social Napalm records or Chris from Slug & Lettuce zine. Content was mostly centered around US and French punk, and terrible writing about my life and my problems.
Did you model your zine off of any other zines?
Around the start of Ratcharge I was really into Game of the Arseholes, Destroy What Bores You, How Much Art Can You Take?, Voices Wake Us, Kängnäve, etc., all the great music-centered punk zines of the early 00’s. But Ratcharge has always been a mix of tons of influences (too many to list, old and new, some about music, some not), hopefully with my own twist.
What zines did you grow up reading?
I’m tempted to say “all of them” and leave it at that, since that would be close to the truth—I read every single punk zine I could get my hands on as a teen and young adult, mailordered ’em frantically, traded ’em like crazy, for about ten years I was receiving at least one or two new zines a week, so I’ll let you do the math. Didn’t care about quality or subject (music, politics, comics, personal zines), they all seemed amazing—tons of French ones (there’s always been a vibrant zine culture here), and lots of US ones, too, which I tended to glorify a bit too much for some dumb reason (in short: collateral damage of cultural imperialism). After a decade or so I overdosed, so to speak, but today I still respect the medium—free speech for the dumb, I believe in this, and I also believe in zines as a valid way to get into the habit of writing, which is one of the most beautiful/important things in the world. With that said I recently gave 90% of my zine collection to a friend, with no regret.
What are you reading now?
Mostly novels, fiction and creative non-fiction, current favorites include Roberto Bolaño, Steve Tesich, Milan Kundera, Emmanuel Carrère, Frederic Exley, Lionel Tran, Paul Auster, endless list. The only zine I’m still reading cover to cover is Distort, but I still follow what’s going on, for instance if postage from the US wasn’t such a pain I’d get my hands on a copy of Cretins of Distortion from the Midwest, which sounds promising. Nuts from Olympia/NYC is really good too.
What are your upcoming projects?
For the past four years I’ve been learning to write fiction, this is the main thing I’m working on, and hopefully it will keep me busy for the next decade(s). In a couple weeks I’ll put out the new issue of Ratcharge, which will be a collection of drawings and comics by Abraham Díaz (Ratcharge is more of a “publisher” than a “zine” these days, since whole issues are the work of people other than me). Also working on an exhibition in Lyon for the same dude. After that, probably a collection of short stories or a new episode of the adventures of a character called Pierre-Henry Tonon. I put out a literary mag with my mate Julien last month, maybe we’ll work on a second issue… Seems that I’ll do the cover for the second 7″ by KYTÄNSOITTAJAT as well… What else…. I’m booking a gig for THE LOVE TRIANGLE and THE SPLITS here in July… I’ll keep running the Punk Drawings blog, which is about soccer and cheesecakes obviously… Oh and I’m trying to start some kind of booze-friendly chess club in my neighborhood, because chess and alcohol are the answers to most of the world’s problems, as you probably know.
Are you in a band at the moment?
Until recently I was drumming for a band called FRUSTROS, but we called it quits. It’s the first time in years I’m not in any band, but I feel like I might be over it—tours are a pain in the ass, gear is expensive, dealing with people’s differing ideas of music is exhausting.
What’s going on in France now, punk and politically?
Punk: The best band in France right now, in my opinion, is GUILLOTINE, a dark/violent hardcore band with no recording yet but one of the most intense live sets I’ve seen last year. Also check out PERVERS ET TRUANDS from Saint Etienne, they’ve got a killer demo and are about to release a 12″ of slow perverted Flipper/Brainbombs influenced jams. In Lyon tons of bands have broken up in the past year but DÉFAITE rules (get their tape and 7″), so does ÉTAT LIMITE (great punk band with a level of energy bordering on hardcore, no recording yet) and I’ve got high hopes for a band called ZONE INFINIE, featuring members of TOUJOURS RIEN (the CAMERA SILENS of the 21st Century). There are probably a few other good bands in this country (PEUR PANIQUE and KRIEGSKADE in Paris, SYNDROME 81 in Brest, TÉLÉDETENTE 666 and SIDA in Strasbourg/Lyon, ANXIETY ATTACK in Lille) but for the most part everybody’s playing new wave these days (or clean-cut “cold wave,” which is basically the same), and I can’t wait for that trend to be over.
Politically: Our “socialist” president is a sad joke, unemployment is higher than ever, the far right seems to be getting stronger and is getting tons of media coverage, the “crisis” is still being talked about on a daily basis, our neighbors Italy and Spain and Portugal are going down, prices are rising, and maybe worst, in the past year we’ve seen the birth of a new “movement” of right-wing people demonstrating against such things as gay marriage, abortion, etc… In my lifetime it’s the first time I’ve seen so many right-wing demonstrations in the streets of France, which can’t be anything but bad news. Also, in Lyon there’s been a rise of Nazi skinheads in the past years, Blood & Honor militant types, and in Paris a teenager was killed by some of them last year. Fun times overall.
If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?
It’s the same shit everywhere, I’m afraid. Maybe in a cabin in Siberia or in the South Island of New Zealand…
What’s on your turn table right now?
First album by Finish rockers RÄJÄYTTÄJÄT, BUTTHOLE SURFERS reissues, THE GODZ first album, AC/DC CDs I got for Christmas, some GRAZHDANSKAYA OBORONA CD. Then tons of shit in the mp3 player… BIG ZIT demo, LIFE STINKS album, ALBERT AYLER in Greenwich Village… Not buying many proper records these days, too expensive and I can’t be fucked getting up to put on those fucking B-sides.
Any advice to younger kids who want to start a zine, such as becoming best friends with the guy at the local copy shop or that Carbona works best?
- Work in a copy shop (or screw the copy shop dude/girl).
- If you pay for printing, don’t expect to get your money back, at least not the first few years. Maybe you will, but don’t think about it.
- Don’t interview bands, just write about them, or at least answer the questions for them. You know better than them. If you do interview bands: don’t be nice.
- Don’t be afraid of what people will think or say, people are full of shit, just write what you wanna write. Only way to go.
- Find a cool name (not like Ratcharge).
- Work with deadlines.
- Work hard.
- Write every day.
- Don’t believe the old crowd: reviewing mp3s is ok.
- Do as I say, not as I do.
How can we stay up to date on your doings, besides your MRR column? Speaking of which, can you elaborate? I thought you left in support of Mykel Board…
There’s a site at ratcharge.blogspot.com, lots of which is in French, but I also post some of my past MRR columns, pictures, drawings, etc. About the column—yeah, I wanted to quit and did for a few months when they fired Mykel Board, which I still think was a terrible decision, as Mykel was a good writer, a real troublemaker and a breath of fresh air in the pages of MRR, especially nowadays, as some would argue he and Georges Tabb were the only punk writers (as opposed to “people writing about punk”) left in the mag, or at least the only visible link between MRR‘s past and present. I don’t want to go on for too long because I already talked about this with one of the coordinators and we agreed to disagree, but the point is after a few months I started to miss doing the column and I wondered, what good is it gonna do if I quit? It ain’t gonna undo what’s done, I thought, so I came back.
How can we best get in touch with you?
Any last words, punk?
Don’t call me punk.