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Author Zou Luoyang
Language English
Publisher self-published (free)
City Hong Kong
Date 1999
Format 21 x 14.85 cm
Fabrication Risograph
E-book Not available

In 1998, Zou Luoyang, chief-editor of the risographed art zine Rude, controversially declared: “The future of comics is in the trash can.” Fifteen years later, he addressed a consortium of publishing representatives at the San Diego Comic-Con, with the following words: “It is a measure of your progress in regards to the ethics of the comic book industry the last ten years, that my 1998 remark no longer raises any eyebrows. You are filling the shipping containers, trash cans, landfill dumps and incinerators with literally tons of paper pulp: newsstand magazines, graphic novels, comic pamphlets, satirical magazines, promotional giveaways and funny papers, superhero novelettes, shonen manga anthologies, comic weeklies sealed in protective polyurethane bags, anniversary collectors slipcase editions–and now, slender box sets of colour volumes of serialized fiction. The happy day has arrived when nobody any longer considers comics too good to throw away. The social shift had been successful, and disposability is now naturalised, partly thanks to you, the comics industry.”

Luoyang was familiar with discard studies that analyse in detail what disposable components say about our relationship with the world and the manifold ways social and economic values are reflected in what is thrown away. He even went on to propose an extensive, now quasi-forgotten comics-manifesto on the energising potential of trash, bringing in observations of a nascent branch of social sciences, rudology (from the Latin rudus: waste). Understanding the very nature of rubbish, Luoyang found in comics the embodiment of trash, a trash that you can not just dispose of (both in the sense of throw away and settle a matter), but a trash that you have to read through and confront as it is. Luoyang allegedly found in a dumpster Michael Thompson’s book Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value, a reading that specified his practice and reoriented his approach to distribution. In the book, Thompson proposes that for a human-made object to go from something everyday and transient to something of great, durable value, it must first become rubbish. He looks not specifically at comics, but antiques, real estate, and dated kitsch to make the argument that something can not move from the worthless to the valued without first transitioning to waste with a cultural or social value of zero.

It was clear that Luoyang's interest in disposability was not about personally reaching into new processes and spaces in search of profit. Bitter about the industry's indifference to his ideas, Luoyang was committed to retaliate against the opposite end of the professionals, defending this time the unabashed self-indulgence of the contemporary reader. In a personal exchange, ruminating over the Readers' (his own capitalization and pluralization) existential aporias, he adds, appropriately quoting Bataille at length: “Authors are 'slaves working like cowards to prepare the beautiful blustering eruptions that alone are capable of answering the needs that torment the bowels of most men.' Readers, on the other hand, obey a much simpler economy: they absorb and excrete and there is no doubt on which end I will bet for empowerment.” Luoyang, after years of careful examination and methods of industrial espionage, embraced a design for Rude, based entirely on planned obsolescence, the industry's way to artificially limit the use life of an object, favouring the shortening of replacement cycles.

Risographed on cheap non-archival, non-acid-free newsprint, Rude with its modest print run of 200 (signed) copies, contributed its minor share to the landfills. Originally disseminated in landfills with its delicate copies covered under tonnes of debris, Luoyang invited readers to search for it by practising targeted digging, and other methods at the margins of grassroots archaeology. Zou Luoyang’s project can be understood as an exercise in accelerating a book’s life cycle, displacing the reader from his comfort zone to a participatory psychogeographic exploration of suburban dumping grounds. Rude, more than a pungent comment on how human labour, (and here Luoyang will have unequivocally referred to the comics industry) always turns to waste, stratified in multiple temporal scales, waiting to be managed towards efficient disintegration, has the merit to acknowledge the energising potential of trash. Rather than defining the benign side of disintegrating matter, for example, biological waste containing macronutrients for land fertilisation, Luoyang claims for an unapologetic cultural production of toxicity.