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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

Page 6 of 7

"Is it positive or negative?"
"It's hard to tell." Hultkrans scanned the text. "I think it's negative."
The room broke into applause.

During 1992, Mondo finally lived up to its promise that it was a quarterly by producing four issues, to the surprise of all. In three years, circulation rose from 15,000 to nearly 100,000. Quality writers and artists flocked to the magazine -- certainly not for the grandiose late payment of 5 cents a word or 100 bucks per full-page image, but for the joy of partaking in the magic.

"There was something really wonderful about the dangerous mind behind Mondo," says Gareth Branwyn, author of the Beyond Cyberpunk hypercard stack, and a frequent contributor. "As a young writer, this to me was a real breakout platform. It had a similar feeling to the whole notion of punk music. There was that sense that we had thrown out all of the rules. So when I would go to interview a rock band or a multimedia producer, you could do just whatever you damn well please. The Red Hot Chili Peppers -- they actually did a Rorschach on their dental records. Really bizarre shit."

Branwyn continues: "You could be belligerent and combative, or be just conversational. If you thought what they were saying was bullshit, you could just start arguing with them. It was really this kind of Interzone, where anything was allowed. That was a real liberating feeling for me as a writer. It celebrated that you were being irresponsible."

The success of 1992 also included a book -- Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge -- a 317-page compilation of previous articles and artwork, with new additions and resource listings. It was an immediate success, going into reprint and eventually selling over 40,000 copies.

In 1993, Bart Nagel rattled his peers with an editorial inspired by artist Jeffrey Koons' theory of image appropriation. Either steal it and manipulate it, wrote Nagel, or use it blatantly under the fair-use doctrine. Nagel practiced what his editorial preached with the cover of issue No. 10, in which he superimposed a photo against a background stolen from the cover of another magazine.

Nagel was immediately savaged in trade journals as the Antichrist of art directors. He retaliated with an editorial in issue No. 11 about a new technology that works on the DNA level to detect microscopic, recognizable patterns in images. He asserted that the technology encoded patterns that were invisible to the naked eye but detectable no matter how much the image was scanned or used. He further claimed that in one year hence, all scanners and copy machines would contain a built-in chip to detect these codes and notify a national computer image bank of every duplication by modem. The computer would then automatically debit your Visa account.

"I tried to make it more and more absurd, by saying these scanners would be hooked up to a neural net computer, which could actually detect if you were scanning someone's style, and that a lot of photographers were already excited about this, and that Richard Avedon and Annie Liebovitz were already offering to donate their proceeds from their style theft to a photo assistance group called We're Creative, Too."

It was a joke, of course, yet an assistant who worked for both Avedon and Liebovitz called Nagel, asking if his bosses were actually doing it. The magazine of the Library of Congress called expressing interest in an interview with Nagel. The corporate offices of Kinko's requested permission to reprint the article and distribute it to managers. When the Australian Broadcast Company also requested an interview, Nagel couldn't stop laughing, and admitted the hoax.

"Well, just consider it a feather in your cap that you put one over on the Australian Broadcast Company!" snapped the indignant Aussies.

As Mondo was cresting, the founders of a failed magazine named Electric Word, Louis Rosetto and Jane Metcalfe, were returning to the States from Amsterdam. They were eager to start a magazine about computer culture and had already picked out a name: Wired. A mutual friend introduced them to Mondo adviser Randy Stickrod, and after a small meeting at Stickrod's home, he showed the group a portion of his office space at South Park, a corner eventually nicknamed "The Charmed Corner" for its list of successful publishing tenants -- Wired, Might, Cups, Boing Boing, and Just Go!.

Rosetto and Metcalfe liked the space, moved in, and spent the next 15 months hosting a conference on the WELL, schmoozing contributors, and working on a business plan package for investors. Stickrod even introduced them to Queen Mu at the Mondo House.

"They were kind of chummy," Stickrod remembers. "They were swapping tips. That was the level of incestuousness we had going on there. Alison would come over to my office and bring a box of Mondos for me to hand out. She'd go sit and talk to Louis and Jane for half an hour. There was no overt tension at all."

Throughout 1992, Mondo 2000 could do no wrong and could afford to be gracious to the young upstarts, who obviously were dull, boring computer people while Mondo was ultrahip counterculture. (Electric Word telegraphed how boring it was with the slogan "The world's least boring computer magazine.")

Still, Wired's basic concept -- the consequences of technology on lifestyle and popular culture -- was very similar to Mondo. Didn't everyone know?

"Oh, of course I did," says Stickrod. "They knew that, too. What we all tried to do was politely underplay the similarities and really play up the differences. At the time, we all put a spin on it that they were not competitors. Including Alison."

"The only thing that was remotely connected [to Wired] was Mondo 2000," says Wired Executive Editor Kevin Kelly, who wrote for the early Mondo. "It was coming along in parallel with it. We were very careful not to refer to Mondo. We didn't want to be compared to them. But they also were aware of this same niche."

About The Author

Jack Boulware


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