John Koning

The Withdrawal

If Harry Warner had never written his "Opera Citato" columns for OOPSLA!, the whole thing might never have happened. Indeed, if he had not chosen focal point fanzines (and why there could never be another one) for what was to be his last topic, or if Craig Cochran had not run across that particular issue several years later, fandom today might be still as we knew it then. And if America hadn't been here, Christopher Columbus might not have bumped into it.

As it was, Cochran read that article at a time when he was just getting to know what fandom was about, and to form the opinions that he would probably carry for the rest of his fannish life. He was still wide-eyed, a trait left from his neo days, and had an exuberance that was still pure, no one having come along yet to tell him how futile everything was. Craig had just run into a fan who was tired and jaded, and his weaning period was filled with QUANDRYs and VOIDs, and STELLARs and SLANTs ... and OOPSLA!s. Let us not forget them, for more than any of the others, Gregg Calkins' fanzine and its Harry Warner column affected Craig's outlook on fandom. Something, some evocation of fandoms passed, in Harry's writing beckoned to Craig. The vast knowledge of the good old days that Warner's writing revealed tortured Cochran with melancholy, and some tiny spark deep in his mind burst into flame when he thought about focal point fanzines. And when he read the reasons why there could never again be such a fanzine, he was only more determined that fandom should have a focal point, even if ... if ...

Now, Craig wasn't so enthusiastic and determined that he couldn't agree with most of Harry's points; fandom was too diverse for any one fanzine to become a center of interest to all fans. But then, that depended on how you defined fan, and fandom. Craig knew not everyone who read fanzines was a fan, not by a long shot. Most of them seemed only spectators to him, interested and literate people, but certainly not fans. So Cochran set up his own highly specialized definition: fans were people who read and (more important) published fanzines, but their fannishness displayed itself, in letters and in their fanzines, as an intense interest in fandom itself, not in politics, or Social Questions, or even in sf. It was sort of a closed circle; fandom was composed of fans, and fans were interested mainly in fandom. By this definition, fandom was very small -- about sixty people small -- and in this self-interested group, a focal point fanzine was conceivable. He selected the sixty or so fans who satisfied his definition, and decided to publish his focal point fanzine for only those sixty. Fandom was to be a closed circle in more ways than one.

In short, he was digging his own hole, and then crawling into it.

No one expected that he would succeed in pulling his 'fandom' in after him.

Craig Cochran was something almost unknown, even in a group of adept writers like fandom. He was a rarity, one of those people who could put down on paper exactly what he felt, losing nothing in translation. At another time, without his exuberant drive, he would have been just a mediocre writer, but in this case he had plenty of feeling to put into his writing. On a fanscene that seemed to consist mainly of a lot of 'new look' fanzines busy waving banners proclaiming that they Discussed Social Issues, his writing stood out like Dave Rike at a meeting of the John Birch Society. And tired, bored, jaded fans listened to what he had to say just because his delivery was refreshing.

In addition, he had become fast friends with John Koning while in the Cult, and just about the time he started publishing his own fanzine, FOCUS, Koning folded DAFOE. Always a lazy man when he lost interest in a project, Koning got rid of all the material he had never gotten around to publishing by giving it to Cochran. With this mass of fannish fiction and articles, cartoons and illos, plus his other Cult contacts, Raeburn, White, Breen, Donaho, Cochran had the material to put out several outstanding issues.

He did more than this ... He had published several unbelievably good issues, and then went on to draw fannish writing out of almost everyone on his closed mailing list. Instead of running down, he found himself running away ... with fandom. FOCUS grew and grew. Its frequency, relaxed but beautiful appearance, and high quality material attracted more of the same. And all the while, Craig was putting his dreams down on paper, and soon other fans were dreaming them too.

Cochran didn't make it to the Seacon, but he did show up at the Chicon in '62, where he moved into a suite with Andy Main and Bob Lichtman. By this time, Craig was a BNF, both within the FOCUS circle and without, but he still had all his enthusiasm and determination. After the first day Craig retired to his suite to escape the bunches of people that he couldn't think of as "fans" who were pleading or demanding to be put on his mailing list. Few people got into those rooms, none in fact except the F-group, but those that came stayed for most of the con. Even Walt Willis disappeared for almost a day, and most of the convention attendees were laying odds that he was closeted with Cochran and his clan. A new legend started about a closed party, this time at the Chicon, though ironically it was still held in room 770.

Even before the con, the out-group fanac of the circle had been dying, but after the con, and that party, the FOCUS group's interest seemed to turn entirely inward. Strangely, most of the members were more active than they had been in years, and the fannish sides of sixth, seventh, and eighth fandom existed in a wonderful mixture. A'BAS came out every year, unprecedentedly regularity for Raeburn, and after the prosperity that enabled him to revive STELLAR inside the Group while continuing publication of VOID vanished, it was VOID that was suspended.

It was a full scale retreat to the apas, like that which had marked the end of sixth fandom, but this time the in-group had built their apa as they went along.

General fandom, of course, was not completely denuded of fannishness. Cochran missed quite a few people that he would have, or should have defined as fans, but there was no one who was active at the time who could have been described as being interested in fandom itself who didn't soon get into the FOCUS group. There were still the neofans Craig had missed, but they didn't have any BNFs to lead them to "trufannishness". Their struggling attempts to start from scratch were doomed because they were a minority, and had little idea of what they were doing. The sercons and Socially Conscious types smothered them in significant issues and realistic views. Without their fannish counterparts to balance them, these types swiftly went to extremes in Serious Discussion, until general fandom no longer resembled fandom of the fifties. That was years ago; today it still shows no sign of swinging back to a more genial and relaxed society.

After a while things didn't go too smoothly with Cochran's group either. Craig himself lost that ambitious drive about the time he entered college, and then he found that fandom was a game he didn't have the time for anymore, and went gafia. Of course there were other gafiations in the Group ... there always have been. But after the first year or two there weren't any eager fans pounding on the doors, waiting to join the group of trufans who were the Group, and when they looked into fandom, finally, for new blood, there was none. At least, there were no fans who would have wanted Group membership. Gradually dwindling, lacking once again a focal point, the FOCUS circle broke up, with many of its members gafiating for good, and not a few sheepishly making their way back to the fandom they had left. Only, they found that they didn't fit any more, and they were used to the almost professional magazines of political comment and discussion that were now 'fanzines'. Finding that there wasn't any fandom anymore, they too, eventually gafiated.

Such was the impact of a strong personality like Cochran's on a specialized group of people, too wrapped up in themselves to look ahead to a time when that all encompassing, wildly exuberant fan might not publish his focal point any more.

Rather than admit that they themselves had gotten rather GoshWowish, most of the now bitter Group blamed Craig Cochran for destroying their hobby, and this, of all the consequences of that one fan's rather Noble ambition, I regard as the most unfortunate. Seeking a scapegoat is a natural reaction for any disappointed group of people, even fans, but it is also regrettably true that even when a logical scapegoat exists, he is rarely the one persecuted. I started this article with a long list of if's, and Craig Cochran wasn't the only name on that list ... but can we blame Harry Warner for not forseeing the consequences of an article written before Cochran had even entered fandom?

But then, I wouldn't know about that, I haven't been very active since 1961. Who am I? Well, I stayed with the FOCUS group right up to the end, but my heart had gone out of fanning before it was born. Yeah, I'm John Koning. I didn't do anything after I folded DAFOE, but Cochran sent me all the issues of FOCUS anyway. He had to ... in exchange for all the OOPSLA!s I sent him, when he was just a neo ...

-- John Koning

Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan

Data entry by Judy Bemis

Updated August 29, 2002. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.