Walt Willis writes interestingly on all subjects, and especially on subjects on which he is best informed, such as himself. Here we have a fast coverage of the time which passed between the incidents related in 'The Subcutaneous Fan' and now ...


by Walter A. Willis

(from CANFAN #25, June, 1955)

If some enterprising hobbyist manufacturer ever starts manufacturing 'Fandom Kits' he can come to me for a testimonial. I can recommend the hobby to anyone with a surplus of mental energy, a sense of humor and an interest in people. (A liking for science fiction is no handicap.) It seems to me one of the few hobbies that give an actual and continual return commensurate with the energy expended. Admittedly if I had diverted the same amount of energy into dull mundane channels I should no doubt be earning a few pounds more a month and people would be able to find their way through my front garden without a compass, but then look at what I would have missed. As a result of having become involved in fandom I have learned to type; I have acquired an intimate knowledge of the reproductive processes (printing and duplicating I mean, not sex -- though I could have learned about that too at some conventions); I have acquired a rudimentary facility for stringing words together; I have been to Oshkosh, Cheyenne and Tallahassee; I have introduced Lee Hoffman to Forry Ackerman, watched the latter sneer at the Grand Canyon as mere terrestrial scenery and taken the former to the Okefenokee Swamp; I have learned to drive a car; I have been offered the Associate Editorship of a leading promag; I have fixed the lock on the bathroom door (it would never have been done if Bea Mahaffey hadn't been coming to stay with us); and I have met some of the most likeable and interesting people in the world.

Thinking of all this, I sometimes wish it had occurred to me to write to the letter column of those Astoundings I used to read in the early Thirties; I might so easily have entered fandom along with Bob Tucker. But for some reason I didn't, and in the late Thirties I stopped collecting promags and turned my attention to women. Fortunately I wasn't a completist. After a while I started going steady with one Madeleine Bryan. We'd been going together for quite a while when one day she darted in a newsagent's shop. I followed her because I'd noticed a copy of Astounding in the window, and found she'd just bought it. She had, it turned out, been reading science fiction for years. It didn't seem so important or surprising at the time but as the newer Campbell authors, mainly Van Vogt, made their appearance our interest began to increase. By the time we were married (1945) we knew to the day when the next British Edition of Astounding was due out, and sometimes we used to read it together.

Then one day in early 1947 I came across in a secondhand bookshop a copy of the American Edition of ASF for January of that year. I was shocked to the core. The last time I had seen the American edition of a science fiction magazine was in 1939, and I had innocently assumed that the miserable little British quarterly reprint was all there was of it. It hadn't occurred to me that there could exist any fiend so black-hearted as to suppress any of it, no matter how great the wartime paper shortage. But here was the evidence of the crime. This magazine was monthly, had twice the wordage of the BRE*, and had contained serials. Moreover this had been going on for years! Filled with a burning sense of injustice we embarked on a determined investigation of all the secondhand bookshops in Belfast. We didn't find any more ASFs, but we did find a copy of Fantasy, a short lived British promag, containing a letter from a James White of Belfast. I wrote inviting him to come and see us, mentioning casually my large collection of British Editions. We soon found that the James was the reason we had never found any other American ones in the secondhand bookshops. James had been camping on their doorsteps for years and had acquired almost a dozen. We regarded with awe and envy this wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

James and I at once joined forces, and for months our only interest was in furthering our collections. We wrote to all the dealers we could find, and joined Ken Slater's Operation Fantast. At that time Ken was enclosing with his mailings various one-page fanzines by various fans. By now James and I had read each other's collections, had want lists written in blood with all the dealers, and had nothing left to do but gnaw our fingers. We got the idea of producing one of these fan magazines as part of our collecting drive. But we hadn't access to a typewriter or publishing equipment and after making enquiries from professional duplicators we rather lost interest in the idea. Then one day I happened to be in the loft of a shop where one of my friends worked. There, lying in a heap of junk was a curious looking machine. I asked what it was and was told it was a printing press the boss had got to print letterheads on and later thrown away. I smuggled it out under my coat and we started right away. We had only enough type to print about a third of a page, so we spread it out with em spaces between the words and James made woodcuts with plywood and a razor blade to fill the rest of the space. We called the magazine Slant. We sent out the first three issues free.

By the fourth issue, however, we had progressed to 42 pages, a subscription rate, and linocuts. James' work in this medium has never been surpassed in the history of fanmag art. Manly Banister, editor of Necromantikon, was so impressed that he crated up his old press, a massive brute of a thing, and shipped it off to us. When this arrived we really went to town, with photo-engravings and multicoloured linocuts. But by now each issue was getting so ambitious that the intervals between them were getting to be something like six months. Slant 6 was probably the most ambitious handset magazine ever printed and after it we felt we needed a rest. Besides James' eyesight was going and I'd found a new type of fanactivity. So far I's only written what I had to write to fill up blank pages in Slant, but recently I found I was tending to have several hundred words left over. It seemed to me it might be a good idea to foist them off on some other editor, so when a new mag called Quandry arrived I offered to do a column for it. Freed from the inhibitory feeling that every word I wrote would have to be set up in type I let myself go and spread myself over page after page of Quandry. Nevertheless the column turned out to be popular. So much so that within a year Shelby Vick of Florida had started a campaign to bring me over to the Chicon. By the middle of 1952 it had succeeded. I travelled about the States -- New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Panama City, Savannah -- for a hektic four weeks. When I got home I was in a state of complete mental exhaustion, partly from the strain of the journey, and partly from the effort of all the fan writing I'd done in the previous months. But even during a long bout with pneumonia in the following Spring, I never really lost touch with fandom. For one thing it would have seemed ungrateful after all fandom had done for me. I soon became active again . . . but in a different way. It no longer seemed sensible to devote most of my spare time to pure drudgery like setting type. In the old days James and I had been quite happy to sit working all evening listening to symphony concerts on the radio, but now we had a third fan, Bob Shaw, and we kept putting down our composing sticks to talk. We did produce one more issue of Slant, Number 7, but it was mostly mimeographed and we didn't feel happy about it. And yet once having known the comparative luxury of duplicating, we could never go back to typesetting. So Slant fell into suspended animation. I egged James into starting his pro-writing career and in collaboration with my friend Chuck Harris of England started a new mimeoed mag called Hyphen, strictly for amusement only.

Which brings you more or less up to date. We have so much fun with Hyphen that I doubt if SLANT will ever appear again, and yet I hate to proclaim it officially dead. I shall have to make up my mind about it one of these days. One thing I'm sure of, and that is that I'll stay in fandom. I have met more fans than probably anyone in the world except Forry Ackerman, and I'm still not disenchanted with them. They can be infuriating at times, but at least they're never dull.

* BRE - British Reprint Edition

Data entry by Judy Bemis