Good heavens! Is it 1976 already? How time flies! The next thing you know 1984 will be with us and gone with hardly a blink of an eye to commemorate that date. Nineteen seventy-six. Six issues of SCIENCE FICTION FIVE-YEARLY already. Pardon me -- I can't get used to this time-travel quite so easily as you young ones can.
Oddly enough, the publication of this issue of SFFY celebrates more than just twenty-five years of continuous publication. It also marks an anniversary for me: the 25th anniversary of my discovery of fandom.
In 1951 I had been reading science fiction for four or five years, but I'd never heard of fandom. Not surprisingly; all my sf reading had been confined to books borrowed from the local library. Heinlein. Groff Conklin's Big Book of Science Fiction. That sort of thing. Oh, I knew sf magazines existed; I habitually browsed the local newsstands (of which there were more, then, despite the fact that Falls Church was much more of a small town in those days) and some time in 1948 or 1949 I'd picked up -- yes, actually picked up and thumbed through -- a copy of ASTOUNDING. I was only ten or eleven, though, and I found the magazine's aspects forbidding and "too old" for me. I knew, instinctively, that I was not yet ready for that kind of stuff.
But by 1951 I was. I hadn't realized it yet, but a friend who lived down the street, Eddie Pritchard, upon hearing that I liked science fiction told me that he had a "science fiction book" he'd give me. What he gave me was a copy of the July, 1950, issue of ASTOUNDING.
I read it. Parts were hard going. Some of the stuff was pretty sophisticated for a thirteen-year-old: still a bit over my head. But, my ghod! Here was a new source of science fiction which I'd yet to tap! I'd read every sf book in the library at least twice, and never really reconsidered the sf magazines. Eddie showed me the error of my ways. If ever a single person deserved credit or blame for my becoming a fan, it was he.
It took me only an afternoon and an evening to devour the ASTOUNDING. I got on my bicycle and headed for the nearest drugstore with a newsstand, a mile away. (Today an empty stretch of concrete commemorates the site of that drugstore; it was razed nearly twenty years ago to make way for a never-built Interstate...) There I found a copy of the September, 1951, issue of ASTOUNDING and was taken aback to discover that in the interval between the earlier issue and that one the cover price had gone up from 25¢ to 35¢. Well, I read that issue as avidly as I had the earlier one and was soon back on my bike and hitting every drugstore that had a newsstand in the greater Falls Church area (there were then four). I picked up GALAXY (the issue just prior to the serialization of Heinlein's Puppet Masters -- Heinlein was then my favorite sf author, so I awaited the coming issue with ill-concealed impatience) and F&SF (Salter's fantasy covers turned me off a little so I read it last) and perhaps one or two other digest-sized magazines -- somewhere along the line I'd acquired the notion that pulp-sized magazines were not quite respectable.
Well, these new purchases lasted me maybe a day or two and then I wanted more. I was hooked. And there was nothing left but those other magazines -- the ones with the ragged edges, the Rupture-Easer ads on the back covers, and covers printed in only three colors (the blacks all looked muddy-brown, which did nothing for space scenes). I bought them. First STARTLING, then THRILLING WONDER and FANTASTIC STORY MAGAZINE (John Scott Campbell's reprinted "Beyond Pluto" so thrilled me that I read it twice) because they were neater in appearance than the other pulps. (Little did I know then that I had missed the last of Earle Bergey's BEM-Babe-Bum covers by only an issue; the ones I bought were the first to use Alex Schomberg's space covers.) After I'd read those -- and they seemed to maintain the high quality (that is to say, the slightly-over-my-head sophistication) of the digest mags I'd bought -- I turned to AMAZING, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, and, with some trepidation (the covers were awful) Rob Lowndes' FUTURE and SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY, and, eventually -- the last in line -- PLANET STORIES (which I put off getting for months because it was published by Love Romances, Inc., and on the shoddiest of thick pulp paper -- paper that seemed to resist being printed on, in fact, turning illos into blotchy smears). It was only on a trip to D.C. with my parents that I discovered other magazines like OTHER WORLDS and the digest-sized MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES -- and that was several months later.
Well, reading these magazines was a heady experience and not the least of my pleasures came from reading the letter columns. In those days all the pulp sf magazines had letter columns -- long, sometimes running up to twenty pages (of perhaps a single column a page, the rest of that page taken up with advertisements for sleazy items of various sorts) -- and in tiny type. It was in those letter columns that I was first exposed to the concept of fandom. Letterhacking was in high bloom in 1951; the letter columns were filled with chatty letters from all sorts of people, the names of whom I soon came to recognize. Rick Sneary, Gregg Calkins and Terry Carr are just a few which stick in my memory, but there were scores of others, all chatting away happily to each other as well as to the editor. (When I started buying PLANET it was mostly for the letters; I rarely read the stories in that magazine.) These letters were full of fanspeak. People threw around words like "gafia" and "egoboo" with amazing elan. I was impressed.
I was also impressed by the fanzine review columns. There were two major ones: The Clubhouse in AMAZING and Fandora's Box in IMAGINATION. STARTLING and THRILLING WONDER's was The Frying Pan -- but they did not last long in those magazines after I'd started buying them. I considered sending off for a fanzine, but was unsure of myself. I was, after all, thirteen years old.
(It's intriguing to consider what would have happened if I'd discovered the magazines a few years earlier -- if I'd picked up a pulp, say, instead of that ASTOUNDING in 1948. In the summer of 1948 I spent two weeks in Los Angeles with relatives. What would it have been like if I had, at age ten, wandered into LASFS then? Well, it's an idle speculation since at age ten I was even shyer than I was at thirteen -- if possible.)
Although I'd yet to see my first fanzine in the fall of 1951, I was already considering the idea of putting one out. I entertained the thought more on a fantasy level than as a serious idea to be carried out. I daydreamed my fanzine while mowing lawns or bicycling to and from school.
One thing which had a huge impact on my thinking was a review in Mari Wolfe's Fandora's Box in IMAGINATION. The review was of SCIENCE FICTION FIVE-YEARLY #1 (I wish I could quote it to you -- and I even considered trying to unearth that issue so that I could, but unfortunately it's in a box in a stack of boxes, none of them labeled except to say "SF mags -- Digest", in my basement. Searching out the issue might put off the writing of this piece past the deadline I've been given, so I'll have to go on memory.)
Well, that review did engrave itself on my memory, for Mari spent much of her time raving over Lee's use of multi-color mimeographing. It was, if Mari was to be believed, a tricky and demanding business, this mimeographing in several colors. Not for the novice, to be sure. My impression (which is what I remember best) was that if you wanted to put out a fanzine which would get rave reviews in the fanzine-review columns in the prozines, color work was a good way to go. Mind you, content had some value, but the technique and art of multi-color mimeography was something that would guarantee you much notice. Aha! I said to myself.
Well, of course I had no very good idea as to how the mimeograph process worked in the first place. My sole experience with duplication methods had been the hectograph. My mother -- who ran a private school -- had a hectograph, and used it to run off school papers. Being her only child, I was often required to assist in this tedious process, which involves placing a sheet of copy paper on a mat (or flat pan) of hecto jelly, smoothing it down, letting it wait a moment or two, and then peeling it off. The hecto process produces from 35 to 50 readable copies -- maximum -- in blurry purple print. During the Depression fans used hecto a lot more than they have since, and that's why FAPA originally limited its membership to fifty. I've seen some hectoed fanzines of the forties and they are occasionally impressive but fade over the years (especially in strong light) and represent at best a marginal duplicating process. Even at thirteen I could see that hecto was no way to produce a fanzine. (Others required first-hand experience in hectoing fanzines to reach the same decision. One was Bhob Stewart, who hectoed his only sf fanzine, FANSCIFUL, and hectoed a few issues of the EC FAN BULLETIN, the first EC fanzine. After this experience he threw up his hands in disgust and became my first coeditor, on ZIP. But I'm getting ahead of my story ....)
My junior high school had a mimeo -- a black old ABDick -- on which copies of the school newspaper were produced. Since I was then more of an artist than I was a writer, I contributed a drawing (a cartoon, I think -- I was an awful cartoonist) and was asked to put it on stencil. This was my first experience with a mimeo stencil and it did not go well. Having no idea of what I was in fact supposed to be doing, lacking a mimeoscope and a drawing plate, I produced a totally unprintable job -- a few faint lines showed and that was it. I was not pleased.
The summer I was fourteen I splurged and bought my own mimeograph. It cost me less than ten dollars, complete with three cans of ink -- one black, one blue and one red. It was a postcard mimeo from Sears and would print a maximum area of about six inches by four inches. I played with it over the summer, mostly learning how to produce legible drawings on a stencil. By late summer I'd produced what John Benson, in a recent issue of SQUA TRONT, says is the first comics fan publication -- a four-page leaflet devoted to drawings of Superman with a few lines of text to justify the pictures. It wasn't an impressive debut, fanwise, but it led to many things.
I'd gotten into fanzines more or less via the back door. A big comics fan then, I'd noticed an ad from someone who wanted old SUPERMAN comics too, so I wrote a letter to the fellow, naively asking him to pass on to me any offers which duplicated issues he had. I never did get any old comics from him, but we struck up a correspondence -- making him my first fan correspondent -- and within a short while he sent me a copy of the first issue of his new fanzine.
His name was Warren Freiberg and his fanzine was BREVIZINE. BREVI- (as we intimates referred to it) was a 4" x 6" fanzine, produced on a postcard mimeo not so different from my own. I was much taken with it -- and even more so since Warren had printed a snippet from a letter of mine in that first issue, which was the first time I was to see My Name In Print.
Freiberg was something of a fugghead. He adopted a very pretentious editorial tone in BREVI-, and lauded all his writers (most of BREVI- was bad amateur sf) as The Next Bradbury. One of them was Terry Carr...
However, Warren launched me into fanzine fandom, even if rather inauspiciously (I had no idea then, but BREVI- was generally held in contempt among older, wiser fans). I became BREVI-'s staff cartoonist (I was still regarding myself as an artist) and also did covers. The first cover I did was on standard 8 ½ x 11 paper, since I had no idea that art was to be stenciled directly by tracing it. Freiberg must have sweated to reduce the drawing to the size he published it, but -- to give him credit -- he did an adequate job of it.
My first "meeting" with Terry, by the way, was in the form of an argument. I'd written a column on sf in comics for Warren, and at the time I'd not seen EC's two sf comics and concentrated most of my praise on DC's STRANGE ADVENTURES -- a rather lame attempt at sf in comics, I can see today. Terry wrote a rebuttal for the next issue, pointing out EC's superiority. I was taken aback and imagined myself plunged into a feud of major proportions. (I spent hours, while bicycling, fantasizing the ramifications of this feud. Fortunately as feuds go it didn't go far.)
I see I've tangled my chronology a bit. The first BREVIZINE arrived at my house right after Christmas, 1951. In 1952 I devoted most of my fan energies to contributing to BREVI-, buying my own little mimeo that summer. In spring, 1953, BREVI- went 'large-size", meaning that Warren had bought a full-size mimeo. I mourned the passing of the pocketsize BREVI- and decided I'd put out a small fanzine of my own.
By then I was getting other fanzines. I sent off dimes and quarters to a variety of fan editors and some of them sent me their fanzines. I was also letterhacking in a mild way to the prozines. (Letters in FANTASTIC STORY MAG, OTHER WORLDS and PLANET; the PLANET letter was judged -- by the readership -- second best in the issue and won me a Kelly Freas original which I still have; it's a lot better than the stuff he does now...)
Writing letters hadn't been easy. I had taught myself to type, using my mother's old L. C. Smith. I would first write the letter by hand and then carefully copy it on the typewriter, laboriously searching out the letters until gradually I began finding then more easily. To this day I am a one-finger typist.
(In 1963 I worked briefly for Scott Meredith. Everyone who works for Scott spends most of his office time at a typewriter -- manuscripts which had to be read were to be read on one's own time, in the evening -- and my job required of me that I type endless letters, most of them over Scott's signature. My desk was right across from Terry Carr's and right next to that of one of the two secretaries who worked in the office. One day the secretary stopped what she was doing long enough to observe me at my job. I was bent over my IBM typer with the distinctive sans-serif type, grinding out another of a never-ending series of letters. I had learned to type quite quickly by then, of course -- as long as I didn't have to copy anything -- and I was bashing away with my one finger at my usual pace.
("My god," she exclaimed, mostly to Terry. "Look at that! He's using only one finger!"
(I looked up at her.
("How do you do that?" she asked. "How can you type that fast with only one finger?" She was amazed.
(I was annoyed. Her watching me like that made me feel self-conscious and wrecked both my typing pace and the flow of my thoughts, which concerned the letter I was composing.
("Oh," said Terry, "that's just the way he is, you know. Types with one finger. Lots of people do, you know."
("One finger!" she echoed. "I can't believe it." But finally the novelty wore off, and she returned to her own work. A few minutes later I exclaimed loudly, ostensibly to Terry, "Look at that, Terry! Look at her! She's using ten fingers to type! How does she keep them all straight? How can she coordinate ten fingers all at one time, without getting them all tangled up?" The secretary's neat, even, clackety-clack typing rhythm slowed, grew uneven, and stopped. Then we all laughed.)
In August of 1953 I put out my own fanzine. It was called ZIP, it was 4" x 6" in size, and its contents were rather undistinguished: the product of a non-precocious 15-year-old. It was distinguished in only one respect: I used a lot of color in it. The cover was printed in three colors and the interiors were often two-color.
This wasn't hard to do on a postcard mimeo. You could change colors in a matter of minutes. The tricky part was to get the colors in register. That required getting the registration correct on each stencil and then running the sheets through so that the stencils printed in register. It was tricky, all right, but I was running off thirty-five copies, and it was possible to take time with a run so small.
I want it clearly understood that I did this -- funning multiple colors -- purely and simply because I'd read Mari Wolfe's review of SFFY in which she raved over the color work. I'd not seen the first SFFY then (I was not to see a copy of #1 until after #2 came out); it was the review which had so impressed me.
Well, I shan't bore you with an issue-by-issue description of the ZIPs I put out. I put out five on the old postcard mimeo and by the fifth I was getting better at it. ZIP was a better fanzine in terms of both content and appearance. By the fifth issue I was running four-color back covers (the front cover was the contents page) which were pretty zippy indeed.
What I do want to describe is the way I felt about the fanzine.
I well remember the day -- a hot sunny afternoon in August -- when I suddenly decided not to wait any longer but to start work on my fanzine. It was like a mystical experience and marked a profound turning point in my life.
Up until then I had expected that some day I'd put out a fanzine, but I knew it to be a tremendous undertaking and one not to be considered until one was "ready". I'd read things like Marion Zimmer Bradley's column of advice for neofans ("What Every Neofan Should Know") in VEGA. I knew that putting out a fanzine was not a project to be undertaken lightly. It took more than a whim to put out a fanzine. It took seasoned experience. It took ability.
Many a summer afternoon as I pushed a mower around our rather extensive lawns -- and when you had to push they seemed more extensive -- I would day dream about "my" fanzine. In my mind it was only a short step away from a prozine in terms of the effort and skill it would require. I knew I was a long way from possessing either the skill or the necessary energy. I saw it as something I'd do someday -- "when I'm more grown up."
I envied Joel Nydahl the fact that, at 13, he'd sold a story to IMAGINATION and put out VEGA (which was, in QUANDRY's aftermath, the focal point of fandom for a year). Joel was a year younger than I was, for ghod's sake. But I saw him as an exception to the rule. I did not see myself that way. I saw myself as a daydreamer whose ambitions exceeded his talents.
So that magical moment in August was absolutely transfiguring for me. It came down to the fact that in one blinding flash of insight I realized that I could do something I'd until then regarded as beyond my grasp. It stunned me. It excited me. It was a revelation. It was a major turn away from the person I was in grave danger of becoming: a person who was already coming to regard himself as a failure.
I decided to reprint much of my material from old fanzines. I'd bought a bunch of late-thirties, early forties fanzines from Dick Witter. I figured it stood to reason that few other present-day (1953) fans had read these fanzines, and thus reprints would be of value to them. (I credited all the original appearances of the material I reprinted, of course. It gave me pleasure to note that one item -- by Sam Moskowitz, no less -- came from 1938. Why, I was born in 1938.) Unfortunately, most of what I reprinted was undeserving of the honor: snippets and bad fiction, the latter no better than what I was myself writing then. With the question of material out of the way, I began stenciling the issue. I wrote several pseudononymous pieces to go with the reprints and -- presto! ZIP #1. I was amazed. I'd produced my very own fanzine!
I recall very well thinking, four or five months later and after two or three more issues, that I'd never be embarrassed by my first fanzine (as I'd heard so many others had been by theirs). Today I know better. ZIP was a rather dreadful little fanzine, fully as embarrassing as any neofan's first effort could be. In fact, I have to confess that as a fanzine it was never much good -- until I changed the name with #8 to STELLAR, took on Larry Stark as co-editor, and began publishing consistently good material.
My trouble was, then, that I had damned little to say, and thus all my concerns were with packaging and not content. I still saw myself as an artist then; my fanzine was primarily an artwork for me. I slaved for hours to perfect drawings run off in four or five colors, with really close registration (and this on machines never intended for accurate register work); the text which went into them was of relatively minor importance.
Indeed, when a fan named Mike May asked me to contribute a piece to his fanzine, I was really stuck for an idea. I had no idea what to write about. (As I recall, I wrote a piece about putting out my fanzine. I also recall it being a pretty poor piece, although May did publish it.)
The thing was, I wasn't a very good artist. I wasn't very creative as an artist. Ideas -- even for drawings -- didn't come easily to me. Around 1954 Harlan Ellison asked me to do some illustrations for his fanzine, SFBULLETIN (soon to be DIMENSIONS). I was flattered. He sent me a story. I turned in some really bad illos -- drawings which embarrassed me at the time (Harlan didn't reject them, but he didn't ask for more, either). Several years later Harlan gave me the DIMENSIONS file, and I found in it the story I'd illustrated (still not yet published) and my drawings. I quickly destroyed the drawings.
But in a fanzine I found the medium in which I could be creative. If I was not a very good artist on my own, I was good at stenciling artwork, both my own and others'. As an artist I'd been best at rendering -- the technique of realizing a drawing with shading styles, with mechanical processes like Zip-A-Tone overlays and Craftint Doubletone -- I made a good inker for someone else's pencilings. This translated well to mimeo stencils. Stenciling artwork is becoming a lost art these days, and I regret that. Only a few artists like Ross Chamberlain, Steve Stiles and Dan Steffan still know how to exploit shading plates, for instance. Hand-stenciled art has the capacity to be much more impressive in every respect than electro-stencilled art. The mimeo stencil offers a creative medium.
STELLAR, which I put out on 1956 and 1957, is generally regarded as about the "best" fanzine I did in terms of fancy layout and production. Later, when I was putting out VOID, Redd Boggs -- who had refused to trade his SKYHOOK for the scruffy little ZIP -- wrote me a letter awash in nostalgia for STELLAR and the work I'd put into it.
Well, STELLAR was a lot of fun for me, but it was still a fanzine with which I lavished more care on the package than I did on the contents. The contents were good. Larry Stark was a good editor -- much better than I, then -- and when he dropped out I'd learned enough from him to keep up the standards, but the material was mostly by other people. My own contributions -- editorials, etc. -- were of no consequence. I had yet to learn to write decently and I had little to say.
But oh, the hours I spent over my mimeoscope, cutting artwork onto stencils, designing layouts, working with lettering-guides and shading plates, mastering the art of classy mimeography. I was much into jazz in those days and I'd play records at a loud volume while I stenciled, and I enjoyed myself almost completely.
(Today I recapture some of that feeling when I work on a cover mechanical for AMAZING or FANTASTIC at my basement drawing board, the radio tuned to the local progressive rock station ...)
I met Lee Hoffman for the first time in 1955, at the Clevention. It was my first convention, and I was awed by the people I met. I'd been in FAPA for a few months and my first item for FAPA was ZIP #7, the final issue and one which had been at least a year in the making. Lee knew who I was when I was introduced to her; she said some very complimentary things about ZIP #7. I was a little embarrassed; I knew very well that ZIP was impressive only in appearance and lacked the kind of intrinsic quality with which she imbued all her fanzines, even her brief FAPAzines. But I was nonetheless pleased; she had been, albeit indirectly, a seminal influence on me, via Mari Wolfe's review.
It's been twenty-one years since that convention. In that time I learned how to write -- I regard 1958 as the turning point there; that's when I started putting out a little personalzine originally called GAFIA NEWSLETTER and later GAMBIT -- and to put out better fanzines. Lee and I became pretty good friends and cheered each other on as fledgling professional writers. And, eventually, I became a contributor to SFFY; you'll find me in the last two issues.
Well, that's time-binding for you. Blame my fan career on Lee Hoffman and SCIENCE FICTION FIVE-YEARLY. Who knows what strange path my life might have taken if not for that review of SFFY #1?
-- Ted White
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan
Updated August 29, 2002. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.