Thursday, 23 March 2017

Punk Magazine: The Birth Of A 'Zine And A Genre

Originally published in American Music Press (February 1994)
By Devorah Ostrov

Debbie Harry & Anya Phillips as Nazi Dykes in "The Legend of Nick
Detroit: A Film Starring Richard Hell" — a "lost" panel from Punk #6.
(Photo by Chris Stein with graphics by Bruce Carleton)
Magazine staffs are a lot like bands. And the best magazines, like the best bands, are infused with a heavy dose of their creator's (often warped) personalities. Such was the case with Punk, which existed for 17 issues between 1976 - 1979.

"Punk wasn't about the bands," emphatically states its founding editor and art director John Holmstrom. "It was about us."

In 1971 Holmstrom graduated from high school — where he had been the star of the school play, winner of the Kiwanis English award, and the first to be caught by the police for smoking pot. In '72, he moved from the small town of Cheshire, Connecticut, to New York, where he attended the School of Visual Arts. There he studied cartooning under such masters as Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. But when Kurtzman offered him a job (albeit at a non-existent magazine), Holmstrom felt he was ready for the real world.

After stints at Screw ("It wasn't considered smut back then. It was this radical underground magazine that explored the frontiers of sexuality.") and Scholastic's Bananas (his "Joe" strip paid the rent for ten years), he went back to Cheshire. It was here while working with a theater group called the Apocalypse Players that Holmstrom met Eddie "Legs" McNeil, the troupe's P.R. Agent.

John Holmstrom
"Legs was supposed to get us gigs and make us famous," laughs Holmstrom. "See how famous we are?"

At the time, McNeil was a high school freshman, who says Holmstrom, "would drink one or two beers and pass out."

Before Holmstrom returned to New York, the two, along with a third friend, Ged (G.E.) Dunn Jr. collaborated on a 16-millimeter film called The Unthinkable (in which four mentally retarded gangsters escape from a mental institution and steal all the town's toilet paper; McNeil produced).

Soon after, McNeil dropped out of high school and followed Holmstrom to New York to pursue a career in film. Dunn, bored with university life, joined them, using his school money to finance the threesome's new venture.

Initially, there was talk of two enterprises: a film company headed by McNeil and a publication headed by Holmstrom. And Holmstrom already had the magazine's unique blueprint in mind. "I always thought that if you could marry comics and rock 'n' roll — kind of Zap and Creem — you'd have the perfect hybrid," he remarks.

A 'Zine and a Genre Are Christened: "Let's see... I think it was while we were stealing trees..." reminisces Holmstrom.

CBGB Summer Rock Festival advert
It was the summer of '75, and McNeil's film company needed trees to transform a rooftop into a forest. While driving back from digging oaks out of the nearest woods, Holmstrom proposed they call their 'zine Teenage News (after the New York Dolls' song). McNeil thought that name was "stupid." Instead, he suggested Punk.

Around the same time, the groups playing at a Bowery bar known by the acronym CBGB were starting to get some media attention, but their stance and sound didn't yet have a label. Owner Hilly Kristal was calling the music of the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Television "street rock." However, says Holmstrom, the term "punk rock" was already in use amongst some journalists.

"Bomp magazine would use it to describe the garage bands of the '60s. Lester Bangs had used it to describe Iggy and the Stooges in the early '70s. The Bay City Rollers were then being called punk rock; Eddie and the Hot Rods were being called punk rock. The term was all over Creem, but I don't think Legs knew this. I knew it because I read Creem. That's why I liked the word."

In John Savage's tome, England's Dreaming, McNeil recounts the conversation that followed the naming: "John said, 'I'll be the editor'; our friend Ged said, 'I'll be the publisher'; and they both looked at me and said, 'What are you going to be?' 'I'll be the resident punk!' It was all decided in seconds."

In July, Holmstrom went to the CBGB Summer Festival, where he discovered the Ramones. "This was it! I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard!"

In October, Holmstrom, McNeil, and Dunn moved into their new headquarters — an abandoned trucking company storefront at 356 10th Avenue, which they rented for $195 a month.

Debbie introduces Joey to her dad.
"Mutant Monster Beach Party" - Punk #15
In November, they began gathering material for the first issue. Their first interview was with the Ramones.

"Lou Reed was there with [Ramones' manager] Danny Fields," states Holmstrom. "Legs went up to Lou and asked if we could interview him. Lou was just about to lose his label deal over Metal Machine Music and said, 'Okay.' We ended up hanging out with him for hours!"

By the end of the year, there were posters up all over the city announcing:

Watch Out! Punk Is Coming!

The folks who hung out at CBGB thought it was some cheesy out-of-town band they were supposed to be watching for.

"Everybody at CBGB was waiting for New York Rocker," states Holmstrom. "We beat New York Rocker's first issue by a week or two and flipped everybody out!"

Printed on 50 lb. offset paper in a broadsheet format, Punk #1 was published on New Year's Day 1976. Instead of typesetting (they couldn't afford it), each and every word was painstakingly handwritten; photographs were turned into cartoons, and cartoons were used to tell entire stories.

David Johansen imparts his wisdom
to Legs McNeil.
John Savage describes the visual impact of one story: "...the surrounding artwork is as important as [Lou] Reed's insults: the Ramones play on the interview tape and one can see them in photograph form. When the interviewers follow Reed down the block, there they are in the cartoons. The effect was both immediate and distanced, a formal innovation on a par with Mad magazine..."

Much like the music it chronicled, Punk could be silly, as in this exchange between Legs McNeil and Richard Hell in issue #3:

Legs: I'm gonna throw up.

Richard: Go in there first okay?

Legs: Yeah, will you talk...

Richard: While you're gone? No, I'll turn off the tape recorder.

Or it could be intellectual (from the same interview with Richard Hell):

Richard: Did you ever read Nietzsche... he said that anything that makes you laugh, anything that's funny indicates an emotion that's died.

But its real accomplishment was in unifying all the disparate CBGB's groups into an identifiable "scene." Holmstrom's opening editorial — Death To Disco Shit — was an ultimatum:

Editorial - Punk issue #1
ISSUE #1: Published on January 1, 1976. A Holmstrom-drawn caricature of Lou Reed graces the cover; inside is a four-page comic strip interview with Reed. "A lot of people told me, 'It's the best thing you've ever done and it's the best thing you'll ever do,'" says Holmstrom.

There's also a feature on Marlon Brando: The Original Punk, as well as a Legs McNeil "Famous Persons Interview" with cartoon personality Sluggo ("It gets tiring playing a stupid tramp..."), a Ramones centerfold, and a photo essay called "Cars and Girls" which outlines McNeil's dating tips.

Lou Reed - cover of Punk #1
Dunn put up the $5,000 needed to print 5,000 copies. Folding the 17x22 sheets would have cost extra, so this was done by hand. Two thousand copies were given to a distributor who was "supposed to" put them on newsstands all over New York. Supposed to? "He didn't," says Holmstrom. The remaining copies were all sold or given away.

In fact, the first issue became such a sought-after collector's item that back issues were priced at $25 to discourage ordering. "We heard that somebody broke into an apartment in Detroit, and the only thing they stole was a copy of Punk #1," boasts Holmstrom.

Creem, Rock Scene, the Soho News, and The Village Voice all gave the first issue enthusiastic write-ups. Lester Bangs said he wanted to leave Creem, so he could move to New York and write for Punk. Danny Fields proclaimed Holmstrom a genius, and Lou Reed said the 'zine "knocked him out."

"Everybody was falling all over themselves to praise us," verifies Holmstrom. "Girls who wouldn't look at us before were suddenly trying to pick us up. It was great!"

ISSUE #2: Published March 1976. Using two different photos of Patti Smith on the cover was, reflects Holmstrom, "dopey." As well as an interview with Smith, this issue includes the Talking Heads, Marbles ("What a mistake"), and Television ("Boring"). A three-word review of Bob Dylan's Desire album reads: "Sludge, mud, suds."

Patti Smith - cover of Punk #2
"It was a mess," sums up Holmstrom of #2. "The whole issue is so wimpy. People said it was horrible. And it killed us because we printed more [7,500] copies."

ISSUE #3: Published April 1976. "Boy, that came out quick!" marvels Holmstrom. A brilliant issue, beginning with a beautifully illustrated cover of Joey Ramone drawn by Holmstrom. Inside, Joey reveals that he likes girls who are fun and out of their minds. Tommy's fave TV show is Zorro. Dee Dee's pet peeves are crummy sound systems and nagging, pushy girls. And Johnny's dream date is a meal at Jack in the Box. There's also a year-by-year diary that tracks our heroes from high school in Forest Hills to the release of "Blitzkrieg Bop."

Half-a-dozen pics taken by then-novice photographer Roberta Bayley accompany the Ramones story. Holmstrom remembers the photo session and how it led to the cover of the Ramones' debut LP: "First we shot them in their loft in front of their banner. Then Legs said there was a cool playground around the corner, 'Let's take them there!' So, we took all these pictures in front of a brick wall for the magazine. Then Danny Fields called us up, 'Have you got anything? Any pictures at all?' The Ramones had hired some famous photographer to do their record cover... 'The pictures look horrible.' They looked through Roberta's and found that one great picture from the session that became the album cover. They only paid her like $100."

Joey Ramone - cover of Punk #3
Plus, the gang interviews ex-New York Doll David Johansen, who observes: "We maintained [the Dolls] on a very democratic level. I mean, you can ask Jerry about that." Pam Brown interviews the Heartbreakers, and Jerry Nolan says: "There was a certain member of the Dolls that sorta had most of the say and I disagreed with him completely."

Holmstrom's mother writes a Letter to the Editor: "Please pay your bills. Find a job that will pay you and let the cartooning be a sideline. You have wasted a lot of time already. Love, Mom." Debbie Harry models Punk t-shirts, and Legs conducts a "Famous Persons Interview" with Boris and Natasha:

Boris: We have certain members of de so-called "Free World" which have plagued our organization for years... a certain squirrel...

Natasha: And a very dumb moose.

"This issue was really sharp!" enthuses Holmstrom. "$850 worth of ads in it according to my copy."

By this time, Rough Trade was distributing Punk, air-shipping thousands of copies to the UK. "I would have to say that Punk helped create and fuel the English scene," states Holmstrom. "I don't think it ever would have happened like it did if it weren't for this magazine. When Blondie went over there, Chris Stein told me that everyone was throwing up because Legs threw up in the Richard Hell story." (And there's no doubt that Punk influenced such British do-it-yourself fanzines as Sniffin' Glue and Ripped & Torn.)

Beware of Imitations! Punk is the BEST! Advert from issue #11.
ISSUE #4: Published July 1976. Iggy Pop is on the cover. "We let Pam Brown interview him," says Holmstrom, "and that was kind of a mistake. Iggy wanted to talk to me. I met him later on; we talked about insects and stuff." In addition, there's an interview with Richard Hell's female alter-ego Theresa Stern; Legs goes to Gilligan's Island; Debbie Harry is the pin-up centerfold; and Lester Bangs contributes "Diary of a Cabby," a story based on Taxi Driver.

Iggy Pop - cover of Punk #4
"Lester was obsessed!" discloses Holmstrom. "He would play the movie instead of music, and he would force everybody to listen to it."

Perhaps most surprising was a Holmstrom-penned review remarking favorably upon the new Donna Summer record. Did he really like Donna Summer?

Holmstrom: Yeah...

What about that "Death to Disco Shit" editorial in issue #1?

Holmstrom: I wrote that as a joke! I was shocked when everybody took it seriously, and this big anti-disco movement happened.

ISSUE #5: Published August 1976. Holmstrom dubbed #5 the Ultra Wimpy Dull Issue. "It wasn't that interesting," he acknowledges. "I ran into Lou Reed at a party, and he told me how fucked up the magazine was. That's when I got determined to do something cool." This decision led to...

The Monkees - cover of Punk #5
ISSUE #6: Published October 1976. "The Legend of Nick Detroit: A Film Starring Richard Hell." Legs McNeil wrote and directed; Roberta Bayley and Chris Stein (among others) operated the cameras.

The first of Punk's photo/comic special issues follows the adventures of Government Agent/ inhuman killing machine Nick Detroit (Hell) and his faithful sidekick Norris McGillicuddy (McNeil). The cast features a plethora of New York's finest, including Lenny Kaye (Special Agent Victor Martino), Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (ruthless murderers in barbershop), David Byrne (Special Agent Reed), David Johansen (Tony the Rose), Tuff Darts (a squad of armed goons), the Marbles (coppers), Helen Wheels (General George the Dyke), and Debbie Harry and Anya Phillips (Nazi Dykes).

It had been a couple of months between issues #5 and #6. "We had pretty much stopped publication," states Holmstrom. "We ran out of money after #5." 

Enter Tom Forcade, publisher of the very successful High Times magazine.

"The Legend of Nick Detroit: A Film Starring
 Richard Hell" - cover of Punk #6.
"Tom came into the office in the summer of '76," recalls Holmstrom. "He put his feet up on the table and said, 'I'm gonna make you rich and famous.' He was going to distribute Punk and set up a company to sell advertising for us."

With the publication of "Nick Detroit," Holmstrom and McNeil were the toasts of CBGB. "I remember after it came out, Legs got mobbed! Twenty people surrounded him! He was freaking out. He didn't know what to do."

An optimistic 10,000 copies were printed, but the issue bombed, and High Times backed out of its deal.

"In retrospect it's wonderful," muses Holmstrom about issue #6. "But nobody wanted to read it then. Everybody wanted to read record reviews, I guess."

(Update: According to illustrator Bruce Carleton, the "Nick Detroit" panel featuring Debbie Harry and Anya Phillips used at the top of this article "didn't appear in #6, but was done a year or so later for a version that was supposed to be published in Germany. That never happened, and I had thought all the boards were lost.")

ISSUE #7: Published February 1977. The special Upside-Down issue — every other article was printed upside-down. "I went nuts!" declares Holmstrom. Patti Smith was on the cover for a second time. "It was between her, Blue Oyster Cult, Eddie and the Hot Rods, or Satan," says Holmstrom. This issue also includes Lou Reed's rapidograph drawings, an interview with rock journalist R. Meltzer, and comic strip record reviews.

Patti Smith - cover of Punk #7
Punk was back in business thanks to Tom Katz (a pseudonym). Katz had received a $20,000 settlement from the City of New York for the wrongful death of his brother; he gave the entire amount to the struggling magazine.

ISSUE #8: Published March 1977. For the first time, there's an English band on Punk's cover — the Sex Pistols, of course!

Johnny Rotten discourses while Bob Gruen takes photos; Holmstrom does a phoner with Frank Zappa; McNeil interviews Hitler; there's an advertisement for a Battle of the Bands between the Ramones and the Dictators (it never happened — "The gig fell through," comments Holmstrom); and a letter to their landlord exposes the conditions in which Punk was produced: "Front door lock must be installed and secured properly, raw sewage leaking from ceiling frequently, gaping hole in the ceiling must be patched, leaky toilet and plumbing fixed, regular heating — we have not had any heat in two days..."

"I'll never forget when they came to fix [the leaking sewage]," says Holmstrom. "Somebody flushed the toilet upstairs, and sewage was gushing all over Legs. He was sleeping, and he wouldn't wake up. I was like, 'Legs! Raw sewage is on you! Get up!' And he was like, 'I don't care. I wanna sleep.'"

The Sex Pistols - cover of Punk #8
Publisher Ged Dunn was fired after this issue. "He didn't know what he was doing," asserts Holmstrom, emphasizing that the $20,000 given to them by Tom Katz was now gone.

According to Holmstrom, "He wasted what little money we had on some typically crazy publishing philosophy: put out a glossy product and get the advertising... blah, blah, blah. We should have just been run efficiently and economically. Instead, we were going out of business every six months."

As an early indication of the problems to come, Holmstrom refers back to the naming of the magazine: "Ged wanted to call it The Punk Journal. He wanted it to be very pretentious."

ISSUE #9: The first of the fabled "lost" issues of Punk. If it had come out, it would have featured the Damned on the cover. Inside, you might have read the interview with KISS. "We ran into them at Lou Reed's party," mentions Holmstrom. "Paul and Gene made a point of talking to us. They seemed like cool people, and I didn't mind their music." You could have perused the excerpt from William Burroughs' Junkie or chuckled over a comic strip entitled "Life of a Fly." Alas, #9 never saw the light of day.

Holmstrom states that the printers had been paid in advance and adds, "We gave them the original layout, so they'd have high-quality artwork to reproduce from." However, when he went to collect the 'zines, the print shop had disappeared — along with all the artwork.

"All the machines, printing presses and stuff were gone! The worst thing about it was we had rare, one-of-a-kind photographs of William Burroughs hanging out with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac — priceless stuff. The last thing I expected was that the printer would evaporate into thin air."

David Johansen as Tony the Rose & Cyrinda Fox as Tony's Lady.
"The Legend of Nick Detroit: A Film Starring Richard Hell"
Punk #6
ISSUE #10: Published Summer 1977. A cartoon version of Debbie Harry strikes a Betty Boop pose on the cover. The issue opens with photos from the Punk Benefit Concert hosted by CBGB. The two-night affair (May 4 & 5, 1977) raised $2,000. Performers included Alex Chilton, the Dead Boys (joined by the Dictators' Ross the Boss), Suicide, the Patti Smith Group, the Cramps, the Lester Bangs Conspiracy (Bangs' stage debut, not counting playing the typewriter with BOC), Richard Hell & the Voidoids, and Blondie. An auction also helped raise funds. "Debbie Harry's underwear went for $25 or $50!" exclaims Holmstrom.

Elsewhere in this issue: Eno gets philosophical ("...the most embarrassing aspects of the things you do are normally the ones that are most interesting..."); Blondie goes on tour and Chris Stein snaps some pics to prove it; Twiggy chats about fashion ("I think people are gonna do what they want, which I think is lovely"); and the Ramones are #1 on the new Top 99 list. (Other stuff deemed cool by Punk readers: towels #16, carbon monoxide #51, and parking lots #71.)

Debbie Harry - cover of Punk #10
Lining up acts for the benefit was easy. Holmstrom says the CBGB bands were grateful for Punk's coverage, and in return, they were always happy to lend a hand.

"What happened was, we would often write an article on a band and the next month they'd get a record contract. At the time it happened, the Ramones credited us with getting them signed. Danny Fields told us, 'Thanks a lot for the publicity you did. It helped get us the deal.' Blondie told us the same thing. They said, 'We'll be forever in your debt.' And the Dead Boys the same."

Did Holmstrom ever use this power for evil? "I do remember one [unnamed] band who offered us $500 if we'd put them on the third cover, but we didn't do it. So, we were pretty committed to whatever vision we had, as screwed up as it was." (Hint: When the mystery group broke up, their newly solo lead singer did make it onto a cover. For free!)

ISSUE #11: Published October/November 1977. Handsome Dick Manitoba and an American flag fittingly share the cover. "We wanted to do the ultimate Dictators' story," says Holmstrom. And they did. Beginning in 1971 ("Andy started his first band — Grand Funk Salinsky..."), their history is charted on an almost daily basis. (October 31, 1974 — "Manitoba does his infamous White Castle french fries act, during which he ate hamburgers and threw bags of french fries at the audience, yelling 'Rock 'n' roll? BAH! Who needs it?!'")

Handsome Dick Manitoba - cover of Punk #11
In the news: Russ Meyers is directing Johnny Rotten in a major punk rock movie, and Blondie is recording their second LP. Plus, John Cale holds court ("People aren't stupid — they can tell when someone's disinterested in what they're doing") and Lester Bangs reviews the Dead Boys ("They are evil, they are everything you would not want your mother to marry"). And San Francisco's punk scene gets a nod with our representatives, Crime.

Putting Manitoba on the cover was a risky move. "We really went to the wall for the Dictators," confirms Holmstrom. The previous March, Manitoba was involved in what became known as "The Wayne County Incident." As Punk reported: "Dick was on his way to the men's room so he stepped over the stage. He called Wayne County a homo. Wayne County called him a fat fuck and slugged him with a microphone stand."

"Everybody was for Wayne County," states Holmstrom. "The Dictators were basically blacklisted. Everybody in New York hated them." Issue #11 was not a big seller in New York.

ISSUE #12: Published January 1978. Robert Gordon (recently split from Tuff Darts) is this issue's cover boy, and eight-year-old Nellie Kurtzman (cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman's daughter) is the "Punk of the Month." Meanwhile, the New York Dolls garner a five-page photo spread with text that contends: "If they stuck it out they could've been like the Beatles — leaders of a new sound/generation"; a photo/comic pairs Debbie Harry and DEVO in "Disposable DEVO"; the Turtle Mountain Community School in Belcourt, North Dakota, cancels its subscription in a huff ("We were under the impression the magazine was for kindergarten and elementary levels"); and the Ramones are still #1 on the Top 99.

Robert Gordon - cover of Punk #12
"I didn't like this issue very much," admits Holmstrom. "Legs was in the hospital for drinking." (One page features a fun maze titled "Help Legs get out of the mental hospital.") However, Holmstrom points out, "this issue sold fantastically!"

Issue #12 also saw the return of High Time's support (the full-color ad for e-z wider rolling paper is a dead give-away). "We didn't have the money to print this issue," says Holmstrom. "So, I went back to Forcade, and he said, 'That's funny, I was just going to get back in touch with you. I think it's time for us to try again.'"

ISSUE #13: The second "lost" issue. Some of the pieces scheduled for this issue were carried over to #14 (the Bay City Rollers interview), while others were scrapped (the cover story on boxer Sugar Ray Leonard). Ostensibly, they skipped this issue because of superstition. In reality, Forcade was pushing for "a big thing on the Sex Pistols," states Holmstrom.

ISSUE #14: Published May/June 1978. Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious portrayed as puppets (perfect!), are on the front cover. The Bay City Rollers, portrayed as gigantic people-eating, building-crushing monsters (perfect!), are on the back cover. In between, Holmstrom reports on the Sex Pistols' tour of America:

Atlanta: Sid managed to get lost and gave himself a nice wound in his arm...

San Antonio: They played "New York," John spitting the words "You fucking little faggots" at the audience.

The Sex Pistols - cover of Punk #14
Dallas: A punkette from L.A. gave [Sid] a bloody nose so he wiped the blood all over himself. He was so out of it he was playing with three busted strings on his bass.

Tulsa: I walked to the elevator carrying a six-foot pair of steerhorns. John was waiting there with his bodyguard... "What the FUCK is THAT?" "Steerhorns," I mumbled... "Want them?" Greed overcame his face in a strange smile...

San Francisco: Malcolm was extremely depressed after the show. "Fuckin' awful show, wasn't it? They were just like any other rock band." Everyone connected with the band felt the same way.

For their part, the Rollers are shown to be even more heinous than the Pistols. The writer complains: "These guys never spend any money! They eat McDonald's food... They can't even buy their own cigarettes..."

This 56-page, action-packed issue also gives us Dorian Zero: "That was one of my finest moments!" chortles Holmstrom. "He says to me, 'Put it this way, if I can get over by being called punk rock, I'll do it.' He's not a punk, but he's calling himself a punk because he wants to be famous! How stupid can you get?" In other news: Amanda Lear — sex change or not? Legs conducts a "Famous Persons Interview" with Combat star Sgt. Saunders ("Live hard, fight hard and dig a lot of foxholes. That's my motto"), and Holmstrom talks about girls with Angus Young:

John: What kind of girls do you like?

Angus: Dirty ones.

John: Girls who don't wash?

Angus: No, just dirty cows.

Plus, Edith Massey gets aggressive about cereal: "Pebbles... that's what I had for breakfast, and these little punks better have the same thing. Maybe with a little raisin or two on it." Lou Reed's Street Hassle is reviewed ("Of course it's great" — J. Holmstrom), and it's not too late to order your 1978 Punk calendar featuring Suicide, Iggy Pop, the Paley Brothers, cartoons, and important dates — like Heckle and Jeckle's birthdays!

A Legs McNeil "Famous Persons Interview"
with Boris and Natasha - Punk issue #3.
Punk was looking mighty spiffy by issue #14. There were lots of full-color photos, and some of it was professionally typeset. "Forcade was trying to get us to come out on time and be a real magazine," moans Holmstrom. "It was killing me."

But now there was big-time competition in the form of a new bi-monthly, nationally distributed magazine ingeniously called Punk Rock. Published by a conglomerate called Stories, Layouts and Press, Inc., it was a shoddy attempt to cash-in on the bandwagon. Its staff had names like Nancy New Age and Sheena Ramona. And the editorials insulted its readers en masse ("Hello, all you spoiled, middle-class little assholes..." began one) and Holmstrom personally. "They called me an asshole," he says. "It was awful."

"Mutant Monster Beach Party" - Punk #15
In this issue, Punk responded to its rival: "We are not jealous of our honestly acquired position or of other worthy publications devoted to modern music," stated Holmstrom's proclamation, which urged "fans and readers" to check out other underground 'zines like Slash, Bomp and Zig-Zag. "These magazines, for the most part, are put out by people who believe in what they write. They don't write for money. They're not covering the latest youth fad."

ISSUE #15: Published July/August 1978. "Mutant Monster Beach Party: an original Punk International Production." Holmstrom designed this issue, while Bruce Carleton illustrated the cover; Roberta Bayley took the photographs.

Punk's second photo/comic special — and its most ambitious undertaking — stars Joey Ramone as a dreamy surfer boy and Debbie Harry as the beach bunny he loves. It's a simple boy-meets-girl tale. Until a mad scientist accidentally turns his assistant into a hideous blob of quivering nuclear slime which escapes from the lab. The slime helps some Bothersome Bikers stomp all over the surfers and kidnap the girl. Martians in a flying saucer help the boy get the girl back. The monster turns into Peter Frampton and the girl turns into Edie the Egg Lady.

The sizable cast included Andy Warhol (mad scientist), Chris Stein (Debbie's dad), Peter Wolf (head biker), Scott Kempner and Ivan Julian (surfers), John Cale and Lester Bangs (bikers), David Johansen (priest), and Joan Jett (maid of honor).

"Mutant Monster Beach Party" - Punk #15
The wedding photoshoot.
Advertised as "coming soon" as far back as issue #10, "Mutant Monster Beach Party" was two years in the making.

"We were shooting this all the time," says Holmstrom. "When Debbie introduces Joey to her father, that was shot at the sound studio when the Ramones were recording Rocket to Russia."

During the creation of this issue, some of the cast went from obscurity to worldwide fame, but Holmstrom only recollects one slightly tense episode. "We were doing [Joey and Debbie's] wedding shot. It was one of the last pictures we did, and Debbie was visibly agitated. You can tell she's getting tired of hanging around all day waiting to do a photo shoot for us."

Sadly, like "Nick Detroit" before it, this photo/comic sold "horribly," states Holmstrom. "It put us out of business." Again.

ISSUE #16: Published March/April 1979. A cartoon send-up of John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever character is on the cover. "[The movie] had come out six months earlier," notes Holmstrom. "It was a very smart thing to do."

Inside, Shrapnel star in the "Brat Patrol" photo/comic ("Shrapnel — the janitors of justice, are out to sanitize New Jersey..."), and Bob Geldof insists he's not just in a band to get rich, famous and laid more often ("I'm in it for revenge as well, to prove to people that in fact I was never a nobody, that I was always a somebody and that the rest of them can eat shit!"). An interview of sorts with Sid and Nancy (an extract from the upcoming film D.O.A.) fills up the centerfold:

Mutant John Travolta - cover of Punk #16
Nancy: Wake up and answer him.

Sid: I'm answering...

Nancy: He asked you a question... It's no time to go to sleep!

Sid: Grunt... What was the question again?

Punk's new Resident Punk, 15-year-old Jolly (Legs retired from the post to manage Shrapnel), reviews some records:

The Doors/An American Poem
"Who said this was good?!? This stinks!!!"

The Ramones/Road to Ruin
"Best album of the year."

Plus, the Bottom 99 makes its debut (Studio 54 is listed three times), and the Ramones are still #1 on the Top 99.

It had been nearly half a year since the "Mutant Monster Beach Party" issue. The magazine was being sued for an old printer's bill and was declaring bankruptcy.

On October 13, 1978, Punk held its 1st (and last) Annual Awards Ceremony — as much to say farewell as to thank all the groups. Posters for the celebration promised: "Meet Jolly! Mutant Monster Live In Person! Be Able To Buy Drinks! A Special Concert By A Surprise Rock 'n' Roll Band!" The day prior to the show, Sid (or someone) killed Nancy.

Poster advertising the 1st Annual
Punk Magazine Awards Ceremony.
"Everybody flipped out," understates Holmstrom. "There were television cameras all over the place, and nobody wanted to talk to the media. Nobody wanted to be there."

Not quite the spectacular event he'd hoped for? "Oh, it was spectacular all right. Lou Reed [winner of the Class Clown award] hasn't talked to me since."

Some of the grisly details were printed in issue #16. "[Jolly] was the emcee and provided a fine target for the evening's beer bottles, glasses, pieces of table and assorted projectiles... The awards themselves — various novelty items such as plastic dog turd, lemons, brooms, or baseball trophies mounted on Budweiser cans left over from the night before — proved totally worthless as most of the recipients were too embarrassed or afraid or smart to go on stage anyhow."

Issue #16 sold "like hotcakes," and John Spacley ("the one drunk who was so obnoxious he had to be thrown out" of the awards show) became Punk's new publisher.

ISSUE #17: Published May/June 1979. The last official issue. In a Punk exclusive, Jolly interviews "that fantabulous rock band," the Rolling Stones:

The Clash - cover of Punk #17
Q: What's your favorite color?

Rolling Stones: Red.

Q: Are you playing any dates soon?

Rolling Stones: Yes.

Undeterred, Jolly also gives the Clash a go...

Jolly: I saw the show last night and it wasn't so great...

Topper: Then don't do the fuckin' interview, then.

David Johansen answers the musical question: Does rock and roll go in ten-year trends? ("I think locusts come out every fourteen years or something like that. That's about the only thing you can count on. Locusts.") McNeil and Alice Cooper compare booby hatch info (Alice: "There was one girl who smashed the stereo every three or four days... she went for the TV one night and I had to stop her... If she broke the TV, I couldn't watch The Odd Couple"). Holmstrom reviews the London Symphony Orchestra's new one and the state of things in general: "This record, more than disco, more than Billy Joel, or Sid Vicious, more than the fact that punk rock and new wave is being swept under the carpet by radio programmers, Jimmy Carter, and dullards, spells the end of rock 'n' roll." Destroy All Monsters' lead vocalist signs her pin-up centerfold "I love you, but you're dead," and Shaun Cassidy's mug is the backdrop for a graffiti contest.

From the outset, Holmstrom had wanted to produce an underground 'zine that combined rock 'n' roll and comics. McNeil's fondness for rock tilted the early issues in that direction. But as Legs became less involved, Holmstrom began working closely with illustrator Bruce Carleton, tipping the scales towards humorous art.

"Blondie In Punk" - Debbie Harry models the Punk t-shirt in issue #3.
Photos by Chris Stein
Carleton designed this issue's cover collage of rock 'n' roll mayhem. And inside, there were more examples of his work: a subscription coupon set amid the Monolithic Punk Meat Grinder, and a spread depicting Leonid Brezhnev as the Punk Playmate (Goals: " become a successful fashion model and to bury the U.S.A.").

Other cartoons included "Ze Artiste" and "Joe's Pimple Pop Boffo" — both drawn by Holmstrom. "By this point, I was really thinking of making Punk a humor magazine instead of a rock magazine," he confesses.

Holmstrom's disenchantment shows in his summation of issue #17: "This is sorta like the last Sex Pistols' gig — an Alice Cooper interview with [record company] publicity photos, some humor, but... who needs it?" The final issue sold "really badly."

ISSUE #18: Holmstrom owns the only extant copy of #18, nicknamed the "Rock 'n' Roll High School" issue in honor of the Ramones' movie it (would have) publicized. This issue also contains another comic strip interview with Lou Reed, and the Plasmatics take over the #1 position on the Top 99.

All pasted-up and ready to go, #18 never made it to the newsstands. "The owner of the printing company took one look at it and said, 'I'm not gonna print this shit!' We had trouble with printers. A lot of them refused to print the magazine. We were too sleazy." But fussy printers weren't the magazine's only nemesis. In the end, it was Punk's stubborn refusal to go corporate that actually doomed it.

Surf's up! Joey rides the waves in "Mutant Monster Beach Party." 
Punk #15
Schedules? We Don't Need No Stinking Schedules! Punk's printing schedule was, at best, erratic. A voucher in #10 inquires: "new address?" then warns, "You better let Punk know in case another issue ever comes out." Needless to say, this charming unpredictability scared off many potential advertisers. And although more advertising would have meant more income and thus more issues, Holmstrom stresses: "We were trying to do something creative and different and exciting, and you can't always do that on schedule."

And then there were the subscribers. There were just too many of them. One promotion with Creem netted 2,000 of the buggers alone! "So, we had to print at least 2,000 copies of anything we did," grumbles Holmstrom. "And when you get into the printing and mailing of 2,000 copies — who's got the money?"

But all in all, Holmstrom is content with Punk's historical niche. "I knew when I was doing it that I was doing something important, and something that would be enjoyed for a long time. And at the same time, something that wouldn't last long."

* * *

A few updates:
The 25th Anniversary issue

After the demise of Punk, Holmstrom worked for several publications including The Village Voice and Heavy Metal. In 1986, he contributed a comic-based chronology of punk rock for a special edition of Spin.

In 1993, Holmstrom and McNeil teamed up once again to produce the short-lived (four issues) but wonderfully eclectic Nerve magazine. Over the years, several special editions of Punk have been published. In 2000, an issue featuring Murphy's Law marked the magazine's 25th Anniversary, and they paid "A Tribute To CBGB" in 2007.

In 1996, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain published Please Kill Me, considered to be the definitive oral history of punk rock.

The Best of Punk Magazine
book cover
In 2012 HarperCollins published The Best of Punk Magazine, an oversized book containing high-quality reproductions of the original issues, behind-the-scenes stories, and an interview with Joey Ramone from the unpublished "Rock 'n' Roll High School" issue.

For more information about Punk, please visit:


  1. Aw, nice retrospective. I loved Punk, bought every issue I could, but still missed far more of 'em than I could ever track down as an impoverished college student. If someone ever decides to reprint them all in a single package, I'm in.

    1. Hi Carl, many thanks for your comment! Much appreciated. Have you seen the Best of Punk Magazine book? It was published in 2012.

    2. I have a Punk book, but it may predate that one.

    3. I don't have the book, but according to the website it's supposed to include everything - plus extras!

    4. Hmmm--looks to still be just a best-of, not a complete collection, but I'll take it. Ordered. Thanks!

    5. My pleasure! I'll have to tell John that I sold a copy for him!

  2. I loved this article, Devorah. In fact, I'm writing a piece about Holmstrom now, and your writing will help me to fill in a few missing details from understanding of Punk's history. Speaking of which, and I know this is a long shot: do you by chance have a copy of PUNK #16? I'm looking for a copy of an essay that Lou Stathis published in that issue. It's a retrospective on "Triumph of the Will." If you have it, could you snap a few photos and send them my way? If so, you can find me at mhughes at trinity dot edu

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Glad my article was helpful with what you're writing. I don't have a copy of #16 any longer. I gave my Punk collection to a friend before I left California several years ago. The only issue I kept was #3 because Legs autographed it to me!