Like previous issues I've encountered, issue fourteen is a thick, squat, hand-written affair, illustrated with Brown's delicate line 'portraits' of roadside motels, signs, train depots, and evocative buildings. Also included are comics accompanying the text, but fewer than before, as I recall. Other important differences are the cover and price: issue fourteen is bound in delightfully-textured card stock and costs ten dollars. Also included is a quirky index that captures the spirit of Brown's topics in a few choice, intriguing words (i.e. machine guns, hippy kids armed with; film projectionist, soviet-era; and skin rashes, patron saint of). The price hike is more than justified, as Brown's zines are packed fuller than many a book, this one clocking in at 336 pages, not including the index. Also, it's much easier to handle than previous issues, as those were secured by a fat rubber band that did little to prevent pages from slipping and curling.
Content-wise, issue fourteen expands on the same themes as Brown's other works, including his short film collection The Next Best Place. His publisher, zine distro Microcosm, describes him as a “philosopher wanderer” and that fairly sums him up, though one gets the impression Brown thinks of himself more as a lay-social scientist. However, what makes his writing so poignant and funny is the gentle, reflective philosophy underscoring his observations. Brown is attracted to nooks and places fallen on hard times: to folk art sites, abandoned structures, truckstop chapels and diners on forgotten interstates. Brown is also something of an amateur historian, relating the overlooked past of sites, from a former punk rock cafe in communist Yugoslavia to a failed biosphere in the Texas desert.
Issue fourteen covers several years, post 9-11, which colors Brown's reflections, especially the recent hardships resulting from stricter security. In fact, the volume is dubbed “The Homeland Security Issue”. One of his related adventures, a stand-out selection, are his trips with border activists, who leave jugs of water in the desert for Mexicans crossing into the U.S. A hostile encounter with some suspected 'coyotes' (those who transport people, in this case, but sometimes drugs across the border) highlights the tangible complexities of U.S. immigration and tightened border-guarding. As he puts it, relating the frustration of a young border activist, “People shouldn't have to risk their lives to get a job in the U.S. that nobody else wants.”
Brown's musings are free of chronology for the most part (aside from his trip to Europe), structured only by place-related headings. In less capable hands, the writing could feel disconnected, but Brown's cohesive perspective and voice hold it together well, making Dream Whip a smooth and fairly quick read, despite its length. Fans of the long-running zine Cometbus should be sure to check Brown's work out, as should those who enjoy urban exploring, roadside americana, alternative histories, and well-crafted memoirs.