Monday, August 27, 2012

Early Autumn

I've seen occasional hints of autumn in a number of stores, but today at Walgreens I saw the first actual autumn display--or more specifically, a Halloween display! We almost made it 'til the end of August...

Of course, I don't guess I should complain too much. After all, I really like autumn, I love Halloween, and I'm a lifelong fan of candy--so this display is much more tailor-made for me than the school supplies display that preceded it (although I did buy a few school supplies, just as I do every year...)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Marvel-ous Bit of History

Lance Thingmaker continues his high-quality fanzine reprint project with an amazing hardcover reprint of the entire five-issue run of the Marvel Tales fanzine from 1934 & 1935. In many ways, this is more like a semi-prozine collection rather than a fanzine; it includes fiction from H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, and many other members of the Weird Tales crew. William Crawford, the editor, knew these creators well and was able to offer them an outlet for high quality fiction, as the contents of these five issues proves.

It's amazing how much effort Lance puts into this book; just as he did with his Fantasy Fan hardcover reprint collection, he produce the covers on colored paper to match the colors that were used for the original (Ah, glorious goldenrod! How all of us who printed our own fanzines love thee!). Since the fifth issue of Marvel Tales was published in a larger trim size than the first four, Lance had to scan the fanzines and then enlarge the first four by 15% and reduce the final issue by 10% to get them to look right when reproduced at the same size; the result is a very handsome and readable book that reflects the high production values of William Crawford's original fanzine.

I think it's wonderful that someone is willing to put this sort of effort into preserving these rarely-seen fanzines in durable high-quality hardcovers. As someone who produced many fanzines in the 1970s and the 1980s (several different amateur press alliance personal fanzines as well as the SF fanzine Future Retrospective and the Atlanta Science Fiction Club's Atarantes), I have an abiding love for this all-but-overlooked medium, and I applaud efforts to make these now-public-domain rarities available for future generations.

If you've ever enjoyed the Weird Tales cadre of writers and have an appreciation for print history, you should check this book out. Lance still has copies available on eBay (search for "Marvel Tales fanzine").

Lance tells me that his next project will be a massive reprinting of the entirety of the Mort Weisinger/Julius Schwartz fanzine Science Fiction Digest/Fantasy; the pagecount of this fanzine run is so large that Lance will have to publish it in four hardcover volumes. Those of you who recognize the names Weisinger and Schwartz through their historic work in the comics field might enjoy seeing what they did before they reshaped DC comics. I know I can't wait to add these four hardcovers to my collection!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Images of Yesterday

Here's one of my favorite photos of Susan and me; this was taken in 1972, I believe; the photographer was either mike weber or Steve Hughes (I wish I could say with certainty which it was, but I remember that both of them had Minox cameras, and both of them visited us at our tiny little three-room house in Cedartown at about the same time). The photo is grainy, shot at twilight in a room lit only by the fleeting natural light coming through the open front door and window, but none of that matters; there's something about this photo that will always convey the essence of everything I love about Susan and our marriage.

(And yes, I would be quite pleased if I still had the same hair after all these years; alas, the whole genetic thing about receding hairlines skipping a generation turned out to be erroneous, as anyone who remembers Dad's hairline can attest...)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Martian Chronicles

Curiosity is on Mars!

You'd think I'd be positively jaded about unmanned space missions of this sort, but I find myself sitting here at a little after 1:30 in the morning, watching a live feed from NASA as they receive data indicating that Odyssey's mission has been successful and the Curiosity rover is now on Mars. I guess I'm part of that generation that never gets tired of this sort of scientific and engineering accomplishment; there's a sense of pride and wonder that arises anew every time something like this happens.

Congratulations, NASA. Congratulations, United States. Congratulations, human race. We should all celebrate.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Happy 44th, Myriad!

(This is the text of a special print issue of not much'a nothin' produced to celebrate the 44th anniversary of Myriad, the amateur press alliance in which the first issue of not much'a nothin' appeared back in August 1968.)

How did Myriad begin? Well, it started with a fanzine called Quantum. Steven Carlberg had solicited for contributors for his fanzine, and I was one of several who contacted him as a result. (And at the time, he was indeed calling himself Steven; it wasn’t until shortly after that time that he dropped the first e and became Stven Carlberg instead.)

If I recall correctly, Stven was either a member of or on the waitlist for an amateur press alliance called CAPA-Alpha, and enjoyed the whole apa thing, so he decided to start his own apa. He pitched the idea to those of us who had contributed to Quantum (and SEC, the fanzine that replaced it). My comics buddy Gary Steele and I decided that we were going to be a part of this whole Myriad thing, so we immediately began searching out a way to get our apazines printed. Turned out that the best way of doing this was by calling in some favors at school, where we convinced a teacher to let us use the school ditto machine to run off the requisite number of copies.

And thus, in the summer of 1968, the first issue of not much’a nothin’ was born, and I became a charter member in an apa that was a major part of my life for more than a decade.

In its early days, Myriad’s membership drew heavily from the roster and waitlist of CAPA-Alpha, which was only logical. Stven enjoyed the comics apa, but was convinced that many of the members of that apa would be great additions to an amateur press alliance that focused on broader interests (including, but certainly not limited to, comics).

As Stven became more comfortable with Myriad and his role as Official Editor (a term he preferred to K-a’s “Central Mailer,” since he saw the job as involving more than collating and mailing out members’ apazines), he began inviting local friends and acquaintances. Thus began a trend that continued throughout the history of Myriad; the roster has always to one degree or another reflected the interests and personal relationships of the OE. It’s a pretty natural thing, of course—and we’ve all gained from it. My group of friends grew to include many of Stven’s friends.

A bit later on, Stven began inviting contacts from the Southern Fandom Press Alliance, where he was also a member. Gradually, Myriad became the second Southern apa in spirit, at least, and many of Myriad’s members were also members of SFPA.

A few months after I joined Myriad, I convinced a lovely girl I had met through a comics lettercol to give the whole apa thing a try. Susan Hendrix became a part of Myriad in 1969, and I got to know her in print and personally at more or less the same time. I fell in love with her, and apparently she decided I was at least passingly tolerable as well, and we were married on June 15, 1971.

A year or so after that, Susan and I became Myriad’s first cOE’s (co-official editors). We continued in that capacity for several years, even after we moved from Cedartown to Marietta. Only when our involvement in ASFiC—the Atlanta Science Fiction Club—and various Atlanta conventions cut into our time too deeply did we decide to give up the OEship and pass Myriad on to a new OE with more time for the job..

During our tenure as cOE’s, Myriad expanded its base to include many members of metro Atlanta’s rapidly growing fanzine fandom. People like Steve & Binker Hughes, Sven Ahlstrom, mike weber, Joe Celko, Hank Reinhardt, Larry Mason, Sue Phillips, Deb Hammer-Johnson, Iris Brown, and Barry Hunter were members of Myriad—some deeply involved, some only peripherally.

And Myriad even inspired the creation of an offshoot apa: Gary Steele was having so much fun with Myriad that he started his own apa, Galaxy, which enjoyed a healthy run before eventually being absorbed into Myriad by member vote. It was an easy transition because, by that time, the roster for the two apas had a signficant overlap; a merger simply meant that many of us had to produce one apazine rather than two.

Myriad had a dramatic influence on my life. First off, it offered me an outlet to express myself as a writer. Commentary, reviews, news, fiction, poetry—it was all a part of not much’a nothin’ over the years. I can read through those early issues of not much’a nothin’ and recognize many of the same literary mannerisms that are still a part of my writing today.

Second, it taught me the importance of deadlines. No matter what was going on in my life, Myriad was going to mail out every six weeks; if I wanted to be a part of the mailing, I had to produce an apazine by the deadline. I learned the importance of scheduling and discipline as a writer; had I not been a part of Myriad, it’s doubtful that I ever would have produced a newsletter for my comic shop, Dr. No’s—and had I not done that, Comic Shop News would have never come about. (Since CSN is now more than 25 years old and has never missed its weekly schedule, it’s apparent that the deadline lesson was one that I learned quite well!)

Third, it introduced me to friends from all over the country. Some of them, like Cecil Hutto and Wade Gilbreath and Steve & Binker Hughes and Larry Mason and Deb Hammer-Johnson and Rich & Angela Howell and Iris Brown and Janice Gelb and Ward Batty, became not only apa friends, but close personal friends as well. Others, like Mark Verheiden and Bob Pinaha and Arvell Jones and Mark Evanier, crossed my path again when I became active in the comics world as both a retailer and co-publisher of CSN.

The Atlanta Worldcon bid that began in 1980 led to my gradual drifting away from Myriad and Atlanta fandom. I was a part of the original Atlanta in ‘86 bid, which was headed by Randy Satterfield; at the time the bid was launched, there were several fannish friends who warned me that Worldcon bids almost always destroyed friendships. Turned out they were correct.

Atlanta won the Worldcon, but it was not our bidding committee that won it. Rather than working with us, the core members of the second Atlanta bid chose the path of subterfuge and sabotage—undermining our efforts, surreptitiously talking down the bid, and convincing people that the bid could continue only if none of us on that original committee were allowed to be involved in the bid in any way whatsoever. No attempt was ever made to speak with us about it, to suggest a merger of bids, to find any sort of amiable solution. Instead, a campaign of personal destruction was launched.

Turned out that friend who warned me about the destructive nature of Worldcon bids was absolutely correct: we were targeted with a vicious and personally nasty campaign of character assassination, and I soon realized that many of the people I had thought were friends chose to look the other way. After all, an Atlanta Worldcon was at stake!...

I still remember an hours-long late night phone call from Meade Frierson, who was slightly inebriated but clearly upset by what he saw going on. He offered apologies, but also stressed that what was happening was out of his control, and he seemed almost disconsolate that Southern fandom—which was so important to him, and in which he took such pride—was revealing itself to be just as duplicitous and corrupt as any political group.

Meade warned me that the surreptitious attacks had gone even beyond fandom: one person involved in that Atlanta bid who also worked in the same computer software field as Susan was spreading false rumors within that profession that Susan had embezzled money, Meade said. This was the level of personal offense that members of the bid would descend to; I was stunned by the revelation and angry at the bitterness of the personal attacks--especially against Susan, one of the least political and most honest people I have ever known. (Thankfully, the few headhunters who heard the rumors also knew Susan and realized that those rumors were wholly untrue.)

“I can’t apologize for others,” Meade said, “and they’re never going to apologize for what they’re doing.” He was right; at no point did any of those who once called themselves friends—people who tried to present a public persona as gracious and hospitable Southerners—apologize for the lies they spread about me, about Susan, and about everyone else in that original Atlanta bid. And as far as I know, none of our friends who also took part in that counterbid ever spoke up for us. Meade was the only person who ever took the time to reach out and express regret at the nasty tenor of the campaign.

By the time the 1982 Chicago Worldcon came around, the situation had reached the point that one of our supposed friends asked that we not set foot in any of the Atlanta in ‘86 bid parties, warning that members of the committee might take actions to have us physically removed if we showed up. (We enjoyed Chicon as members nevertheless, and did indeed attend a variety of parties, including Atlanta’s bid party, without any confrontations.)

At that point, I realized that Southern fandom had never been what I had imagined it was. For better or worse, my interest in Myriad waned at almost the same time, as did my involvement in SFPA, in Southern conventions, and in all other aspects of Southern fandom. Myriad had no direct involvement in the whole Atlanta in ‘86 situation, but some of the same people who were a part of Myriad were involved in that bid, and the bad memories were too intertwined. These people who knew us, who enjoyed our hospitality at the many Myriad gatherings at our house and our apartment, never stepped forward to condemn the war that had been declared not only on our bid, but also on our names and our reputations.

Atlanta went on to host a great Worldcon, just as a I knew that it could. But the committee, comprised of those who once called themselves our friends, treated us as pariahs, even to the point of mysteriously losing our membership info when we arrived at the convention hotel in 1986. (Suspecting such events might occur, I had brought all the documentation with me.)

As it turned out, had the people who launched that counterbid attempted to reach out and involve the original committee, it would have kept friendships alive and many of us would still have had to step out of the bid. You see, in 1982, Ward Batty, Randy Satterfield, Susan, and I had a chance to purchase a used bookstore/comic shop called Dr. No’s in Marietta, GA. We pooled our money and took over the store on August 15, 1982. Had we not already paid for Chicon memberships, hotel rooms, and airline tickets, we wouldn’t have even been at that convention.

From that point on, all the efforts I had previously poured into fanzines and apas and clubs and conventions were instead focused on making Dr. No’s a success. None of us had any time to spare for any fannish activity: a business is more demanding than any fanzine, and the concept of a comic shop was still largely undefined. Sure, it involved carrying a full line of comic books, but what else? We poured untolled hours into defining what Dr. No’s should be—trying product lines, jettisoning those that failed, and experimenting with new lines to take their place.

When you have a second mortgage riding on the success of your business (because no bank was foolish enough to loan money for something as risky as a comic shop), you make it a priority. Since I was already teaching high school at the time and couldn’t afford to give up that salary for something as risky as a comic shop, I had to reprioritize my life in other ways. And fandom, in which I was already disillusioned, had to be sacrificed.

In the first couple of years, Randy Satterfield chose to undertake another career, so he sold his share of the store to Ward, Susan, and me. It was 1987 before we were able to draw any regular income from the store, though—so in effect, it was as much a labor of love in those first few years as fandom had been in my first years of involvement!

Fanzine experience was the primary motivation for my launching The Doctor Knows, our store newsletter, in late 1985. I had the equipment already—mimeos and electronic stencillers and Selectrics—from my fanzine production years, and I missed the whole process of producing fanzines. So I merged my store involvement and my fanzine interest and began producing a monthly newsletter for the store.

In late 1986, I was contacted by three other stores who asked if I’d be willing to sell copies of our newsletter, minus the Dr. No’s header and info, so that they could put their own store name on it and distribute it to their customers.

“You know,” Ward said to me, “if other stores around here are willing to pay money for a store newsletter, maybe there are stores all over the country who’d do the same thing.” Ward’s business sense has always been sharp, and in once again he had come up wtih a perfect means to turn fannish activity into a profitable venture.

In early 1987, we solicited for a newsletter produced for comic shops. The name was Comic Shop News, and it would target the in-store comics reader; the idea behind Comic Shop News was that stores could buy a multi-page tabloid professionally printed newsletter for little more than the cost per copy of one photocopied sheet, hand it out to their customers, and thereby see the same benefits we had seen in our store with our locally produced newsletter.

We launched in July 1987, producing and printing our newsletter at Star Printing in Acworth. The first issues were produced on Star’s typesetting equipment; we didn’t move to Macintosh computers until later in 1986, when we realized that desktop publishing software could offer us opportunities for visual improvements.

The early issues featured spot color that was entirely produced via mechanical seps designed on a black and white Macintosh SE screen; Ward became an expert at looking at the name of the pantone colors he was creating and adding those colors to a Quark document, even though all he was seeing on the screen was black, white, and shades of gray. It was 1989 before we began working with color Macs. By 1993, we had to move from Star Printing to World Color (later Quebecor, now Transcontinental) as we went from black and white to full color covers to full color throughout.

This week, I just sent the material for CSN #1314 to Ward, who prepared it for the printer. We’ve been doing this weekly for 1307 weeks now, but some of the early special/seasonal issues also carried issue numbers, which accounts for six of the extra seven issues in the issue numbers. The seventh? Well, since CSN is released every Wednesday, the seven extra leap years between 1987 and 2012 has added one extra issue to the schedule!

While I no longer produce fanzines or apazines, I wasn’t willing to let my Myriad zine not much’a nothin’ go away entirely. In 2003, I launched not much’a nothin’ as an irregularly-produced online blog at . Since blogs carry no deadlines other than those the writer sets, I haven’t followed any particular schedule of posting—and in fact, I have been rather negligent in posting there this year, due to a variety of personal complications. Nevertheless, not much’a nothin’ still lives as a regular vehicle for my writing 44 years after the publication of not much’a nothin’ #1.

Some of the writing has been general commentary (reviews, news, etc.), some of it has been autobiography (the still ongoing “Life in Four Colors” series), and some of it has been so intensely personal that it’s still painful for me to reread (the July/August 2007 writings about my father’s stroke and subsequent death still evokes an almost overwhelming sense of loss whenever I read over it).

For better or worse, not much’a nothin’ will continue in some form until the day I die. It’s been a part of me since I was 14 years old, and I’m not willing to let it go.

Sadly, I must confess that I don’t have a complete library of every not much’a nothin’ I ever produced, nor do I have all of my various Myriad mailings (or other fanzines). Over the course of years and several moves, quite a few boxes of fanzines have been lost forever—and those boxes that included the early mailings of Myriad were among the casualties.

It doesn’t matter, I guess. I may not be able to re-read the words, but I remember writing them, and I remember the role that Myriad played in my life over the years.

While I still begrudge those whose scurrilous Altanta-worldcon-related actions led to my separation from fandom, enough time has passed that I no longer associate Myriad and SFPA and some of its members with that unpleasantness. So I’m quite glad to see that John Cochrane is looking to commemorate Myriad’s fortieth anniversary, and I’m glad I could be a part of it.