Friday, October 16, 2015

The (Sci-Fi) Fanatic Blog: Electronic Fanzine?

"The term 'fan' derives from fanatic, and fanatics are by nature territorial."
-James McLean, Back To Frank Black: A Return To Chris Carter's Millennium (p.435).
"Quality ranges from very good to poor.
This is not surprising: each fan fiction writer is just that: a fan.
They're not professional writers, and they rarely have someone else read their stories to find errors."
-Flint Mitchell on fan writers, The Lost In Space Encyclopedia II (p.440)-
"There will be no difference between fanzines and professional magazines, except for enthusiasm."
-Flint Mitchell-
"A fanzine is a non-professional and non-official publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon."

Being a fan of science fiction is both a curse and a blessing. If we aren't involved directly with the industry in film or television, how does one get his voice heard? The blog, Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, certainly became my personal outlet, but it didn't begin there. It takes years of hard work, commitment and generally staying at something you love. I've written about music and film since as far back as high school. It's just something you do and as a result you inevitably get better at it, no matter what it is. At least that's the hope.

In his book, The Lost In Space Encyclopedia, Flint Mitchell spoke of a personal friend's fanaticism and just how far fans are willing to go to get their fanzines printed. In his friend's case, there was a decision to be made either to pay a bill or get his fanzine printed. Guess which one took priority?

I completely relate to this behavior because once upon a time I created an upstart fanzine in my younger days called, Strange Behaviour (with the intentional British spelling) and I would go to great length to run off at least 500-1,000 copies of this creative writing/ music/ cartoons fanzine just to fulfill my creative outlet and achieve international stardom. This was long before You Tube and selfies and other forms of self-promotion. And I really had to work hard for it, but it was mostly fun.  It cost me, personally, a small fortune, but, in my mind, every penny well spent. I had a good group of people on board to create it with me apart from writing and assembling the bulk of it myself. I've provided images of some of those very fanzines for your entertainment purposes.

I would frequent the local printer. They had a heck of a nice little operation. I can't remember the name of the place, but the owner's name was Ken. He always smiled when he saw me come in the store. It was one of those, oh-here-comes-that-crazy-college-kid-but-I-like-and-envy-his-efforts kind of smile. He was a super good guy and he made efforts to help me as much as he could on making it a cool fanzine. Granted, because of cost, it was always printed in one color. I simply couldn't afford more than one color. And, I think Ken simply got a kick out of doing this wee small little publication.

When the prints were ready, I would run around to certain areas in my state, mostly colleges and book stores and throw down a few piles. I think I had an e-mail address on it. I received a few responses, but mostly I think it was a failure. Personally, it wasn't and I had a load of fun doing it---kind of like this blog. I think I managed about fifteen (15) issues.

But yes ultimately it failed to go anywhere substantial, but it was a bundle of fun back when paper was the way to get your ideas out there. It also made me better at writing for what it's worth.

Gosh before that I wrote for a college newspaper, music and film mostly. Some of my college professors would touch base with me on my articles. I had this great history professor who went on to teach at Marquette University who always loved reading my reviews of Eurythmics and so on. He would allude to them in class from time to time which was both humbling and thrilling at once. I was honored if embarrassed. His name was Professor Phil Naylor---a terrific professor! I met with him one day about some other school business at his office and he pointed out his Rolling Stones Emotional Rescue (1980) poster on his office wall. I loved that album. He asked me to name the image as a test. I nailed it of course. He nodded with cool approval impressed and he gave me a history book to enjoy for my next semester. He was a heck of a good guy. He always inspired learning.

Eventually, I had a few letters printed in Spider-Man (the comic book; Todd McFarlane's run---#6 I think), Time Magazine (it was a letter regarding The Matrix sequels and they selected it as the headliner), Details Magazine, and a few others. I don't know why I chose to write these publications. I think I just did that as a challenge to see if I could get printed because it was so damn hard to do so and when I did I was pretty psyched. Seeing my letter to Time Magazine on The Matrix printed in BIG BOLD type was a nice little moment. Someone came up to me at work about it because they were pretty much like no way. Writing is such a personal thing for me. I'm relatively private about it as you can see by my handle.

The next creative hurdle to stumble upon was writing for a music publication called The Lexicon which was put out by an editor named David Richards. David was a superb fellow with a tremendous dedication to music of the 1980s and beyond. That magazine did reasonably well and landed on bookstore shelves at the now defunct Borders. We wrote interviews and reviews aplenty. I travelled to New York City with my brother and we interviewed Duran Duran in 2000 at the Mercer Hotel after watching them perform live at CBS.


First, my brother and I first spoke with former Missing Persons and Frank Zappa guitarist turned then Duran member Warren Cuccurullo in the CBS dressing room. He was cool and about half way through my interview I recall realizing I had left a notepad on top of the recording microphone. Doh! Everything was muffled. Argh---rookie. The dressing room was adorned with autographed CD sleeves and fresh fruit. I think my brother grabbed a few of each.

Later at the Mercer Hotel, I met with Keyboardist Nick Rhodes. Rhodes was just a pure gentleman. He was seemingly the brains behind the operation. I can't say enough about his willingness to allow me time to ask him questions about producers he had worked with and various recording sessions. The article was a huge success and ended up being printed in two parts. Richards noted it was one of the most successful moments for The Lexicon as far as sales. I even assembled the cover for one of the issues. It was an idea I had and it worked exactly as I had envisioned. I've included that here in the post. Singer Simon Le Bon meanwhile was slightly aloof or intoxicated, but nice enough.

I did a few interviews by e-mail. Those interviews included one with singer Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, one with vocalist/songwriter Richard Darbyshire of Living In A Box acclaim and one with Kurt Maloo of Double. The Swiss act Double was known for The Captain Of Her Heart. Felix Haug, one of the duo has sadly since passed away in 2004.

I did a few interviews by phone. One interview was with Pete Byrne of Naked Eyes, then living in California. His once partner in that band, Rob Fisher (also with Simon Climie for Climie Fisher), passed away a short time after our conversation in 1999. Finally, a very expensive call to Iva Davies (Icehouse) to the land down under. Davies was also another gentleman and a scholar as they say.

The Lexicon was doing well but also doing well was the Internet. It was getting smarter, more sophisticated, easier to access and as a result gems like The Lexicon inevitably folded and became an on-line only mechanism. For whatever reason my involvement sort of just ended there.

Later, I did some on-line anime reviews for Robert's Anime Corner Store also a good bit of fun.

All of this writing sort of came to a halt and I had no outlet of expression. I was resistant to Facebook and technology because I tend to be a bit pessimistic about its benefits on how people are treated.

Finally one day, I took a look at this blog thing. The rest is history as they say as Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic is now into its eight year as of this writing. Captain James T. Kirk's five-year mission eat your heart out.

So a number of publications along the way have discussed fandom or fanzines and the like and it really spoke to me. Writing about that world seemed like a reasonable and natural extension of this blog for a post.

A segment read in David Gerrold's The World Of Star Trek caught my attention years ago. I marked the pages and wondered what the hell I would do with his assessment of the fan and the fanzine. At this point, I'm just putting it out there for you to read. It's a fascinating and honest reflection on what we do and of course to a degree as writers for many of us here on the blogosphere.

"Creating alternate realities and making them real enough to live in is the business of science fiction writers; they do it for a living. The science fiction fans do it for fun.

A fan---short for fanatic---collects books, collects magazines, collects cover paintings and still pictures from films, collects comic books and original artwork, collects film clips and old props and anything else even remotely related to his central interest.

And he writes.  Incessantly. Fan writes his own amateur fiction, most of it pretty bad, and inflicts it on his friends. But an SF writer has to start somewhere, and many of them start out as fans. It's when a fan becomes good at making his realities believable that others are willing to pay for the privilege of sharing them that he becomes a pro.

Other fans become critics. A fan critic is the hardest kind of all---he does it because he likes it. He'll write reviews of new movies and analyses of old ones, he'll write complex criticisms of the latest novels, and even more involved critiques of other reviewers. He'll do in-depth studies of individual writers in the field and he'll write long articles about ideas and machines and the overall shape of the universe. He'll write about anything that suggests itself to him.

And then he'll publish it. Hit Publish-ed.

A fanzine---look it up, it's in the dictionary---is an amateur magazine, generally mimeographed, sometimes dittoed, occasionally off-set-printed with full color covers, and looking better than the prozines. The fan publisher pays for it himself and generally edits it himself too; all the articles and artwork are voluntary, and generally the fan sells just enough copies to other fans to break even on the whole thing. If he generates any ego-response, then the effort was worth it and he starts planning another issue.

Fanzines are probably the most important avenue of communication between fans. Besides being ego-builders, a good fanzine garners status for its publisher. Most fanzine editors trade copies of their zine for copies of other zines, a semi-incestuous practice which results in interminable comments and reviews on each other's zines.

...the fanzine becomes a very expensive hobby. Fanzines generally are not profit-making operations.

The real interest is in writing and publishing and in being responded to by others.

All it takes to produce a fanzine is one fan and a typewriter. And some enthusiasm. Journalistic ability is no prerequisite at all, but a good mimeo is. A fanzine is judged as much by its reproduction as by its content.

The average fanzine is published at the whim of the fan.  That makes it about as regular as a spastic colon, and gives it approzimately the same life expectancy as an Italian government. Which is to say, not very and not long.

But despite all this, fanzines have one saving grace. They're fun.

In general, a fanzine is a fairly accurate reflection of what is going on in its writer's mind-whether the writer intended that or not.

Further, as an avenue of communication, a fanzine functions as a scatter-gun. And a fanzine is a time machine too---the writer's words are being preserved on paper and thus sent into the future so that other fans, months and years removed, can share the writer's feelings and reactions."  -David Gerrold, The World Of Star Trek, (p. 92-93, 115)

It's funny, but when you read those words from Gerrold the takeaway feeling is one of condescension perhaps. In some respects Gerrold's words come across with air of disdain or unworthiness. But, in truth, those words are fair. It must also be said that as fun as these exercises in publishing can be a great deal of hard work goes into their substance be it through interviews or research. Some writers work hard.

However the tone from Gerrold is intended his words are an accurate reflection of the fan writer or where writers sometimes start. And we all have to start somewhere. None of it should be taken to heart. Writers should not be oft put. And truth be told, most of us are just fine with these realities.

As our journey continues the mission of Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic is to offer something of quality covering science fiction television and film.


El Vox said...

Pretty cool. I was into the zine thing too for a while, mostly the comic ones. I picked up some music ones as well, and sometimes too the comic zines would include a music or movie review. Like you said it was before the net actually took off, but was a fun alternative way to read about what other fans were into or look at other comics drawn from fans or wannabes.

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...