You ever get a notion that is so grand that even the obvious failure at the end is no deterrent? Well I did. It was called Strange Tales of an Unreal West and it almost broke me.
It was at San Francisco State University where I came up with the idea of Strange Tales of an Unreal West. I came up with the name from the style of westerns I was writing—a classic western, but with a twist and blending of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other pulp genres.
I started to get into zines the semester before when I had to do a group project in my Filipino-American lit class. Since I had access to a copy machine, I started to make copies of my story and those of my friends in the program.
My buddy Dave Caracker was going to the Art Academy and needed graphic and design ideas for class projects, so I told him about Strange Tales of an Unreal West. Along with my other friend, Susanna Mosher, who was also going to the academy, did some of the early art work. It was a good team, and I had a great time collaborating with them not on just the graphic and design, but also the creative side.
By the time school was done, I had a good collection of short stories. I printed up bigger copies and started going to zine festivals. After a few years I got a good feeling that, if done right, Strange Tales of an Unreal West could be a success. So I went and did a series of perfect bound editions with full color cover illustrations. I quit my job, bought a Volkswagen Westfalia, moved my stuff into my brother’s place in Sacramento, and took to the road.
I went to the Portland Zine Festival and one down in Los Angeles, along with hanging out in the Navajo reservation with my Uncle Eddy. All in all it was a great time and spent some time with friends who moved out of the San Francisco Bay Area. The only problem was that nobody was buying them. Folks would come by, pick up a copy and have a look see while I gave my thirty second spiel. Then they would put it down, say how cool it was, and then walk away. Unfortunately, I can’t pay the printer with compliments and the Westy doesn’t run on good intentions—it runs on something greener.
Well, needless to say, the road trip didn’t last long and I spent two years in Sacramento. I won’t go into that. I’ll just say there’s a reason why the housing is cheap up there.
I learned a lot during those few months on the road. First, it’s really hard to separate people from their money. Second, just because something sounds good, doesn’t mean it’s going to end up that way.
To be fair, upon further review, most of those stories were pretty rough. I’ve been going over them, cleaning them up, but still leaving that pulp texture to it. Dave and I have figured on doing the Strange West 2.0. It’s what Strange Tales of an Unreal West should have been, now that the technology and bandwidth have arrived.
I haven’t given up on the notion, although it isn’t as grand as it used to be and failure usually happens twice a day. But it’s like Augustus McCrae said in Lonesome Dove, “I’m glad I’ve been wrong so many times. It keeps me in practice so when it happens, I know how to deal with it.”