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Weekly Alibi The E-Zine Revolution

Magazines on the WWW.

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 20, 1998:  One of the first most frequently (and least effectively) exploited uses for the World Wide Web has been the creation of "e-zines"--so-called electronic magazines. Time magazine, Newsweek and other well-known newsstand offerings have, of course, jumped online, parroting their corporal versions with cybernetic look-alikes. Corporate America has also jumped online with deplorably hip tripe like Slate. Like the Kinko's-fueled zine revolution that preceded cyberspace, though, there are hundreds of eager, edgy journalists out there cranking out some inventive and informative bits of reading and gawking material. A quick spin through the Internet turns up some interesting representatives for the future of electronic magazines.

Buzzcut (www.buzzcutt.com)--This slick e-zine bills itself as the online journal of modern mythology. Concentrating on everything from comic book to movies to books, trading cards and television, Buzzcut attempts to analyze pop culture and its collective hero worship. Buzzcut is currently a quarterly, and its second issue--dedicated entirely to Batman--is up and running. This is one glossy, well-designed package, fully exploiting the medium's capacity. Graphics abound and the text is well written (though most of the journalists employed here seem to know far more about Spider-Man than Beowulf). In the current "Dark Knight" issue, for example, you can check out an interview with long-time Batman writer Denny O'Neil and a philosophical article entitled "On Being Bad: Have Batman's Villain's Lost Their Vigor?" Future issues already on tap include "New Storytelling" and "All Horror." While undeniably professional, Buzzcut still has a little way to go before living up to its highbrow concept of "thoughtful study of modern mythology" (as opposed to geekboy insights on sci-fi fandom).


Retro (www.retroactive.com)--Retro Magazine has the distinction of irony working for it. Retro uses this most modern of technology to spotlight "a variety of classy subjects from the first two thirds of the 20th century." There's groovy music (check out some fine '60s soul at the RETROradio site), swanky cinema (this week's Home Bijou checks out How To Steal a Million--"a caper film starring Audrey Hepburn and her fabulous Givenchy wardrobe") and some cool old comic strips (this time around we've got "Life With Father"). New articles are posted every so often, but much of Retro's content lies in its archive library. Dig through the Tip Tray to obtain lots of handy tips on living the retro lifestyle. Outfitting your house, building a bar, glossing up your fashion, wardrobe and hairstyle are just a few of the categories designed to turn you into a swinging retro-style bachelor or bachelorette in no time. The writing is breezy and quite informative. Design is simple but effective.


Rapture (www.theglobe.com/rapture/rapture.qrv)--Rapture claims to be about "politics, art, global culture, music, book reviews, film and coffee." In other words, "everything we could possibly cram into a magazine." While hopelessly lacking in identity, the multitude of articles contained herein are well-informed, up-to-date and off-the-beaten-path. The movie reviews, for example, spotlight several marginalized art flicks and not the usual Hollywood dross. Dig deep and you'll find an interview with Alan Ginsberg, a look at bizarre trading cards and some rambling artsy writing. Rapture is produced by "The Globe," an online universe of chat rooms and other services. For being such cyberheads, they haven't exactly exploited the medium in creating Rapture. While the content closely approximates many of your better alternative papers, the execution doesn't rise very far above newspaper format.


Babel (rampages.onramp.net/~babel/)--On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, we've got Babel, which claims to be an online mag, but carries the medium so far into the future that few will recognize it. Babel's table of contents consists entirely of a series of computer-illustrated doorways. Click on a doorway to enter a section of the magazine. Each doorway leads to a different room with a different personality. Click on the flaming iron gate, for example, and you'll be led into the "Realm of Beelzabubba." Click your way around a map of the fat devil's dungeon room, and you'll find all kinds of odd stuff. Babel is actually more of a strange ranger search engine than a magazine. Clicking around the rooms will link you to other Web sites chosen for their weird, interesting or informative content. Clicking around Beezabubba's room could get you a trip to Columbia University's Dante studies archive or a detailed article on the history of automotive Jesus fish versus Darwin fish. Unlike a common magazine, you never quite know what you'll get here. Babel's only annoying habit is using odd, truncated frames which force you to scroll down at every image, but do allow you to constantly view the "visitors to date" counter. Go a couple frames into Babel, and you'll find yourself having to scroll down every couple lines. Still, Babel is an interesting experiment into the future of e-zines--call it the stream of consciousness magazine.

devin@alibi.com


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