A Fan’s History – Fanzines

Fanzines: What the heck is a ‘zine, anyhow? Well, ‘zine (usually abbreviated without the apostrophe) is short for fanzine, which should be self-explanatory. Unless I’m very much mistaken, SF fans were the first ones to publish zines as a regular thing; now all sorts of subcultures have them. In case “fanzine” is not self-explanatory, I’ll just give you the short version: it’s a publication—or magazine—that is not professional in origin, and is intended for (and published—pubbed—by) fans of whatever particular subculture is being lauded, discussed, whatever.

If you’re already up on fanzines, you can skip the next few paragraphs; otherwise, I’ll assume you’re relatively new to this world. So let’s climb into the Wayback Machine and go back to when fandom was reasonably new—the 1940s through the 1960s. This is a time without internet, without computers—this might be hard to understand for some of you—when phones were few and not portable; indeed, to make a call outside your immediate area was very expensive, and most of what we’d call SF was printed, not televised (and the TVs were black and white) or in movies. (Except the serials: they were happy to film Flash Gordon, Undersea Kingdoms, King of the Rocketmen, Superman, Batman and other fantastic fare; when you went to the movies, for your quarter or half-dollar you’d get—even before your one or two feature movies—a cartoon, an episode (chapter) of a serial, previews of coming attractions and usually a newsreel.) TV had—until the glory days of Rod Serling—Captain Video; Tom Corbett; Space Patrol; Rocky Jones, Space Ranger; and the like, which were mostly aimed at a children’s market.

Photo 1 Al Hodge Captain Video
Al Hodge as Captain Video.

This was in the US, where SF was not seen as an interest or occupation for adults. Other countries—notably Britain—were not so hidebound and didn’t have the emphasis on conformity that was prevalent in the US from the ‘fifties up until the mid-‘60s.

Again, SF was mostly a print medium, and boy oh boy, did we all suck it up! At one point in the ‘40s and ‘50s the U.S. had dozens of SF magazines—not including comics, which outnumbered magazines for SF fare—until economics took hold and the magazines dropped to a favoured few, like Amazing (yes, what you’re reading now), Astounding/Analog, Galaxy, F & SF (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), If, and so on. So when fans started communicating with each other, they naturally thought of publishing their own magazines, since many of them had gotten in touch with other fans through the letter columns of the professional magazines (which used to publish names and addresses). However, these zines were usually not of a high calibre either in format or in writing. (I’m not trying to diss anyone here; just stating the obvious; most fans, however enthusiastic, didn’t have the means or the know-how to publish a professional zine.)

So zines were hand-written, typed, hectographed, mimeographed, and duplicated in a dozen imaginative ways. Many fans of the ‘40s became the pros of the ‘50s—repeated in successive generations—for example, Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of the Darkover series, styled herself “Pearl” in the letter columns of the Thrilling Wonder or Startling Stories magazines; if you read some of these older magazines (available online or through online auction houses), you will discover some gems. There was even a fannish “play” called The Enchanted Duplicator, written by Irish fans Walt Willis and Bob Shaw, about Jophan (the prototypical fan), which spread mostly through word of mouth via cons and zines.

Photo 2 Enchanted Duplicator
The Enchanted Duplicator.

You don’t need to know what hecto and the rest of those are; this was all pre-Xerox, when schools (many fans were students, or in some way able to use the local high school’s duplicators) offered the most efficient ways of printing multiple copies—almost no fan could afford “real” printing, like linotype, pasteup and offset and all the other professional methods; and why would they? Most zines went to (usually) at the most a hundred other fans, with cover prices (yes, zines had cover prices) ranging from a dime to half a buck or so. (We’re talking about a 40-year span or more, so prices are extremely variable. Most zines could be had for a written or artistic contribution, a LoC (Letter of Comment), for a promise to review in your fanzine, or just for the asking. Fans were (and still are) enthusiastic about SF/Fantasy, movies, TV, comics, costuming, world politics—you name it, a fan has an opinion on it, and is willing to share.

Types of zines ranged from genzines (a general zine, with no specific thrust or objective), clubzines (with contributions from members of a local fangroup, like BCSFAzine, from Vancouver, BC), newszines (for example, Locus, which went pro, or Mike Glyer’s File 770), perzines (Richard E. Geis’s Alien Critic could have been called one of these), review zines (Tangent, by David A. Truesdale) to APAs (Amateur Press Association zines; each member contributes a certain number of pages or whatever per issue—called “minac,” or “minimum activity” to remain a member of the APA. Then they are collated into one, sometimes gigantic, issue and sent to each member. I used to belong to a number of APAs, but found it impossible to keep up my minac, so was dropped.) All of these named zines are examples; some are still around, and some have fallen by the wayside. But fanzines are still being published all over the world by interested fans… nowadays, though, most are electronic: PDFs and the like

I know for a fact that many fans are still pubbing paper copies. (If you’re on Facebook, and you’re interested in editing a fanzine, you might ask to join the group FAANEDS, which as far as I know comprises a large number of faneds.) I haven’t received a paper fanzine since my last BCSFAzine, sent to members of the British Columbia Science Fiction Association (I’m behind on my dues) but I know they’re out there.

Photo 3 BCSFAzine July 2013
BCSFAzine July 2013, art © Brad W. Foster.

So let’s take a look at a typical zine and see what we’ve got. By the way, I am neither endorsing or knocking any fanzine just by mentioning it; I’m not even going to try to be all-inclusive in my reviews. For the most part, I will only review zines that I liked or thought needed a wider audience for some reason. I’m not going to waste your time or mine reviewing zines that aren’t worth our time. These reviews will be, like most of my blog entries, highly personal and idiosyncratic blog entries.

Just for the heck of it, let’s look at the aforementioned clubzine, BCSFAzine. It has a traditional-looking cover, with a b/w illo by the talented Brad W. Foster. (One of the ways that fanartists used to hone their skills and become pro artists was to submit artwork to zines. Bill Rotsler was constantly drawing cartoons and handing them out to anyone who asked; many zines (mine included) were enhanced by Rotsler’s cartoons. Other notables included—but not limited to—George Barr, Tim Kirk, Steve Stiles, Taral Wayne, Alexis Gilliland; heck, I don’t have enough space to list them all.) The ToC (Table of Contents) is printed right on the cover; let’s see what’s in it.

First up is “this and next month in BCSFA”—which is the organization that sponsors this zine; followed by errata. Unless you’re in BCSFA, the first item holds little of interest to you; the second holds none unless you have the previous issue. So, skipping ahead, we find the LoC (pronounced “lock” and usually spelled “LOC”) section. Most LOCs are comments on previous issues plus whatever has sparked the commenter’s interest enough for him or her to write; but here are a couple of good fannish things you can learn here: number one: “Egoscan: to scan through the contents [esp. the LOC column—says I] of a zine looking for your own name or your zine’s name.” Sometimes your LOC, if you wrote one, ends up in the WAHFs. (We Also Heard From, at the end of the LOC column.) There are about 8 pages of LOCs, none of real general interest.

Then we have the calendar, which comprises a further 9 or so pages, covering anything from local fannish events, SF/F tv shows and movie premieres, anything that might be of interest to the local fan for the month of July. To my eye it appears to be not only comprehensive but quite “meaty,” in the sense that there’s stuff there to think about; like what local stuff I might have been missing this month, people’s birthdays and what went on at the club meeting. Then there’s an article about a local book launch, by local author Joseph N.D. Picard—this one’s about the local launch of Toronto author Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues—or, more precisely, about the tribulations of a wheelchair user trying to make his way there via our local transportation “service.”

Then there’s an article by R. Graeme Cameron, who has created a website specifically for Canadian fanzines, and would like any Canadian fanzine editor to contact him and allow him to make said zines available online. A worthy goal, in my opinion! Then there’s the list of fanzines and e-zines received. URL: https://www.cdnsfzinearchive.org

Now, here’s the kicker: Bob Burns maintains a website very similar to the above for e-zines, where you—yes, you!—can download for your own enjoyment fanzines (although not specifically Canadian like Cameron’s; this site is more general) like the above—and including the above. It’s a wonderful resource for fans, and something I wish I’d had available when I was just getting into fandom. URL: https://www.efanzines.com

Coming up: Fannish fandom, more fanzine reviews and other stuff. Till next blog entry.

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  1. Apologies to Bill Burns—I know a fan named Bob Burns and I guess my fingers went astray and typed the familiar name!

    Yes, anyone going to the worldcon, LoneStarCon 3, should definitely stop by the fanzine lounge; I should have mentioned in my con entries that many cons have a fanzine lounge where you can read current and older zines, and (as John Purcell says) learn how the older zines were published! (I purposely didn’t mention hecto and some of the older technologies so as to keep the discussion more general. But fans have used ANY available printing/duplicating technology to produce their zines!)

    Thanks, all, for your good comments!

    1. Uh, oh, I think senility is setting in… my fannish friend is Bob BARNES, not Burns. Then there’s Jim Burns, no relation….

      A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

  2. Steve, I think you did a fine job of writing a general introduction to fanzine fandom. I have no real comments to make, other than I hope people reading this who are also attending LoneStarCon 3, this year’s World SF Convention in San Antonio, Texas, will stop by the fanzine lounge: there they can find old and new fanzines for sale or for free, and can also participate in the hands-on demonstrations of hectography and mimeography, two of the ways fans have reproduced their zines. One final correction: Bill Burns hosts and maintains the efanzines web site.

  3. Not my photo, though, John. Like most everyone else, I found it on the internet. I just resized it and cleaned up a few glitches. Trying to make sure I don’t infringe copyright–which isn’t always easy with teh interwebz!

  4. I’m somehow misremembering “The Enchanted Duplicator”–Ross Chamberlain, who did the cover shown above, tells me ” I’m not sure why you would refer to The Enchanted Duplicator as a ‘play.’ It’s a narrative tale, allegorical along the lines of A Pilgrim’s Progress, extolling Willis and Shaw’s ideals of fandom as they saw them at the time. I’m not sure but that it may possibly have been performed as a dramatic reading or the like at one time or another, but — a play?”

    I have this vague memory of seeing it performed more than 30 years ago; maybe that’s where I got it. Well, I did say this blog would be “idiosyncratic,” didn’t I? No offense intended to anyone involved–which at this point, would just be Ross. Walt Willis and Bob Shaw have shuffled off their mortal coils and gone to join the immortals on Olympus. And we miss them.

  5. Nice shot of Captain Video–you can imagine his wife saying “I can sew better than they do down there; let me resew them for you so the stitches aren’t visible.”

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