Jason Mojica was fighting insomnia one night a few years ago when he turned on the television and caught the biography Hugh Hefner, Once Upon a Time. Instead of putting him to sleep, the film made him realize that, contrary to what he'd previously thought, Playboy was more than just the sum of its body parts.
"Before that I had no idea of what Playboy was. I thought it was a bad porn magazine my friends' dads had hiding in their closets," he says. "Then I found out it had some of the greatest writers of our time in it. It was also the first magazine to combine high art in a lowbrow format. It narrowed the distinction between what was art and what was not. It showed that just because something was in a magazine doesn't mean it wasn't art."
At the time, Mojica, now 22, was putting out the fanzine No Shirt No Shoes No Service as well as mini-comics, including the minimalist Hamster Man. He was also running a record label, which released punk-rock 45s. The mini-empire, called Rocco (named for a fictional Mafia character), was a collaborative effort between Mojica, some friends from Saint Joseph High School in Westchester and people he knew from playing bass in various punk bands.
"Before seeing the Hef bio, I hadn't always known where I wanted to go with everything I was doing," he says. "Seeing Hef's example made me concentrate on the whole empire outlook, at a wide range of things--records, magazines, clothing."
After "meeting every week for six months to decide what a magazine should be," he and his collaborators launched Shake!, a handsome, hip, and hilarious publication whose big coup is an interview with Robert Crumb by Carole Sobocinski; Crumb also supplied the mag with several new cartoons. Released this summer, the first issue includes verbatim outtakes from Dennis Cooper's Interview piece on Keanu Reeves a few years ago, in which the actor reveals his inability to speak in complete sentences; an eight-page fashion spread that does a send-up of the 1968 Democratic Convention riots ("Chicago '96--the whole world is watching...so look your best!"); and a chart comparing the relative talent, relevance, and ugliness of Metallica and Black Sabbath, Pearl Jam and Led Zeppelin, and Liz Phair and Cyndi Lauper.
A story by Minneapolis writer James Romenesco speculating on the future of the punk fanzine Maximum Rock 'n' Roll triggered a phone call from 50-year-old MRR publisher Tim Yohannan, who is battling cancer and is expected to step down from the zine's helm. "He felt it contained a lot of misinformation," says Mojica, who offered Yohannan the opportunity to write a rebuttal. "He said no. But that's his way. He likes to let things go."
The issue also contains "Citizen Hef," Mojica's exhaustively researched, gee-whiz biography of Hefner. It includes testimonials to how tame parties were at the Playboy mansion as well as stories of Hefner's--and his dog Humphrey's--voyeurism and sexual exploits. Accompanying the story is Alex Wald's full-color centerfold illustration of a naked Hef--with bunny, of course--smoking a pipe.
A friend of Mojica's who works at Playboy sent Hefner a copy of Shake! via interoffice mail. "I was sure he would either sue us or try to destroy us," says Mojica. But Hefner loved it, despite the references to dogs and dexies, and wanted ten more copies. Mojica wrote a letter to Hefner, and he wrote back telling him to watch an A&E biography on him that includes "footage on my earlier pre-Playboy life when, like you, I was dreaming the dreams and creating my own teenage publication...in early rehearsal for the eventual creation of Playboy. Hold onto your dreams."
Though putting Shake! together "cost more money than anything we've ever done," Mojica says the second issue--which will feature a fashion spread based on the 1985 film The Breakfast Club--will come out on time. Mojica, who pays all of his contributors, says he hopes to escape the financial difficulties that plague so many publications. "I don't know how to avoid failure yet," he says. "I haven't failed at many things, so I don't even think about it. I just hope I don't ever have to think about it ending or failing.
"One of my closest big giant goals is to open the Rocco Social Club and Youth Hostel," he says. In the meantime, he stays afloat by helping out at his family's Laundromat in Pilsen and working as a freelance desktop publisher.
Mojica also has his eyes on a building on Fullerton, near the Fireside Bowl--an ideal location for a Rocco emporium featuring records, clothes, skateboards, books, and a lounge. If his loan doesn't come through, he says he'll find another way to realize his dream.
"My next plan is to convince Hugh Hefner to give me the Playboy empire when he's done," he says. "I'm convinced that he only gave it to Christie to make up for being a bad parent."
Shake! is available at Quimby's Queer Store, Chicago Comics, Tower Records, and Reckless Records; or send $3.50 to Rocco, PO Box 14781, Chicago 60614. Call 276-2262 for more.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jason Mojica photo by Nathan Mandell.