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Mondo 1995 

Mondo 2000 nailed the emerging cybersexcomputerdrug Zeitgeist with its first issue in 1989, making media mavens out of its founders, Queen Mu and R.U. Sirius. But the trippy, fractious family that was Mondo began to implode in 1993, torn asunder by inter

Wednesday, Oct 11 1995
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Page 4 of 7

Besides a lack of copy, the photographer-turned-graphic designer faced an intimidating work environment -- an editorial staff of the brightest, most eclectic bunch of misfits in the Bay Area. Queen Mu, the mad miscellaneous-trivia bank; Jas. Morgan, the subscriber from Georgia who came to visit and ended up as music editor; St. Jude the computer anarchist, a self-described polygamist and ex-physician's assistant with legitimate hacker connections; and R.U. Sirius, a walking Bonneville Salt Flats of pharmacology. Loitering around the perimeter were Michael Synergy, Queen Mu's former boyfriend Morgan Russell, and Gracie and Zarkov, the investment bankers who enjoyed drugs, heavy metal, and polyfidelity, and who took credit for starting the first sex club in Chicago.

As many news hacks would later trumpet, it was Revenge of the Nerds.
"We were all freaks in our high schools," says St. Jude. "They all hated us."

Nagel felt like he was trapped in another universe.
"In my circle of friends back in Phoenix, I always felt fairly bright. I had bright friends. And then I come into this world, and I'm starting to feel like an idiot. They just know too much about too many things. The editorial was beyond me. What the hell is an Extropian? Tell me what DMT was again?"

Nagel set about redesigning the book from top to bottom. He commissioned unknown artists like Eric White to do full-page illustrations for cheap, and discovered that collage artist John Borruso's sensibility would fit perfectly on the spine. And photographs were no problem -- Nagel took most of them himself.

One such photo caught the eye of Andrew Hultkrans at a Berkeley newsstand -- the cover of 1990's Mondo No. 3, portraying a sweaty Deborah Harry against a background shot of deep-space nebulae.

"What the fuck is this?" thought the 24-year-old Harvard graduate, fresh from a year as managing editor of the Zyzzyva literary journal. He thumbed through the issue, which boasted peculiar articles on producing your own growth hormones, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, cybernetic fashion, and psychotic illustrations by Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes.

"They were intelligent, obviously," says Hultkrans. "Part of the thing that seemed intelligent about it was that I couldn't understand half of it. A little bit might have been that I was just baffled, and therefore assumed it was deep."

Sheer curiosity drove him to send in a rŽsumŽ, which earned him an interview at the Mondo House -- scheduled on a Saturday morning.

Hultkrans showed up looking professional -- pulled-back ponytail, blazer and button-down vest -- and knocked on the door for several minutes before a nonplussed Morgan let him in without introduction, ushered him into the kitchen of this antique-crammed home, and left him to wait. Queen Mu eventually entered, but instead of asking questions, she kept a steady stream of words going all by herself.

"Five minutes later [R.U.] appears in a bathrobe, looking totally awful and pale and fucked up," says Hultkrans. "R.U., in the morning after a big night, is pretty much of a sight. Alfred E. Neuman with long hair. He mumbled something and then left."

To his astonishment, Hultkrans was hired, first in ad sales, but he quickly was moved to working with text, and Nagel christened him "The Tall Editor" on the masthead.

One month after he joined up, the Mondo House threw a party for staff and friends. Somebody put on a belly-dancing record, and Gracie the investment banker came out in costume and did an exotic dance routine in the living room.

"This is so fucked up," thought the New York transplant. What had he gotten into?

Mondo was nothing if not playful. Nagel peppered the book with eye-scorching graphics and puns and wordplay. St. Jude composed witty subheads and penned a column called "Irresponsible Journalism." Hultkrans steered the ship further into the rapids of pop culture, assigning articles on hip hop bands and writing a column about slacker culture. Morgan was essential for dense interviews with mathematicians and physicists. In addition to her interests in toxic plants and conspiracies, Queen Mu edited stories and brought a strong gender balance that attracted female readers, a subtext that said your sex wasn't as relevant as your brain. Sirius floated around as figurehead, writing and assigning articles. And new pseudonyms appeared: Mondo Connie, Lady Ada Lovelace, Nan C. Druid, Marshall McLaren, G. Gordon MIDI, and the wild conspiracy ranter, Xandor Korzybski.

Although Mondo gained enthusiastic readers, it received its share of negative notices from the press. Rather than sulk about it, Mondo wore them as badges of honor, reproducing them on the magazine's subscription solicitations. "Slightly unfathomable -- The Washington Post," read one tear-out card. Another: "Unfortunately, the hacker lingo makes this relatively new magazine indecipherable for any but the most seasoned of computer aficionados. -- The Utne Reader." Below this was the Mondo pitch: "Have this indecipherable rag delivered to your own doorstep. Stump your mailman. Confound your neighbors. Master the secret argot of the cyber underground."

The Village Voice declaration that Mondo was an art director's nightmare and completely unreadable prompted Nagel's joke of putting "Guaranteed Read-Proof!" on a cover-in-progress. The gag was such a hit with the staff that they let it stand, and it was printed in issue No. 5.

Some jokes weren't planned. Also in issue No. 5, in 1992, Nagel accidentally transposed the names of avant-garde musicians Glenn Branca and Elliott Sharp on the cover, rendering them Glenn Sharp and Elliott Branca. Since Sharp and Branca weren't household names, few readers noticed, but Mondo obviously owed them -- and the author of the piece, Mark Dery -- an explanation.

Rather than apologize, Mondo proclaimed the snafu intentional. Gracie and Zarkov composed an essay about post-postmodernism and deliberate art damage. Or rather, they scribbled notes on a napkin while out having drinks. The outline was passed around to the staff, and the concept ended up as a collaborative two-page manifesto on Art Damage called "What Do You Say After Po-PoMo?"

About The Author

Jack Boulware

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