Fanzine reviewed: FMZ DIGEST (#1), published 1941.
SON OF PROLONGED BLAST FROM THE DISTANT PAST.
Ghu Bestows His Blessings.
I’m not a fanzine collector. I’m a fanzine archivist. There is a difference. I’m more interested in the content of a zine than its actual possession (a photocopy or a scan will do) so that, as a fannish historian, I can facilitate my research. An extreme collector, on the other hand, will buy up duplicate copies of his zines in order to destroy them, to increase his collection’s “value,” and ensure that no other fan will ever read them. Just a tad possessive methinks.
I hasten to add that normal collectors do not do this. I know of only one case where this occurred. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to convince dedicated collectors to scan or copy the zines they possess even if it is for research purposes. Private collections tend to be very private. Consequently it is seldom a fanzine archive has a chance to expand.
Imagine my joy when old-time fan and legendary comic artist George Metzger contacted me and asked if it would be okay if he donated his collection of 1940s/1950s/1960s fanzines to the BCSFA fanzine archive.
Would it be okay? Great Galloping Ghu! The offer took my breath away! Darn near burst into tears I did. At long last I’d be able to read famous fanzines I’d heard about but assumed I would never see. An absolute miracle!
And, of course, I salivated at the prospect of describing and quoting these zines in my Clubhouse columns. This be the first of many to come concerning the Metzger donation. He is bringing me the collection one shopping bag at a time, since he is rereading the zines before transferring them to me. As he put it, “There’s a lot of good stuff.”
Alas, he’s not sure how many of his 1940s zines remain, as he sold some to a collector a few decades back, but he did come up with the following to include in the first batch.
FMZ Digest (#1) – Feb/March 1941
Faned: Arthur Louis Joquel II. American Genzine.
Arthur, a previously unknown fan, joined LASFS (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) in January 1941. Being, like many a typical convert to anything, extremely gung ho, he churned out 21 zines in 14 months. Then, while working on his 22nd zine, projected to be 116 pages-long, he had second thoughts and gave up zinedom entirely. This not an unusual phenomenon in fandom, but what truly astonished his peers was his prompt refund of all paid subscriptions and the fact he mailed back all manuscripts submitted to him. By fannish standards this made him a paragon of virtue. A veritable saint in fact.
Art Joquel didn’t gafiate completely. He showed up from time to time, especially at conventions. The 1946 Pacificon for instance, where he “went around in black and red robes reciting the text of a black mass.” Won a costume award he did.
Anyway, FMZ Digest #1 was his first fanzine. Forrest J Ackerman probably played a major role in its creation, given that his guest editorial is placed above Joquel’s smaller piece. In it Forry points out that “science fiction” was originally known as “scientifiction,” but in 1931 Linus Hogenmiller suggested “STF” instead, pronounced “ess-tee-eff.” This caught on. Forry claims to have been the first to pronounce it “Stef,” and to refer to SF fans as “Stefans.” Right.
In later, saner times “scientifiction” was reduced to “science fiction” and “STF” to “SF’ and everything was simple as could be till Forry happened to be listening to his car radio one day in 1955 and came up with the brainstorm that if good quality music is played on Hi-Fi equipment, then good quality SF must be “Sci-Fi.” Right.
Trouble is, the new term came to the attention of mundane critics who thought all SF was crap, and they adopted “Sci-Fi” as a kind of genre brand name implying less than sterling quality for anything so labelled. Consequently the elitists among today’s fans refer to “Sci-Fi” rather contemptuously as “skiffy,” possibly still blaming it (and Forry) for ruining the genre’s reputation (already well ruined at the time by the way), but truth is it still functions remarkably well as an instantly recognizable “brand” to any non-fan. Personally, having grown up with it as a kid plunging into the new and exciting world of “Sci-Fi,” I still like it. No accounting for taste I guess. But I know to use the term “SF” in polite company.
Back to Forry’s 1941 editorial. He turns to the evolution of the term for fan publications. At first they were called “fan magazines,” which makes sense since many of the early zines were conscious imitations of “pro magazines.” This soon became shortened to “fanmag.” I admit that seems, though simple, somewhat awkward, or as Forry puts it “ill-sounding.” A number of “better” alternatives were later put forward.
Somebody came up with “fanrag,” possibly inspired by the tendency to refer to pro magazines as “prorags” because they were printed on cheap paper. Well, fanrags were printed on cheap paper too, so why not? But still awkward, and somewhat puzzling.
Even worse, the term “fanag” invented by Rajocz, another LASFS member. “FANAG?” Sounds like “A FAN! AGGGH!” Not very complimentary at all.
But in January of 1941, Louis Russell Chauvenet came up with the term “fanzine.” Simple. Easy to understand. An instant classic. Still in use by most fen today. Could Forry let the elegance of the term carry the day? Of course not. In his opinion, referring to all the terms previously suggested, including fanzine, “They ain’t got ommph!”
In reading through the February 1941 issue of the fanzine “Frontier” Forry noted that its editor Donn Brazier suggested the simplest and most obvious term to use is “FMZ” (short for Fan Magazine), to be pronounced “eff-em-zee.” So naturally, just as he transformed “STF” into “Stef,” Forry calls for “FMZ” to be pronounced “femmes.” So all fan publications were to be known as “femmes.” As in “Femmes Digest” rather than “FMZ Digest.” Right.
I sometimes get the impression the early Forrest J Ackerman was a bit of a crank. I know he struck some people that way. But at least he was enthusiastic.
In Forry’s idealistic vision of the future (our present) everybody would say “Sci-Fi Femmes” rather than “SF fanzines.” I think the latter is a little clearer and more concise.
But enough of Forry. In his rather briefer editorial Joquel (sounds related to Superman’s dad, doesn’t he?) explains that “F M Z Digest is simply a compilation of the best material appearing in science fiction fan magazines. There is so much poor & bad material appearing in fmz, we feel there is a real need for some place to preserve the best. There are digests for readers, science, facts, farms, health. Why not for fmz?”
How much of a need? FMZ Digest lasted for 6 issues, the last in October of 1941. Perhaps other faneds objected to their recent work being reproduced. Perhaps fen in general preferred to collect original zines. Perhaps Joquel got bored. Who knows? I don’t.
A fan historian is only as good as his sources. The famous Pavlat/Evans fanzine index refers to Arthur as “Joquel III.” Harry Warner Jr. referred to him as “Joquel II.” Which is correct? I note that, in FMZ Digest, Joquel refers to himself as “Joquel II.” Harry Warner correct. Pavalt/Evans index incorrect. However, I should mention that Harry’s works contain some errors as well. In short, don’t believe everything you read.
Fortunately, most “errors” in fan historical works are mind-bogglingly insignificant. Even I don’t care if it was “Joquel II” or “Joquel III.” Nor should you. “Ol’ Joquel-Buddy, that nifty guy who published FMZ Digest” is good enough in my opinion. Fondly remembered is better than precisely remembered I say.
(Some people question my credibility as a fantiquarian. No idea why.)
So, what constitutes the good stuff that Joquel chose to reprint?
“The Future of Science Fiction,” by Clifford D. Simak, ripped right off the press from the February 1941 issue of “The Fantasite” (#2 – edited by Phil Bronson, a member of the Minneapolis Fantasy Society, founded November 1940. Its first meeting was in Simak’s house.)
Clifford Simak? One of my favourite authors! What did he want to say about my favourite genre more than seventy years ago?
“For a long time science fiction was formula. Then, suddenly, something happened. Stanley Weinbaum wrote ‘Martian Odyssey.’ Jack Williamson wrote ‘Born of the Sun.’ Don Wandrei strolled onto the scene.”
“I would be the first to deny that all the pre-Weinbaum stories were lousy… but they were pretty much the same… From necessarily crude beginnings, we have advanced up to the present day science fiction story which is well rounded in every respect… No more do wooden men stalk through wooden plots. Your typical science fiction character of today seems to be alive. Plot is given equal consideration with the scientific basis of the story…”
“Just what science fiction is going to do next is harder to say than it was a few months ago. The advent of the new magazines, and a resulting flurry of story types, serve to confuse any analysis… Henceforward we will probably get more of every kind of story… Perhaps today we have formulae which we do not even recognize, but which in a few years will be as outmoded as the ray gun… In the meantime we’ll go ahead to new ideas and new ways of presenting them…”
I wonder if Simak later regarded the advent of “New Wave” SF as déjà vu?
J. Harvey Haggard’s article “Science Fiction and Dictatorship” is quoted from the 1941Winter issue of “Stellar Tales” (#1 – edited by Blaine R. Dunmire of Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Dunmire was also noted for his other zine “The Ghoul,” and later for being Assistant Director of the Western Pennsylvania Science Fictioneers, founded 1942. Alas, he was killed in 1944 when his Army air Force transport crashed in the Mediterranean, a situation brought about by the very subject of Haggard’s article.)
“…consider the fact that since the advent of the military regimes in Europe, absolutely no science fiction of any merit has been produced by them, if we disregard Mein Kampf, by the well-known science fictionist, Adolf Hitler.”
Hmm, was this the inspiration for Norman Spinrad’s 1972 novel “The Iron Dream” which is an alternate history where the young Hitler moves to the U.S.A. and becomes the hackiest of hack pulp SF writers? I can’t resist quoting from Spinrad’s fictional biography of him:
“Although best known to present day SF fans for his novels and short stories, Hitler was a popular illustrator during the Golden Age of the thirties, edited several anthologies, wrote lively reviews, and published a popular fanzine, “Storm,” for ten years.”
Hitler as a faned of a science fiction, or should I say, fantasy fanzine?
Difficult to wrap my brain around that one. Yet how much better off the world would have been had Spinrad’s alternate history actually happened. Sigh. If only…
Anywho, getting back to Haggard’s 1941 vision of the impact of the “contemporary” Hitler…
“Suppose that the Third Reich is at peace. Suppose that the common people were allowed the luxury of science fiction? … Do you think those in control would allow the Third Reich to be wiped out even momentarily by a writer’s imagination? … The possibilities for plotting would be so hampered that really original ideas would be smothered… would follow a strait-jacket plot, told and retold…”
Haggard was probably right, if you consider how restricted and harnessed-to-the-needs-of-the-state science fiction was in Russia under Stalin. A post-war victorious Germany would probably have been much the same, or worse. Sad to contemplate, millions of readers would probably have taken to the genre anyway, if only out of a truly desperate need for some kind of escapist literature in order to forget, however temporarily, the ever-present oppression surrounding them.
Then there’s another article by Forrest J Ackerman, “Wells of Wisdom” (typical Forry pun), condensed from the January 1941 issue of “Pluto” (#6 – edited by Manning, either Vincent or Marvis or perhaps both. They belonged to the “Decker Dillies,” famous for building a two-room clubhouse in the middle of a wheat field near Decker, Indiana. Their last issue, #6, “had been enough to prove to fandom that attention to format, color ink, and imaginative layout could remove the crude and ugly connotations from the concept of mimeography.” In particular, “…the sensation that raced through fandom at the knowledge that the last reason for using a hectograph, its ability to do colourful artwork, had been disproved by the use of multiple inkpads.”)
Turns out Forry was lucky enough to recently attend a talk given by H. G. Wells at a party in a private home in Los Angeles, along with Morojo (one of the few female members of LASFS), the Heinleins, and no doubt other fen. Wells spoke on the topic of “The Future of Mankind.”
“I am going to towk to you for about an ow-uh,’ he began, and the first acquaintance with his voice was quite a shock. It is high, falsetto, and frequently cracks; but one suspects it to be quite natural, the nature of his voice rather than an attribute of his age…”
“And the plea which he put forward to his audience was, that of paramount importance is the control of the air, the formation of Airmen’s Federation, world peace by a world police of Wings Over the World. ‘We must be ready to put this plan into effect,’ he declared, ‘directly the armistice comes.”
At the Q&A afterwards, Wells was asked “Do you feel the US can keep out of the war?”
Wells replied “Oh yes, very easily so.” Would have given Churchill a conniption to hear that!
The shortest article is taken from the January 1941 issue of “Le Zombie” (#36 – edited by the famously famous fan Bob Tucker).
“SUGGESTION DEPT: In these hectic days of phrase-coining, we offer one. Westerns are called ‘horse operas,’ the morning housewife tear-jerkers are called ‘soap operas.’ For the hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn space-ship yarn, or world-saving for that matter, we offer ‘space opera.”
Amazingly, it caught on! Now you know the origin.
Haven’t even mentioned the other articles, like Derleth’s “Wreath for Lovecraft” for instance.
Come on now. All who believe the fanzines of the early days were boring and insipid; fess up! Admit you were wrong!
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