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Our Fanzines

from the fanzine The Knarley Knews #120 (2006)

Fans have been writers since earliest days. Emerging in the letter columns of commercial science fiction magazines, which were themselves emerging, we commented on what we saw, and commented on the comments. It seemed the fannish thing to do.

We started writing to one another. This bred amateur magazines. The first were with us by the 1930s. Then as now amateur was the key note: we do them for love. Then as now they were by fans, for fans; a few pages or a few dozen, sent to a few dozen people or a few hundred, periodically or sometimes, briefly or for decades; written by us, enriched by our own graphic art. The word fanzine was coined in the 1940s by Russell Chauvenet.

Then as now fans and pros mingled. Some are both. Fanwriting is no junior league for pro writing; you might just as well say that "I breathe when I sleep" is the same thing as "I sleep when I breathe"; but when Aussiecon III the 1999 Worldcon invited Greg Benford as Guest of Honor, he could answer "Are you asking me to be Pro Guest of Honor, or Fan Guest of Honor?" He stood in established custom. Bob Tucker, whose most celebrated fanzine Le Zombie began in 1938 (and was not his first), who won three Hugo Awards for fanwriting, and who remained an active fan to his death, published a dozen s-f novels and a bushel of short stories, and was placed into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003.

We care remarkably little, here in the Imagi-Nation, who is old or young, male or female, rich or poor, as we meet in fanzines or in person -- s-f clubs and conventions too began around the 1930s. To a remarkable extent, we love you for your mind.

It was an early controversy how far fanzines should confine themselves to s-f. Not very won. Perhaps under the influence of fans like Walt Willis, who wrote wonderfully about hotel bellhops, or losing footgear in the Pacific Ocean while on the U.S. West Coast and having to watch a slow boot to China, we came to publish what had a love of s-f running through like a thread, or resonating like a tone, but not necessarily more apparent.

In the 1960s a surge of interest in other communications media was going to be the end of print. There were, however, many fine fanzines. At the turn of the 21st Century electronic mail and the Internet were going to be the end of paper. So far that has not happened either. It seems truer that any medium has its own strengths, its own character, and calls for adoption in what it does best. Sometimes you want to sing, sometimes you want to dance.

There is a joy in art. Some belongs to the artist, some to the audience. The art may be co-operative -- like some singing -- some dancing -- some fanzines. An artwork may not celebrate joy, it may grieve or protest or a thousand things, but even in presenting a wrong it can have rightness. That may result from thought or instinct or providence or luck.

We have long said fanzines were communication. Art has been called communication. I have proposed a triangle, the artist one point, the intended audience a second, unaddressed bystanders a third, ideally each satisfied and none at the expense of the rest. In the Fanzine Lounge at Chicon VI the 2000 Worldcon, I held in my hands a copy of Chauvenet's fanzine Sardonyx, printed in multicolor hectograph, a technology of such annoyance as to disgust even Harry Warner, Jr., in this case yielding a thing of beauty. I was not born when it was made, but it reached me.

To produce what is worth writing, and worth reading, can be demanding, nourishing, exhilarating. That triangle, or something like it, may keep us at honest work.

Fanzines rejoice us with interchange. There is the sending and receiving of fanzines; there is conversation, in letter columns, reviews, essays, where some of us contribute expectedly and others unexpectedly, where a joke will be caught and volleyed over seas or time -- in my fanzine, a cartoon from a woman of Hawaii took up one from a man of Yorkshire, neither of whom I've ever seen in the flesh, nor did we think this was odd -- where tortoises and trap doors may speak, and talk of whether pigs and even bananas have wings.

Two hundred years ago Sam Johnson said, "Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason." That is not the language we use today, and the falseness of oppressors has made us touchy about truth, but as with much of this amazing man, it has merit. Another time he said, "Those dogs don't know how to write trifles with dignity."

Tortoise (by Sue Jones), Trap Door (by Robert Lichtman), and Banana Wings (by Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer) are fanzines.