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Digging the dirt on ex-zinesters

By Nathaniel G. Moore

Late last year, while doing research for this column, I found myself in a heated debate with Toronto poet Paul Vermeersch over which was the better family sitcom, Growing Pains or Family Ties. I argued that the Seavers were way better than the Keatons, but after a few hours, Vermeersch showed me the errors of my ways, and I had to admit publicly that Family Ties was indeed superior. Now that I’ve cleared up that painful truth, I would like to introduce the latest in a series of deleted zine cases I’ve been working on. I didn’t attend the DeVry Institute of Canadian Small Press Journalism to update my blog every half an hour.

Whatwave was a London, Ontario zine with an amazing 16-year run. Once they zined, now they don’t, but when they did, Whatwave was their baby…until they started having real babies. The zine’s format was magazine-sized, and was run by the O’Hallorans (Dave and Rena) from roughly 1984, when they took it over from Al Cole, who ran it from 1980-1984.

The silk-screened covers are still fresh and crisp, even a decade later. Cover artist Darren Merinuk now does record/CD sleeves for bands all over the world. Dave says they would receive unsolicited art from all over. “Some of the other bands we covered regularly were Deja Voodoo (as well as all of the other bands on the OG Records label. Tony and Gerard gave us lots of encouragement and ideas), The Gruesomes, Drums Along The Gardiner, 10 Commandments and loads of others…We tried to cover as many Canadian bands that we liked as we could.”

Local bands may have received their first credible review within the pages of Whatwave. With issue 10, the editors took to including a 60-minute cassette compilation and the results were so positive, they ended up doing 10 cassette compilations and two 7″ vinyl compilations that came free with the zine. “If a local band was doing music that we liked, we’d go out of our way to cover them.” Dave continues, “I should mention we were big wrestling fans at the time, and that would always show up in the pages….”

I found myself revisiting passages and getting lost in the early 1990s through Whatwave’s neon green eyes. Within two pages of issue 19, for example, I read about 16-time world champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s meeting with President George Bush and then find a curious article about Nardwuar “the human serviette.” I’ll quote a passage from said article, tremendously fitting for this issue in particular: “Like most people who devote so much time/energy to a scene, Nardwuar can be called a philanthropist. Nobody is really sure what motivates people to promote money losing (or at the best break-even) gigs, or produce fanzines or independent records–but as we can well attest–people do.”

Dave says the creation of Whatwave was a lot of work. “When we started we had a cheap electric typewriter. We graduated to an electronic typewriter that displayed 3 or so lines of text that you could edit before printing those lines. In the early 90s we got our first computer and a bubble jet printer which helped immensely in putting the zine together.” Whatwave’s biggest markets were Europe, NYC and the rest of the east coast states and the west coast. “Like all of the other indie zines, we had distributors come and go continually.”

Whatwave is at times messy, but this comes across as pure zine making passion. The vision of Whatwave seemed to be fueled by a genuine care for coverage of underground culture. Some issues can boast over 60 individual band reviews. One of the nice neighbourhood touches was the handmade ads for southwestern Ontario record store Dr. Disc. Whatwave had a bit of everything, and was neatly presented, with a dash of the ol’ punk vomit layout. Currently Dave is a computer technician, while Rena is a teacher.

As for the maintenance of the zine, says Dave: “We did get quite a few article submissions from Europe, as people over there were more into what we were doing.” After doing Whatwave for nearly a decade, and having kids in 1990 and 1992, the couple was burnt out and running out of free time. “That’s why [there is] the big gap between issues 21 and 22.” The final issue (#22) was released in January 1996. For more info on Whatwave and its creators, visit them on myspace.com/whatwave

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