On top of the my writing, the nothing here newsletter, and the day-job, I’m also one half of the team behind Oh Nothing Press. The company was Austin’s brain-child, with the sole aim of creating new and weird cultural artifacts, killer t-shirts, and narrative worlds you can lose yourself in… and maybe making enough money to become self-sustaining.
For anyone not reading the newsletter, below is a conversation between me and Austin about ONP, our first capsule MechaDeath, and our inspirations and plans for the future.
AA: This week sees the release of MechaDeath, a 44 page narrative magazine written by our very own Corey J. White and illustrated by the truly world-class crew of Septian Fajrianto, 6VCR, Daniel Comerci and Megan Mushi (whose image of series supervillain Karnak is featured directly below). It’s cosmic action-horror at its finest and you can download a free pdf right here right now. The MechaDeath release also includes a range of four accompanying t-shirts which you can see here.
MechaDeath was inspired by gritty cyberpunk/mecha manga and anime, Heavy Metal (the music), Metal Hurlant (the anthology comic) & the sort of “cosmic nihilism” you might associate with the likes of Eugene Thacker. I had a bunch of notes and ideas for the story, discussed it with Corey, and then he worked his magic and actually wrote the fucking thing! And it’s excellent.
CJW: Seeing my words laid out with such a unique eye and style (Trash.Been’s work is fucking phenomenal) just elevates the story to a whole other level that I couldn’t imagine when it was just words in a document. And I was the one who wasn’t sure if we needed such extreme design on the zine. I’m eating my words now though.
AA: The design is like the story in that it crams so many ideas into such a small space – really condensed design and storytelling.
CJW: I like to think that the best of my writing already leans toward being full of ideas and told with interesting prose (I hate talking myself up, but I’m also actively trying not to shit on myself, so here we are), so deliberately and unapologetically dialling up those aspects was a lot of fun. A bit of hard work too though – on a normal day I can easily crank out 1,000 words of prose on whatever project I’m working on, but the dense nature of this beast meant I was lucky to hit 400 words (which, to be fair, was one or two entire scenes).
AA: I think I asked you for “word-jazz” right?
CJW: “Idea-dense word-jazz” I think, and fuck me if that isn’t a blank cheque to just go crazy. And the final product reads like a BLACK METAL MECHA cartoon series distilled into text form. Actually, speaking of, this article “Atlanta, Westworld, and the episode-description revolution” has me hankering to either write a bunch of episode descriptions for the MechaDeath animated series that exists only in my head, or otherwise use the format as the sole storytelling device for a future ONP project.
AA: What I like about MechaDeath is that it’s so overblown, super-serious and dark that it becomes funny. It’s really over-the-top, but there’s self-awareness about that in there too. It’s not parody, it’s not homage and it’s not just nostalgia. Which is really important to both of us. We tried to make something NEW and a BIT FUCKING MENTAL.
CJW: For sure. If it’s nostalgia, it’s nostalgia for an alternate reality, for a version of the 80s that never existed – one where instead of a Satanic Panic, everyone realised how fucking cool all that black metal shit was and made a kid’s cartoon about undead behemoths battling over enslaved worlds.
AA: It’s also worth mentioning again that MechaDeath is the first official release from Oh Nothing Press, which Corey and I have talked about in these pages a bit before.
CJW: ONP is a weird mutant baby of a thing, which we love very much. We could have found some artists to help us churn out novelty tees, or designs based on classic horror movies (and probably made bank), but we wanted to do something a little weirder than that. We trust that there’s an audience out there who want something more than a t-shirt with a cool design on it, who want to delve into a whole weird world.
AA: ONP makes strange little books and sells t-shirts, but our real, secret plan is to create dense, self-contained narrative universes.
I’ve always been fascinated with the by-products of narrative media, supposed ephemera like source books, packaging, manuals, etc. It seemed like these things – which most of the time are considered a bit redundant or tacky – actually contain the potential to do a lot of storytelling in their own right.
I think I first realised this as a kid, particularly regarding the packaging, copy and aesthetic for classic 80s toys like He-Man and The Masters of The Universe – you’d get your action figure, sure, but you’d also get a little booklet with a story and you’d get character profiles on the back of the packaging and maybe trading cards etc. It was always fun looking at all of that information and imagining the ways it all fit together – usually more fun than watching the cheaply animated shows themselves.
CJW: I think we’re exactly the right age to have been caught up in the whirlwind of narratively-dense merchandising of the late 80s and early 90s. I’m thinking particularly of the GI Joe file cards, all the over-the-top copy that appeared on packaging for TMNT figures, and even something like Ring Raiders with the mini comics that came in each pack.
AA: Video game guides, roleplaying sourcebooks and things like The Guide To The Marvel Universe… they were all supposed to be accompaniments to something else, but a lot of the time you’d read them as texts in their own right. I’d read that sort of thing religiously, zealously.
CJW: And whilst a lot of people might sneer at such obvious marketing/merchandising ploys, you can’t deny that it’s a great way to get people involved in a story. Why buy a toy, or a shirt, or whatever when instead you can buy into a portal to a whole other universe?
AA: I like the idea that ONP can make narrative “springboards” – to celebrate the potential of ephemera, to create stripped down but conceptually dense packages of ideas. And if you end up with some crazy looking shirts with monsters on them or whatever, then all the better! Because that shit is cool.