Fanzine reviewed: OOPSLA (#24).
Oopsla (#24) – January 1958
Faned: Gregg Calkins. American Genzine.
Gregg Calkins started reading science fiction in 1950. Within two years he not only discovered fandom but began publishing what was described by Harry Warner Jr. as “one of the best fanzines of the decade.” Titled OOPSLA it ran for 30 issues from January 1952 to September 1961. After that Gregg restricted his fanac to his FAPAzine THE RAMBLING FAP which he carried on for quite a while longer.
A typical issue of OOPSLA was mailed to more than a hundred fen, including many of the biggest names in fandom, plus more than forty zines he traded with, including some of the most renowned zines going at the time. Widely regarded and popular, one of its strengths was its roster of contributors, which included the likes of John Berry, Walt Willis, Robert Bloch, Robert Shaw, Shelby Vick, Harry Warner Jr., and other famous fen.
Another strength, according to Warner, was Gregg’s ability to keep publishing “under the worst of circumstances… which included a tour of duty in the Marines, enrollment in college, and a series of moves to different parts of the nation.”
Even more amazing, OOPSLA cost less than the average zine to publish. As Harry Warner Jr. explained it,
“During the war it was possible to publish in the United States a 100-copy edition of a 24-page fanzine for $5 if you used the cheapest materials available. For another dollar or two, you could mimeograph a respectable-looking fanzine which you could sell for a dime a copy… Late in the 1950s… medium-sized zines cost about $40 to produce… OOPSLA cost Gregg about $15 to publish but he had a source of free ink and stencils.”
In his editorial Gregg mentions
“Since the copy price is only 12.5 cents on your subscriptions, and almost 6 cents of that goes up in stamps and the envelope, and since whenever a copy of OOPSLA is returned to me because you have moved it costs me 3 cents to get it back and another 3 cents and another envelope to mail it again, from now on I’m going to knock a copy off of your subscription for every time this happens.”
Harsh words, but yee ghods! 3 cents postage to mail a fanzine? $15 total to print and mail an average run of 140-plus fanzines? For those of you who think inflation is a myth…
Elsewhere in his editorial Gregg has a striking observation,
“From a casual glance at Salt Lake City’s well-stocked magazine shop it would appear that the science fiction pocket-book was the mainstay of the field and that the magazines were the newcomers to the field, not the other way around. I’ve noticed the pocket-book boom for some time—for that matter I buy a large percentage of the titles I find—but at no time was it brought home to me with such conviction as well as fact and detail as when I read my copy of Sam Moskowitz’ SCIENCE FICTION MARKET SURVEY 1956 recently published by Fandom House, Inc. Moskowitz states herein that a total of 40% of all science fiction readers buy more than 24 pocket-books per year and this was in 1956… from the looks of my newsstand the number has gone up this year…”
To this I add that when I first began collecting SF pocket books in the early 1960s I purchased an average of two per week. Still have them. I don’t know what today’s readers are like. I merely point out that John Brunner’s 1964 pocket book TO CONQUER CHAOS cost me 40 cents. A pocket book reprint of Connie Willis’ 1998 novel TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, which I picked up a couple of years ago, cost $11.99. What a difference half a century makes!
Fannish history offers many lessons, but is the information accurate? Harry Warner Jr. was notorious for refusing to accept verbal communication and fannish memories as legitimate sources for his histories of fandom. He would only utilize written information as revealed in contemporary fanzines and other documents. All very well, but an article by Bob Tucker titled “I Didn’t Go To The OKlacon (but I read about it, which was just as good)” calls the reliability of Warner’s research method into question.
Basically, Tucker reprints seven excerpts from reports of the Oklacon each of which differs in the number of attendees noted, from a high of “near-100 fans” to a low of “48 members.” At the end of the article Tucker comments “Aw, c’mon now fellas, how many were there?”
More interesting, mayhaps, is the Editor’s note Gregg appended to the article. “We are proud to present here, as a service to our readers, an excerpt from Mr. Tucker’s next novel. It was found typed in carbon on the back of the above printed manuscript and headed as page 257. Though fragmentary, it is nevertheless revealing.”
“’…sat her upright on the seat, marvelling at the deceptively light weight. Morgan liked the feel of her, those few moments she was in his arms…’ (to be titled THE LONG LEWD SILENCE?)”
Then Gregg does a uniquely fannish thing, prints two pages of poetry devoted to the highly esoteric subject of his OOPSLA publishing career. It begins thusly:
“Let me tell you a story of fortune and glory
Of stencils and mimeo ink
And if part of the time it sounds like it’s in rhyme
Why then I’m not so bad as you’d think.
Aye, the story is mine and it’s true, every line!
(Like I said it has fortune and glory)
For it’s old OOPS’ log… and my autobiog…
And a most, most remarkable story.”
At one point he resorts to classic fannish “Beard muttering” as follows:
Fortunately “Beard Muttering” was a short-lived fad. A mere two or three decades I believe.
Oddly enough, in his editorial Gregg mentions that Larry Shaw, a well-known fan in the 1940s but now editor of the prozine INFINITY, had the gall to purchase some of Gregg’s poems for a “nominal sum.” As Gregg put it:
“So now… I’ve ruined my amateur standing. I am following in the foot-tracks of Bradbury and Silverberg and all the other fans who went from fandom to prodom and the vile huckster’s badge. I can no longer be happy with mere amateur journalism. Now I must start writing seriously.”
“My first novel is tentatively titled MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH AND KEEPER OF THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. It will be 100% original.”
Fortunately this did not come to pass.
The rather splendidly—not to say ‘lethally’—attired figure to the right is a depiction of famed Irish fan and author Robert Shaw after a typical game of Ghoodminton at Walt Willis’ “Oblique House” in Belfast (you can see the battered remnant of the net, and note that he is holding the game’s typical cardboard “bat” in his left hand). It graces the article “Egoboo Brummell” by John Berry. (Brummell was the fop who invented the plain business suit a few centuries back.)
In the article John takes the Belfast crowd to task for becoming employed and wealthy. A certain amount of exaggeration is involved.
“The advent of wealth into Irish fandom was a gradual affair… But when I scraped the mudwing of James White’s Rolls Royce automobile with a rusted spoke of my pedal cycle I did begin to notice things. A gold watch hanging from Peggy’s heavily braceletted wrist… Walt lighting a Balkan Sobrani with a dirty ten-shilling note… Madelaine sporting a tiara… thick plush carpets… hanging tapestries… servants… gardeners…”
“But one day I pointed out to Walt the discrepancy in our appearances.”
“’This isn’t Irish fandom any more. I alone am maintaining the traditions that you so nobly prepared in the early fifties. Look at me… Doesn’t it make you feel nostalgic? ‘ I pointed to my duplicating-ink stained trousers, torn shirt, odd socks, untidy hair, dirty fingernails and two-day growth of stubble. ‘This was you, sir,’ I pleaded, ‘until this filthy lucre affected you. We can’t have this gulf between us.’ I turned beseechingly to each of them in turn. ’Walt… James… George, can’t you hear my plea?’”
“George signalled to his chauffer to cross his legs for him.”
But as luck would have it Walt is moved by John’s plea and comes up with a solution.
“Walt’s new stratagem was the construction of a FANAC REVERSION ROOM on the second floor… Imagine for a moment that James White was the first client for reversion… He would be dressed in silk top hat, morning suit, cravat, spats, umbrella and gilt typer. He would knock and enter. Inside, the DUPLICATING INK PROCESSOR, a fully trained employee of the Gestetner firm, would expertly spew judicious driblets of ink over Jame’s apparel. With a polite bow the inker would indicate the next operator, the UNTIDY HAIR MANIPULATOR, who would whisk off the top hat and turn on three hair driers, shoving the hot-air-ejecting nozzles onto the White scalp. Shortly, James’ hair would be hanging over his face. Satisfied with his craftsmanship, the drier would push James to the final of the trio, the MISCELLANEOUS REVISOR. This chap sported a comprehensive kit of instruments. He would look at James professionally and, noting flaws in the apparition, do his level best to adjust them. He might, for example, slash a few jagged tears in the clothing, maybe pry open a shoe to expose the toes, or even append an ‘I’VE NO CHANGE’ badge on the remains of a coat lapel, a reminder of the days when Willis used to try and flog us prozines.”
“The others (excluding myself) went through more or less the same ritual and we really felt happy again, playing with our plonker guns or having enthusiastic games of Ghoodminton, maybe even running off an odd issue of HYPHEN…”
“One would maybe consider it a trifle extravagant for the others to waste a complete rigout of clothing per fannish session, but with the money they had it would have appeared bourgeois to have in their possession a special suit of old clothes. So they were fixed up every time, James White making sure that when the meeting concluded a new change of clothing would be ready, which was part of his contract.”
Needless to say, John Berry was renowned for his dry sense of humour throughout fandom.
Walt Willis contributes a regular column titled “The Harp That Once or Twice” which also regularly appeared in Lee Hoffman’s QUANDRY. Harry Warner Jr. termed the column “perhaps the finest column in fannish history.”
Rather unusually, considering he was also and especially noted for his dry wit, in this particular instance Willis delivers a bit of a rant on the contemporary state of science fiction literature. Quoting Marion Zimmer Bradley in YANDRO as saying “Modern fandom isn’t interested in science fiction,” he states:
“In ten years in fandom I’ve come across only one fan—Max Keasler—who wasn’t interested in science fiction, and even he was beginning to like it. I suppose I’m one of the anti-serious constructive fans Marion has in mind, but I read every science fiction magazine I can get… Probably many fans don’t buy as many promags as they used to. But that’s not because they’re not interested in good science fiction, it’s because the promags aren’t printing it. And if some of us don’t run much about sf in our fanzines it’s because we can find things that are more fun to write about than exactly how one hack differs from another…”
“I admit there was a period when a certain section of fandom jeered at as ‘sercon’ anything in a fanzine that dealt with sf, and I suppose I must take a certain amount of responsibility for that. But it still seems to me that this was just a healthy swing of the pendulum away from years of turgid and pretentious rubbish, and at the moment it looks to me to have swung back toward normality.”
Walt then attacks another aspect of prodom current in his day:
“What sort of fuggheads are those who are convinced, to the point of spending hundreds of dollars of our money, that the average reader of ASTOUNDING and GALAXY wants a handy hardback wallet-size certificate that he is among the first to apply for passage to the Moon? Even accompanied by a ‘Moon Weight Chart and a complete Rocket-Ship Flight Schedule for the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn’? Presumably the Secret Handgrip and Unbreakable Space Patrol Code come later… Their view is that these documents will be ‘evidence of your adventurous spirit… your imagination… your interest in the world of tomorrow.’ To me they’re evidence that the SF Book Club people and the editors which allow these advertisements to disgrace their magazines and the intelligence of the SF field are just not very bright. After years of prodding from fandom they finally put covers on sf magazines which you weren’t ashamed to be seen with in public. Now we have to hide the back covers.”
Hmm, I bet those certificates, weight charts, and flight schedules are worth a pretty penny now. They also sound like light-hearted fun. Willis seems bitterly offended, as if he feels betrayed. I’m not sure why. He goes on to say:
“And yet no doubt these professionals regard themselves as the mature intellectual leaders of the sf field, and fans as unbalanced crackpots. The sane balanced professionals deplore fandom’s ‘private jokes and curious excesses’… or so it was expressed to me once by a professional author as he reeled from the bar to his psychiatrist.”
“There is one element of truth in the contempt some pros have for fandom, and that is that fandom tends by its very nature to have more young and inexperienced people in it. But taking the established fans as a fair basis of comparison, I’d stack people like Boggs, Burbee, Harris, Clarke, Eney, Grennell and Calkins against any group of professionals by any criterion you care to name. And that’s leaving out [former fan] professionals like Bloch and Tucker. The real reason fandom has such a bad name in some quarters is that we wash all our dirty linen in public. No wonder people think we’re around the Bendix.” (emphasis added – Ed.)
One thing’s for sure, the writings of Walt Willis are always interesting, as are the contents of OOPSLA. Well worth reading methinks.
BY THE WAY:
You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines
You can find yet more zines at: Fanac Fan History Project
You can find a quite good selection of Canadian zines at: Canadian SF Fanzine Archive
And check out my brand new website devoted to my OBIR Magazine, which is entirely devoted to reviews of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Found at OBIR Magazine