I first learned about Jim Wheat in 1991 or so. The SubGenius Foundation mail order catalog “High Weirdness By Mail” included Wheat’s name and address with the following entry:
"Little books of rant and wisdom and weather and advice from the other dimension. Wheat grabs linguistic logic by the tongue and yanks it hard; however, he reaches up for that tongue from behind. Hard to figure just how he does it, but his schizobibles effectively separate the left brain of the reader from the right, one of the brains leaving in a state of cosmic bliss … but only as an alternative to going insane. Wheat should be writing ALL network TV shows. As jaw-droppingly brilliant as it is acid-droppingly confusing. $2.50 each.”
I sent $2.50 to the address and received a small ‘zine called “WE AIN’T ME,” printed on heavy stock day-glo paper. On the one hand, it had the air of a high-art project with dadaist graphics, psychedelicized twists of language and dreamlike anti-logic. On the other, it had a daffy kind of down-home Southern charm; characters like “LeMima Perkins” and “Elmwood Frymire” populated Wheat’s strange small-town universe. It seemed like something that could have just as easily been found on a dusty barstool in 1936 as in the required reading list of an advanced graduate course in post-structuralist absurdism modules.
The booklet arrived along with a friendly handwritten letter, which listed two other titles still available. Although I loved “‘WE’ AIN’T ME,” I never got around to ordering the other titles. I was surprised to see two excerpts appear in National Lampoon (both were headed “Jim Wheat’s Page,” as if it was to be a regular feature) right before it went under and ceased publication. Some time later I found a glowing review of Wheat’s books in Bob Black’s “Beneath The Underground,” a book about self-published ‘zines and art projects. Black’s piece on Wheat listed an enticing ten book titles, but I never bothered to contact the author and buy them.
Almost 20 years after I first got “‘WE’ AIN’T ME,” I rediscovered it and became mildly obsessed with finding the rest of his work. I put out feelers on a SubGenius message board and emailed Bob Black, without success (none of the SubGenii still had copies, and Mr. Black informed me that he’d donated his ‘zine collection to a library; attempts to reach the library did not bear fruit). Finally, I took a long-shot chance and snail-mailed a letter to Mr. Wheat himself at the old address.
I sure appreciate your query, as to available Nonzense pubs, and also your kind applause on the writing! I hadn’t received any inquiries in probably 15 years, so I was thrilled to see the spell broken.
You have the most “recent” issue: “‘We’ Ain’t Me.” Most all of the other titles are long out of print, and I really doubt that they’ll ever be reprinted. Most of the print runs were around 200 copies, unfortunately.
I think the thing to do, is for me to scan the complete run of 11 titles as JPG images, and e-mail them to you as an attachment. No charge for the images — I need to do this, anyway, to preserve them.
Given that I’m now disabled, and have minimal strength, I will have to have someone retrieve the set of booklets to scan. I can see the set from my bed, but I can’t lift them. So, it might be a few weeks, before I can get them scanned, Doug.
Thanks again, for your interest.
Over the next few months, my inbox was blessed with dozens of friendly messages and nicely-scanned images: the complete works of Jim Wheat, which will be reproduced below. At one point, I asked if it would be OK to send copies to friends, to which he responded:
Doug, it’s okay to share the books. I’m glad you’re enjoying them. I kinda doubt if they’ll ever be reprinted. The first 9 books were printed by a guy at Postal Instant Press. He used those cheap, throwaway “cardboard” Itek plates, but he produced magic on those images. He sold his PIP franchise, and the guy who bought him out, did horrible work. The last two books were Xeroxed on a high-quality copier, for lack of a good printer.
I thanked him profusely when the last of the “pubs” arrived, but received no response. A short time later, a web search turned up his obituary.
I never had the pleasure of meeting him but he was unfailingly friendly in our modest interactions and refused my repeated offers of money for his trouble in scanning and emailing the books. It is unfortunate that he didn’t get too much recognition for his work during his life. These books are a wonderful blend of the hilarious and the bizarre.
Please enjoy and have fun! You may have to magnify the images to decipher the small print. I’ll publish the complete run in the coming weeks.