The Ecstasy of Being a Fanzine Archivist, or: The Joy of Breathing paper Dust.

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RG Cameron May 9 Illo #1  'Grotesque'

I say with considerable, overweening, even arrogant pride, I was born to be a fanzine archivist, born to be the ghod of fanzine archivists! And a humble ghod at that.

Evidence dates from my conception. They say Alexander the Great’s mother slept with a snake. My mother slept in a room filled with books. Hardly a coincidence!

Furthermore, as an adult, Alexander wore armour made of stiffened linen, whereas I, as a child, wandered turtle-like beneath the carapace of a wicker laundry basket. The parallel symbolism is obvious.

Most telling of all, as a young teenager (‘shudder’) I would sit, like a coiled snake, staring at my shelf of SF pocketbooks (which were arranged alphabetically by author), coldly studying their colorful spines for hours on end (well, seconds on end), my eyes unblinking (like Tarzan when his eyeballs were crawling with insects – a memorable scene that – Burroughs quite the imaginationist…).

When, suddenly, like a Cobra striking, I would lunge forward and, with a single sweep of my hand, knock all my pocketbooks on to the floor. Then I would coil back into repose, fangs sheathed, observing with lidded eyes the jumbled mass of a library gone askew. What to do? How to sort?

Would I re-file them on my shelf by year of publication? Alphabetically by publisher? Would my Ace Doubles be placed together in a separate lump or together with their authors, depending on which of the two authors in the Ace Double I liked best? Filed by cover artist? Questions. Questions.

Hoo boy! I sure knew how to have fun when I was a kid. Being sent to my room was never a punishment. I could idle away innumerable hours absorbed in entertainment like this.

Or as my Grandfather used to frequently say, “What’s wrong with this boy?”

So, given this background, you can imagine my gleeful surprise when fellow members of BCSFA volunteered me as the new archivist for the club in 1996. They knew I was actively researching the history of the club, had a habit of listing stuff for no good reason, liked to sort things (repeatedly), and besides it would be a great way to distract me for years on end and stop me from being such a nuisance. Consequently the proposal was unanimously approved.

Fellow BCSFAn Gerald Boyko had taken on the task of Archivist shortly after the Susan Wood estate donated much of her zine collection to the club in 1980. Other long time BCSFA members such as Ed Beauregard, Fran Skene, Vera Johnson, and Boyko himself (all names familiar to fen who’ve interacted with BCSFA and VCON over the years) added to the collection. What wonders were in the archive?

RG Cameron May 9 Illo #2 'Fanscient'

When 21 hefty boxes were dropped off at my apartment in February 1996 I could hardly contain my glee. What a pile it would make once I’d emptied all the contents! Frenziedly I began ripping open the boxes.

I cannot begin to describe my disappointment on discovering Gerald had done a fine job as archivist, keeping material stored separately by categories such as: BCSFAzines, other fanzines, Apae, correspondence, program books, catalogues, club financial records, and so on. In the fifteen years he’d managed the archive he’d already done all the necessary preliminary sorting, darn it.

Naturally, given my nature, I would have dumped everything on the floor, mixed it all up (perhaps utilizing a shovel), and started re-sorting from scratch, but I suspected one or two fellow club members might object, foolishly thinking in terms of progress rather than retro-archiving (my favourite sport).

It happened that BCSFAn Eugene James donated a sturdy four-drawer filing cabinet to serve the needs of the archive (I later acquired two more) before the boxes arrived.

So the first thing I did, the very FIRST thing I did, was separate all the BCSFAzines (our club newsletter), arrange them in sequence, bag each one in plastic, put two copies of each issue in a paper envelope, describe the contents on the envelopes with a marker pen, and file them by date in two of the cabinet drawers. Talk about sense of accomplishment and completion! Talk about obsessive compulsive behavior! Wheee! What fun! Whoot! Whoot!

For weeks, nay, months afterward, I would walk by the drawers, pretending to ignore them, then whip about and yank one open, feasting my eyes on the serried ranks of envelopes. Life doesn’t get better than this, at least if you happen to be a fantiquarian archivist like me.

RG Cameron May 9 Illo #3  'Merlin'
But, little known fact, the scholars in the Library of Alexandria felt exactly the same way. They used to run through the hallowed halls at night in the moonlight, grabbing scrolls at random and playing catch, tossing them back and forth as they dodged around the marble pillars and statuary, chortling cries of glee as they raced across the slippery marble floor. Those old guys knew how to have fun, they did. It comes with the territory.

Don’t believe me? You’ve never been an archivist. So how would you know? They don’t call us bibliophiles for nothing…

Then, most thrilling to describe, sorting the fanzines by nationality, arranging them in alphabetical order by title, and arranging each run in numerical sequence.

Followed by the greatest thrill of all, CATALOGUING the zines, each and every one.

I know all of you are now dripping with envy and perspiration. Sorry, you’ll just have to live my life vicariously through such columns as this one. Best I can do.

The status of the collection in terms of zines as of February 1996 was:

CANADIAN: 143 titles = 1,164 zines.

AMERICAN: 353 titles = 2,141 zines.

UNITED KINGDOM: 121 titles = 332 zines.

AUSSIE/KIWI: 78 titles = 423 zines.

OTHER/FOREIGN: 29 titles = 57 zines.

GRAND TOTAL: 724 titles = 4,117 zines.

And WHAT titles. All kinds goodies:

RG Cameron May 9 Illo #4  'Random'

Big Scab, Big Schlep, Blunt, Bug Eye, Callisto Rising, Central Ganglion, Chunder, Damn Pink Toad, Ditto Masters of the Universe, Dork-Pizzle, Egoboddle, Entropy Negative, Ethel The Aardvark, Eye Tracks, The Frozen Frog, Galacto-Celtic Newsflash, Genuine Victorian Wicker Dunkle, Giant Wombo, Goblin’s Grotto, Jane’s Fighting Smofs, Kosmic Kiwi, Last Dangerous Crudzines, Lolly Gagging, Lusts & Locusts, The Maple Leaf Rag, Marvin the Lehti, Pit Rot, Quintessential Space Junk, Revolting Tales of Sex and Super-Science, Scientifriction, SFinctor, Slogdian, Slubberdegullion, Squat on my Grunt, Space Wastrel, Star Whores, Swill, Thingumybob, Voice of the Clam, Weber Woman’s Wrevenge, and Zosma, to name just a few. All fascinating stuff.

I mean, just look at the poetry of these names! The breadth of originality! The incredible sophistication!

Well, maybe not. Point is, regardless of what you think of any individual title (some a bit rude perhaps), they are all very INDIVIDUAL titles. Nothing generic. And the contents reflect the editors intent to express themselves in a very personal manner, in a very creative manner. Most of them succeeded.

This was and is the great joy and excitement of fanzine fandom, namely personal expression and inspired insight.

Granted, occasionally someone with nothing to say puts out a boring crudzine with nothing worth reading, but not often, not as often as the generic pat conversations you plough through in the routine course of a routine day. Seldom is a conversation invigorating and delightful. But fanzines? Jolly worthwhile more often than not I’d say.

Few paper zines arrive in the mail today, but in the years I’ve been BCSFA archivist the number housed in the archive has doubled. Not bad.

Enough with statistics! What you really want to know is the nitty-gritty details of a fantiquarian archivist’s exciting life. Here’s an example:

DITTO 8 CONVENTION, November 4th, 1995

RG Cameron May 9 Illo #5 'Ditto 8'

THE FAN FUND AUCTION with auctioneer Andy Hooper and Dick Smith

(as recounted in my SPACE CADET issue #6 – March 1996)

I remember drooling as they laid out the zines. They apologized for the poor selection, but I was quivering with anticipation. Eric Lindsay had brought a set of Don Thompson’s ‘DON-O-SAUR’ all the way from Australia! The BCSFA club archive had a fine selection we’d received in the late ‘80s in trade for BCSFAzine, but here was a chance to get the ones Don had produced in the ‘70s! Then there were several fine ‘SIMULCRUM’s by Victoria Vayne, masterpieces of printing. And, in general, what is technically known as “a whole bunch of neat stuff.”

I bid on nearly everything. I became known as “that man in the corner.” At least 75% of the money raised came from my pockets. I had about $200 US funds left and was determined to spend it. Besides, it was for a good cause. TAFF, I think… Anyway, I had money to burn. The pile of zines mounted on my lap. They were sold in lots. I wound up with about a hundred zines.

One in particular I had my eye on. So did Jerry Kaufman. HUITLOXOPETL by Meade and Penny Frierson (circa late ‘70s). Certainly an interesting title, sounds like the name of an Aztec deity, though nothing I can find in my sources. This particular issue details at length the origins and development of characters like ‘Simple J. Malarkey,’ ‘Snavely,’ ‘Sis Boombah,’ and ‘Sarcophagus Macabre’ in the Pogo comic strip (a 6th fandom icon) written and drawn by Walt Kelly of beloved memory. As a lifelong Pogo fan, this was a “must buy!” Unfortunately, this was jerry Kaufman’s view as well. We pawed through it together before the auction started, our drool turning the pages prematurely brown. Nervously, I wondered if I had enough money to outbid Jerry.

During the auction Andy Hooper’s hand often strayed to the lot containing HUITLOXOPETL, Jerry and I would lean forward, half-rising out of our seats, and Andy’s hand would pass on to another lot. Every time this happened the air grew electric with tension. Soon I noticed Jerry seemed quite agitated. Was he going to storm the stage? He stood up… sat down again… stood up, bobbed about, agony written on his face… then suddenly rushed from the room.

Hah! Victim of his bladder! This was my chance! Would the fannish Ghods smile on me? YES!!! Andy’s hand rested on the lot in question.

RG Cameron May 9 Illo #6 'Don-o-saur'

And for this pile of crudzines?”

TEN BUCKS!” I yelled.

Momentary silence. Somewhat taken aback, Andy said “Uuh, sure, okay. Any other bids?”

FIFTEEN BUCKS!” I screamed.

Fine, whatever,” said Andy, warily handing me the lot

Jerry Kaufman came racing back into the room. He plunged down into his chair, turned his gaze eagerly to the spot where HUITLOXOPETL had rested… His face darkened.

Damn, damn, damn, damn!” he mouthed, and turned to glare at me suspiciously. I tried to keep a straight face. One shouldn’t gloat in public.

Magnanimously I let him hold HUITLOXOPETL for a few seconds after the auction.

But just so I don’t appear a complete bastard, I do intend to photocopy it for him one of these days. Especially after I send him this issue…”

I think I did. I hope I did. I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.

Yet, even though times have changed, the archivism disease still infects my brain. I have yet to read ALL the paper zines in my care. Plenty of good reading on call whenever I feel like it.

For a fanzine archivist, that may be the biggest perk of all.

P.S. I have included illos of the covers of several zines that came with the ‘crudzine’ piles in the auction.

Not so crud-like. Consider the 1946 zine THE GROTESQUE. It contains, among other things, an article by Bob Tucker (perhaps THE most famous fan of all time), a letter from Robert Bloch (later author of ‘Psycho’), and a piece of fan fiction by a young Harlan Ellison. Crudzine eh? I don’t think so!

(Editor’s Note:  R. Graeme Cameron has been nominated for the Canadian Aurora Award for Fan Writer this year.)

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