Trust the Japanese -” those masters of cute compactness -” to invent the -˜mook’, a tidy little publication essentially halfway between a magazine and a book.

Melbourne independent publishing house Vignette Press has brought the concept to Australia, publishing semi-regular mooks, each based around a unifying theme -” the last dealt with sex, while the current Death Mook looks at mortality.

For Death Mook editor Dion Kagan, the project has been a labour of love.

It has been a long time in the making, but we really didn’t want to rush it into the world, given that we thought the quality was so high, he told the Star. We wanted to have time to perfect the design and the layout.

The result is a lovingly-crafted exploration of death, including poetry, short essays, cartoons, short stories and photography, with contributions from a diverse mix of new and established writers and artists. And despite the heady subject matter, it’s hardly a gloomy read.

There are a lot of irreverent, offbeat takes on the theme -” there’s a strong element of humour in there, Kagan said. We were really conscious when we sent out the call for contributions that we’d get a lot of people’s sentimental creative writing about losing loved ones.

We were interested in much more wacky takes on the theme -” near-death experiences, rogue taxidermy, things like that.

Kagan, who undertook a PhD on issues relating to HIV/AIDS while editing the Mook, said he saw similarities between his research and the themes present in the publication.

Even though [his HIV research] isn’t directly informing the content of the collection, it’s a keen interest of mine. I think that the nexus between sex and death is a big theme for queer culture, and that’s why I wanted to look at the topic of death in the mook.

Despite it being ubiquitous in popular culture, death is much like sex -” it’s subject to misrepresentations and mythologies. It’s often sanitised and wrapped up in respectability.

The mook will be distributed in independent bookstores across Australia after its February 26 launch and from the Vignette Press website.

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