Fanzines reviewed: VOID #11 & #13.
The Benford Brothers
Gregory Benford was born in 1941. In 1954 he and his brother Jim started their first fanzine VACCUM. In 1955, the family now stationed in Germany, they began VOID (one of the legendary fanzines of the decade) and went on to help organize Germany’s first SF convention WETZCON held January 1956 in Wetzlar. In late 1957 the family moved to Dallas, Texas where Greg and Jim immediately got involved with local fandom. Not long after Greg devoted himself to pursuing a career in science but has remained comfortable with fandom and fans ever since. Jim Benford, it can be noted, is currently a member of FAPA.
VOID (#11) – Sometime in 1958
Faned: Jim & Gregory Benford. American Genzine.
This may or may not be the first Stateside issue of VOID. Certainly the cover suggests that it might be. As does the editorial:
“Yup, we’re in Dallas. Before anyone starts asking me questions like ‘What’s it like to be back?’ and ‘How does the good ol’ USA look?’ I’d like to remind you that we live in a suburb… Understand, however, that Germany had its suburbs too. In Europe one would go to school amid armies of scowling, Volkswagen-driving businessmen. Here one goes to school amid scowling, Ford-driving men with grey flannel mouths. Seriously, doesn’t anyone own something besides a Ford? Everywhere there are Fords—Ford trucks, station wagons, cars, convertibles… Everyone must have a well-tended lawn, and a two-car garage, and a picture window. I had seriously considered sending out change-of-address cards labeled ‘HELP HELP HELP I AM BEING HELD CAPTIVE IN A SUBURB’, but local Dallas conservatives convinced me of all the Deep-Seated Troubles it would cause me, and I didn’t.”
Greg then decides to comment on a 1956 fan Poll which appeared in Mike Gate’s MOTELY which had a limited distribution so Greg is spreading the news to the presumably larger distribution base of VOID. Results included:
Top Fanzine: GRUE edited by Dean Grennell (152 votes), followed by HYPHEN (148), A BAS (104), OOPSLA (77), VOID (70), RETRIBUTION (65), OBLIQUE (61), PEON (56), TRIODE (46), and finally INSIDE with (41 votes).
Best Fan Fiction Writer: Irish fan John Berry.
Best Cartoonist: British fan Arthur Thomson.
Best Upcoming Fanzine: INNUENDO by Terry Carr.
Best General Fan Writer: Irish Fan Walt Willis.
Best Single Fanzine Issue: HARP STATESIDE by Walt Willis.
Best Poet: Rich Alex Kirs.
Best Fanzine (Series of issues): HYPHEN edited by Walt Willis.
Best Fan Artist: Arthur Thomson.
Most Promising New Fan: Tie between Kent Moomaw and Carl Brandon.
Best Fanzine Column: ‘How The Other Half Lives’ in ABAS by R.A. Kirs.
Best Humorist: Walt Willis.
Most Outstanding American Fan: Dean Grennell.
Most Outstanding Anglo Fan: Walt Willis.
Most Promising Fanwriter: Kent Moomaw.
Most Promising Fan Artist: Eddie Jones.
It should be noted that Carl Brandon was a hoax who turned out to be Terry Carr.
Greg comments: “It is very interesting to note that while GRUE was voted the Top Fanzine, HYPHEN won the Best Fanzine. John Berry was a close runner-up in the Best Humorist classification, only one point behind Walt Willis. Irish Fandom, which is outnumbered by the rest of fandom about 50 to 1, walked off with eight of the awards, not to mention placing its only two fanzines in the top ten. Alex Kirs, who, besides letters, has been confining his activity to only one fanzine, A BAS (which itself appears about once a year), took two divisions on the basis of his work on that zine alone. All in all, I would say that a very few fans have a monopoly on specialized talent, and that fandom is ‘run’ by a relatively small group of individuals.”
Today, no matter what fan award or poll comes out, some are quick to point out it doesn’t represent fandom at large, or the ‘real’ picture of fandom. No poll or award has ever achieved that. The 1956 poll, like all polls or even awards, is representative of the favourites of them as cares to participate. Nothing more. An “objective overall judgement” has not nor ever will exist. Polls and awards are but a glimpse of the state of fandom as seen by some. The only other view of fandom which counts is your own. Period.
John Berry contributes a typically highly amusing article titled “Son of Berry” describing his horrendous 1957 Christmas. For one thing, he bought his son Colin a set of boxing gloves. He offered to show him how to box. He was planning on boxing him gently on a count of three.
Colin knocked his dad against the wall with a mighty blow on a count of two. Sneaky lad.
Resignedly, Berry offered to demonstrate the chemistry set he’d gotten Colin. Turned out Colin hadn’t liked the look of the instruction booklet and had torn it up. He retrieved a fragment from the garbage.
“…mixture of ammonium chlorine and slaked lime in one test tube and a mixture of sodium chlorine and sodium bisalph in… heat both tubes and hold the mouths of the tubes together…”
“I held the tubes over the gas ring, and slowly closed the mouths together… suddenly a cloud of white smoke billowed all around me, almost suffocating me. Remembering from somewhere there is always a layer of air at ground level, I lay flat on my stomach and blindly wriggled round the floor like an over-sexed puff adder. I finally reached the door, opened it, and raced the white cloud into the garden.”
Next Colin opened his “Kiddies Fencing Set” and pulled out a sword. Berry raced upstairs and locked himself in the spare room. That’s the Yuletide spirit!
Kent Moomaw, voted most promising Fan Writer at age 17, has a column “Lowings in the Field” which covers a wide range of subjects, from the last gasp of British imperialism “Mr. MacMillan, Prime Minister of Great Britain, has consistently repudiated suggestions that the days of the Empire are gone” to the imminent collapse of the popularity of Elvis Presley:
“Despite the fact that his records continue to sell and his occasional personal appearances still draw sizeable audiences, Elvis Presley is definitely on that merciless show-business phenomenon known as the Big Slide. In words of one syllable, he’s had it.”
“The first indication came with the release of his first film, which contrary to popular notion, laid a tremendous bomb… The clincher came but a few days ago, on an afternoon teenage TV program in in which new records are played for a gyrating throng of mostly horrible looking young people… Discs are rated A to D according to applause…”
“Presley’s latest record received a solid D.”
“The King is dead.”
A tad premature, that. Moomaw perhaps not a typical teenager of the era.
In the LoC column Walt Willis writes: “You and Moomaw seem to be disgruntled with some current faneds and I only wish you’d name names so I could see whether I agree with you or not. The general run of neofaneds seem no worse to me than they’ve always been…”
Harry Warner Jr. writes: “It looks as if the people who are most concerned about fannish trends are those who have been in the field for only two or three years. The real veterans in the field have seen splinter groups and special interest groups spring up so often that it’s no longer very alarming.”
And Moomaw himself writes: “Don’t pay any attention to people who demand that you be sugar-sweet to one and all. Certain fans are currently quite put out with me because I’m supposed to have acted smug and superior; all I’ve done is speak my mind…”
Wait till you read what he has to say in issue 13!
VOID (#13) – Later in 1958
Faned: Gregory Benford. American Genzine.
First I’ll quote some impressions of Los Angeles fans by Greg when he dropped by the LASFS (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society). At the home of Charles Burbee he meets William Rotsler for the first time:
“Rotsler had a beard, was middle-sized and carried a shelf of his own illustrations in his hand. Obviously he thought others would be impressed by this display of his artist-like appearance, but since the illustrations were of evident low quality this rather destroyed the effect. It was also clear that Rotsler considered himself a humorist, although his recent entrance into FAPA had produced little except a childish fanzine called MASQUE in which he attributes the Los Angeles crowd with non-existent talents in the field of humor.”
I’d like to think Greg later changed his opinion of Rotsler who is today remembered fondly by many fen such as faneds like myself who greatly appreciated receiving his simple but evocative fan art. Evidently, like Moomaw, Greg was a very serious-minded teenager back in the fifties.
Greg also commented: “During the conversation that followed I came to know the petty gossiping prevalent in the Southern California fan groups… all of this was typical of the juvenile sniping and rumour-spreading done in the name of humor by the Los Angeles fans…”
“That evening we went to a LASFS meeting. The club had managed to rent a few rooms on the second floor of a tacky building, and even though it was large the place was crowded by a lot of nonfans… The following hour was about the dullest I spent during the entire three days…”
In reference to Burbee, Rotsler and other LA fans Greg concludes: “They are examples of tendencies too highly prevalent in fandom. The devotion to some weird idea of fannishness by this group made me feel as though I was in the company of children… The disturbing element is that this seems to be a common element among fans these days. This is why my good friend and BNF (Big Name Fan) Terry Carr declines to travel to other fan centers. It is why ALL the current BNFs dislike personal contact with these fans…”
I guess this represents something of a conflict between a new wave coming along and the LA old guard still caught up in the fannish spirit of the forties. Then again, still being a teenager, maybe Greg, in striving to be mature, was embarrassed by older fen who’d discovered the fannish secret of longevity is to remain locked in childhood forever. Myself, I’m well ensconced in my second childhood and proud of it.
The most fascinating article, not to mention the most downbeat, was Moomaw’s “Lowings.”
“The sixth annual Southwestercon was held in Dallas this year over the weekend of July 4th. It was largely a flop. I know. I was there.”
“Friday we [Jim, Greg, & Moomaw] arrived at the Dallas hotel by ten. The time between registration and the beginning of the program at one was excruciatingly dull; the convention suite was filled with people I’d never heard of before, mostly Texas and Oklahoma fringe-fans.”
For a bit of a jape Moomaw wore a fake name badge declaring him Boyd Raeburn (Canadian BNF of A BAS fame) but it proved pointless since “we found many of the neos so damn unsuspecting that they didn’t even recognise the name Raeburn…”
“We learned that Fredric Brown [wonderful short story writer], listed in all Dallas’ pre-con propaganda as Guest of Honour, was not in attendance, and that Marion Zimmer Bradley had been chosen to replace him. I felt disillusionment begin to pile heavily on my shoulders.”
“Randy Brown introduced Forry Ackerman, toastmaster of the banquet, who promptly went into a deadly dull conversation with Dale Hart, another co-chairman, on obscure old fans and pros. I endured this painfully, and when Marion Zimmer Bradley likened an old time fan to me and the audience turned to sneer, I did my best to hold back a yawn.”
Seems to me, being singled out for condemnation by a prominent fan and author (as Harlan Ellison once did to me) is cause for celebration and rejoicing, a sure sign one has “made it,” but no, Moomaw found it all quite boring.
At one point Ackerman, Hart and Bradley posed for photographers. Moomaw was embarrassed:
“One photographer had sound equipment with him and took some sound films of Ackerman, Bradley and Hart talking “fannishly”. The conversation went something like this:
“Ackerman: Well, Dale, do you think Marion has gotten her share of egoboo at this convention?”
“Hart: I’d say her ego has been boosted tremendously.”
“Bradley: It’s been boosted so much that my sensitive fannish face is blushing all over.”
“Ackerman: Heh heh heh. Well, do you think you’ll gafiate after all this is over?”
“Bradley: Me gafiate? Not as long as my mimeo is still…”
“It seems incredible the way perfectly normal, intelligent people can make such asses of themselves as soon as they’re placed in front of a camera. Greg, Jim and I endured this for a few seconds and finally left the convention room in utter disgust. These sickening films were shown on Dallas TV that night, and we were embarrassed to the point of extinction as the twin’s mother [Mrs. Benford] watched them with us. I could visualize people all across Dallas saying to each other, ‘See, Fred, I told you these science fiction people are all idiots.’ On the basis of those films I would have to agree.”
Another disappointment for Moomaw, he had originally been scheduled to participate in a panel with Greg but it was cancelled at the last moment because a Navy man had arrived with a couple of short films to show. As Moomaw put it:
“I wondered just how many people [at the con] would prefer seeing films on jet planes and satellites to hearing a reasonably interesting discussion of active fandom. I decided that with all the fringers in attendance, I might be in for a large surprise on that score. I shuddered.”
Another disaster: “Ted Wagner of Houston found that someone had lifted $35 worth of liquor from his room during his absence and we all gathered in his room while the House Dick was called in and people offered their opinions. It was as disgusting as could be. I sat there thinking, ghod, I came 1,000 miles for THIS?”
Moomaw in particular strikes me as a painfully insecure young man craving recognition by virtue of belonging to the ‘elite’ inner circle of fanzine fandom only to discover that fans in general could care less. A passing phase? Something to be discarded as soon as he’d become a little more mature and learned to lighten up and take people for what they are?
On his 18th birthday Moomaw was required to register for selective service. In the words of Harry Warner Jr:
“He left his home on October 13, 1958, to attend to that obligation and never returned. His parents reported him missing, and late on the following afternoon a cub scout den mother found his body near a baseball diamond in a Cincinnati park. The throat and wrists were slashed and a razor blade was beneath his body.”
His suicide sent shock waves through fandom. Evidently he was one of those poor souls who just couldn’t cope with the demands of life. Whatever satisfaction he derived from his participation in fandom, apparently it wasn’t enough to compensate for his fears and doubts concerning his future. He left no note, so his motivation remains unknown.
As Marion Zimmer Bradley put it, thinking back to the Southwestercon and the occasion of meeting him for the first time, he was “not the aging fugghead I had visualized, but a bright-eyed, bespectacled and polite teenager, who far from being a brash loudmouth, turned out to be one of the quietest, best-behaved fans at the whole con.”
If only he had not taken himself and life so seriously. A tragedy. Sad.
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