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Dodgem Logic #1

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I don't read many magazines these days. For the most part, the ones that I see on the shelves of my newsagent tend to be thick catalogues of advertisements that are interspersed by the occasional article or column that exists only to advertise the same products, but in a slightly more stealthy fashion. Whether presenting thinly-veiled puff-pieces that masquerade as critical reviews (see most film/DVD magazines, book review magazines, or TV guides), attempting to convince you that the personalities who benefit financially from your attention are worthy of it (see most celebrity/gossip magazines and FHM-style "men's magazines"), or encouraging you to feel so inadequate and unattractive that you must immediately invest in all manner of disguises, accessories, and remedies for non-existent personal problems (see any fashion magazine, ever), these magazines are rarely edifying to read.

Even those magazines that I did used to enjoy have now been rendered redundant by their online counterparts, with magazine websites offering free content (often reproducing the exact same articles that you'd find in the magazines themselves) and delivering news in a far timelier manner than their printed cousins.

However, this week saw me take a chance on a quite different type of magazine. Dodgem Logic is the brainchild of Alan Moore: it's a new magazine that discusses contemporary ideas in a similar manner to the old fanzines and underground publications that used to be so popular in the 1960s and 70s. At just 2.50, it's the same price as a regular monthly comic from the Big Two, and represents far better value for money than most of their offerings.

A collection of straightforward articles, one-page cartoon strips, offbeat comedy musings, opinion pieces and advice columns, this first issue covers subjects as diverse as the history of underground publishing, the detrimental effects that talent shows like X-Factor might be having on the music industry, the drawbacks of militant feminism, the potential benefits of social networking sites like Twitter, and a potted history of Northampton's rock music scene.

That might not sound like the most commercial combination of subject matter, and indeed it isn't: after all, Dodgem Logic would hardly qualify as an alternative publication if it filled its pages with musings on Strictly Come Dancing, Eastenders and the week's football results. Happily, however, Alan Moore is at a stage in his career that allows him to use his popularity and publishing clout to push a quirky, offbeat magazine like this a little further into the public arena than most underground publications could reach, and there's a real sense that this is a personal passion project for him (rumour has it that he even delivered a batch of the magazines to his local Northampton comic shop in person this week, asking "Does Frank Miller do that?").


Although Moore contributes quite a few features to this issue, it's by no means a one-man show: think of him more as the curator of an eclectic exhibition of talent, rather than as its sole contributor. Alongside Moore's welcome page (filled with fun jokes and amusing observations that I won't spoil here), his tongue-in-cheek trading cards of "Great Hipsters in History", his Robert Crumb-esque cartoon and his highly informative column on the evolution of underground publishing, the magazine features a wide range of different contributors, each of whom is given a certain amount of space to hold forth about a subject that interests them.

Melinda Gebbie writes an interesting and original article about the inherent weaknesses of the early Feminist movement. Josie Long provides a faux-nave comic strip about relationships that's a lot funnier and less forcedly whimsical than it initially appears. There's an excellent extended article called "Stuck In The Middle", in which Gary Ingham gives us a historical overview of the Northampton rock scene from 1957 until the present day, succeeding brilliantly in capturing a sense of time and place with his various anecdotes. Kevin O'Neill depicts a bewilderingly bizarre sexual coupling between two alien creatures in a beautiful one-page cartoon that wouldn't feel at home anywhere but in this magazine. The two-page "Daily Mustard" is an Onion-style newspaper parody with a couple of good gags and some amusing ideas. And Steve Aylett provides a laugh-out-loud-funny column about how Neil Armstrong could have made the moon landing more interesting, with some suggestions that had me in tears.

There are more practical pages, too: this issue sees the launch of a medical advice column (which explores some interesting questions about the role that a public health service should provide), there are make-your-own-clothing fashion tips, and there are money-saving recipes for healthy puddings and soups that sound delicious--although I haven't got round to trying one of them out yet.

One of the most interesting segments of the magazine proves to be the "Notes from Noho" pull-out section, an element of the magazine that Moore apparently plans to replace with different regional variations in future issues. This issue's Northampton-centric section provides some local music reviews, and a short story about the misadventures of a local youth that proves to be a compelling and sympathetic portrait of an often misunderstood section of society. There's also a very interesting (if slightly one-sided) article about solicitor Yvonne Hossack, an active defender of Northampton's inhabitants of sheltered housing, who was subjected to legal proceedings for her role in challenging the government's decision to remove live-in wardens from such accommodation. Most interesting of all, however, is Alan Moore's own article "The Destructor", a stinging critique of the failings of Northampton's Social Services--and one that the district's youth and community magazine OVR2U refused to publish on the grounds that it was critical of the council (an action that inadvertently inspired Moore to set up Dodgem Logic in the first place). It's just the kind of thing that magazines like this do best: a focused, passionate article written from personal experience, concerning an issue that has universal relevance.

Some of the magazine's features are less successful than others. Claire Ashby's crudely-rendered guide to Guerrilla Gardening might promote an admirable premise, but the primitive style in which it's presented makes it initially unclear as to whether it's a sincere call to arms to take action to develop unused wasteland into fertile gardens (just like the "Diggers" that are described in Moore's article on underground publishing), or a tongue-in-cheek parody of environmental activists. Graham Linehan's article about Twitter seems like it was written solely in order to make use of its witty title, and to draw an extended comparison between the exchanges of Twitter users and the first meeting between John Lennon and Paul McCartney (which comes off as slightly pointless, and a little less clever than it thinks it is). Finally, a column that details a couple's attempts to live for six weeks without spending any money offers uncomfortable stories about eating out of restaurant bins and surviving a night at the pub by bumming drinks from understanding friends. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment, it's not quite the practical guide to thrifty living that it purports to be.

However, for the most part the magazine is thought-provoking, original, and written from an extremely positive, practical point of view. Far from being the backwards-looking nostalgic evocation of the underground magazines of old that I was fearing, the overall impression that I get from this first issue of Dodgem Logic is of sincerity and open-mindedness, and of a universally accepting attitude towards the interests of its contributors. The frequent typos, grammatical errors, and sometimes primitive illustrations accurately capture a sense of the original underground movement (so much so that I wonder whether some of the mistakes were left in intentionally by the issue's proofreaders), but it's an impression that's belied slightly by the reasonably high production values and the slick and polished finish that marks the magazine out as more than simply a collection of hastily-assembled missives and deranged doodlings.

This first issue also includes a free CD of Northampton-originated music from the last five decades. It proves just as eclectic as the magazine itself, providing a genre-straddling mixture of bittersweet laid-back folk, straightforward rock, funk, soul, electronica, jazz, blues, ska-punk, country, hip-hop and good old-fashioned rock'n'roll. It really feels as though a lot of effort has been put into the compilation of these 19 tracks in order to give some representation to as many different musical movements as possible, which is commendable. The songs are surprisingly accomplished and well-produced, and taken as a whole they perfectly epitomise the front cover's mission statement of "Colliding Ideas to See What Happens". As with the magazine itself, you're not only likely to find something that plays to your existing tastes, but you'll probably find something that helps to expand your horizons considerably, too.

The highest compliment that I can pay to Dodgem Logic is that it feels like a fanzine in the truest sense of the word: a collection of articles written by people who have a real passion for their chosen subject, and a desire to share their point of view with the rest of the world, whatever it may be. This wide remit gives future issues plenty of scope, ensuring that the magazine is unlikely to quickly run out of steam: apparently, the second issue is to feature a piece by Moore on the practicalities of anarchy, which I look forward to immensely.

This is a magazine for people who don't just want to read about the kind of stuff that they already know that they're interested in--instead, it's an opportunity to sample a different perspective, to learn something about the history of grass-roots social revolution, to pick up offbeat lifestyle tips, to be entertained, and perhaps even to gain an understanding of sidelined social groups that most people would rather not think about. There's bound to be at least one thing in Dodgem Logic that inspires you to go away and learn more about a certain subject, or perhaps even to put into writing your own thoughts on a subject that's close to your heart.

Not bad for 2.50.

Dodgem Logic is published by Knockabout and issue #1 is now on sale in the UK. The magazine will be distributed by Top Shelf in the USA soon.


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