by John Bloner, Jr.
I’m convinced I was a border collie in another life. While I lack some attributes of this breed – agility, high energy, and intelligence, to name a few – these dogs and I share a common instinct: herding. Border collies herd to provide protection. I do it because I dream up projects and need people to turn them into reality.
I’ve nudged, cajoled, and pleaded with friends and friendly strangers to join me in making magic happen. I’ve written proposals, put down my own cash, and sought out fellow herders to help out. I’ve done everything, except stand on my head, wave flags in semaphore code, or nip at their heels.
I’ve been a herder for my entire life.
When I was eight, I recruited friends from my southside neighborhood in Kenosha to take walks along the old North Shore Line railroad bed, one block from our homes. From the beginning of the 20th century, North Shore trains, including the Electroliners and the coveted Greenliners, ran from Church Street in Evanston, Illinois through Kenosha to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The service was known as America’s fastest interurban. When the line was abandoned in 1963, the vacated land provided treasures of railroad spikes and, most of all, a sense of freedom to kids like me. On summer afternoons, my friends and I roamed this retired strip as if we were ancient explorers, seeking artifacts as well as new frontiers.
We were Lewis and Clark, Henry Hudson, and Ponce de Leon. We were William Blake and the Eternals. We were Jason and the Argonauts, searching for the Golden Fleece.
We called ourselves the Hiking Hellcats, writing our group’s name in marker onto our shirts, and packing provisions of candy and water to sustain us on our journeys. On one outing, we sought sought to reach the Illinois border, which in our imaginations was equivalent to finding Shangri-La, and the journey seemed much longer to our young brains and short legs than its actual two and half miles. At some point in our trip, however, we grew tired and turned around. No one wanted to be late for dinner.
Not all my recruitment efforts have worked out. In the mid-1960s, on a family trip in February to Florida, I witnessed a performance by the Cypress Gardens Ski Team. They were a ballet on aqua pura. Even though I had never been in water over my head, I was agog with the possibility of putting together a similar show. I pictured my friends and I performing ramp jumps and climbing on each other to form a human pyramid. We would roar past adoring audiences on our skis, waving to them on the shore, while unfurling bright yellow banners, adorned with our team’s name. I couldn’t wait to return to school to share my idea with my best friend.
I remember telling him about it while on the playground at St. Mary School. Wisconsin was deep in winter, but my brain was percolating with images of Florida sun and those majestic athletes on Lake Silver. I may have accidentally spit on him a little as my mouth frothed with excitement.
“Whad’ya think?” I asked, my eyes wide in anticipation.
“That’s stupid,” he replied and walked away.
His comment didn’t break my spirit, but scuttled that particular plan. I focused instead on creating a bike-racing version of the Indianapolis 500. A vacant, dirt and weed-filled lot only blocks from my neighborhood became my Speedway. Some other enterprising youth had already carved a circuitous path into the property’s perimeter, so all I needed was other kids and their bikes.
We’d pedal two hundred laps, equivalent to the number of times that race cars circled the oval each May in Indiana. I made advertisements for the event and tacked them to trees up and down my block. Each race team would consist of two riders, taking turns on one bike over the entire event. Sixteen kids signed up; my pal, Billy, and I formed our outfit, using my Huffy speedster, and took pole position in qualifying.
On a sunny, summer race day, the rocky terrain took its toll. Billy and I held the lead until the fenders fell off my bicycle. Our day was done.
.The competition was already in chaos because no one was keeping track of the number of laps run. While many kids still pedaled furiously, chasing the checkered flag, I turned into Tom Sawyer, content to watch them until I became bored and crossed the street to play with a beagle puppy. I never knew who won the race, and I’d lost interest in staging another one.
My herding instinct didn’t go away with the onset of puberty. In adulthood, I’ve coaxed, beguiled, tempted, lured, and sweet-talked others to join me in carrying out my big fat ideas. I feel I could fill a courtroom with testimonials for or against me, particularly from those who take umbrage at deadlines.
My most recent project has been the creation of the Kenosha/Racine Area Zine Makers or Krazines, a communal art-making and creative-writing experience with a publishing component in the form of a full-color magazine called Moss Piglet. Each month over the past five years, the members of Krazines submit their visual art, comics, photos, prose or poetry for publication in it.
In pre-Covid times, Krazines’ artists and authors would meet monthly to drink coffee, dine on donuts, chat about their lives, and, with any time remaining, make art or write a tale, based on a theme selected for that month. Racine and Kenosha coffee shops, galleries, grocery stores, tech centers, and other locations have welcomed these creatives into their locations.
The Krazines group has taken field trips, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Cultural Center, and put on their pith helmets for urban and rural sketching adventures. In 2019, the Racine Art Museum hosted Krazines Fest at its Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, welcoming zine-makers from throughout the Midwest, including representatives of Chicago Zine Fest and Milwaukee Zine Fest, Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago, Midwest Perzine Fest, Bone & Ink Press, and King Cat Comics.
The Krazines is open to everyone: child or adult, veteran of creative culture or newcomer. We particularly like newbies. Our Facebook group boasts 600 members. In 2020, over eighty of them were published in our Moss Piglet magazine.
When the Krazines began in 2016, participation was limited to those who lived in the Racine and Kenosha areas. Since then, our publication has welcomed artists and authors from across the United States, as well as from Germany, the Netherlands, and England.
Chloe Arnold, writing in November 2016 for Mental Floss Magazine, wrote, “Many zine-makers will say zines are as much about the community as the product.” This statement sums up the Krazines’ mission. While the end product is the Moss Piglet magazine, the aim of the Krazines is not to simply put out this publication; it seeks to foster creativity in everyone and build a community of creating, sharing, teaching, and learning.
My inner-border collie doesn’t rest until the herd is happy. I get a pat on my head once in a while for my efforts, particularly during this pandemic. Over the last year, many of my fellow Krazines have offered thanks for our projects and publication, which have given them a chance to connect to a caring community and grow their artistic wings.