The first zine in J. Gerlach’s Simple History Series, Christopher Columbus and His Expeditions to America, tells the story of the world’s most famous explorer through drawings of stick figures in various states of one-dimensional distress. The details are far from simple, though—they transcend mere stick-people problems at every turn—and the zine takes a de-mythologizing tack on Columbus and his ships.
The key to the zine’s charm is that Columbus reads alternately like a textbook and a children’s illustrated history. Gerlach accomplishes this feat by widely varying the zine’s ratios of words to pictures. On some pages, a small rectangle of text acts as a caption for an accompanying illustration; elsewhere, words dominate an entire page. What’s consistent throughout is that the zine does not suppress the gory details of Columbus’ romps to the New World. For instance, illustrator Cindy Crabb’s depictions of stick-figure corpses being dumped overboard are somewhat wrenching: They’re the bodies of would-be slaves.
Nevertheless, Columbus, with its bibliography full of Howard Zinn and James W. Loewen, presents a digestible version of a narrative that is not as familiar as it should be. It’s a useful, friendly zine. Even the title makes it sound like a congenial outdoor excursion by two friends: Columbus and his Expeditions! At last, together again!
If you’re interested in checking out Gerlach’s Simple History Series zines, contact Danielle Maestretti, the Utne librarian.