Duck Duck Book


66 – my time annihilator
12.4.2010, 2:38 pm
Filed under: generalities, zines

My time annihilator : a brief history of 1930’s science fiction fanzines / [by Christopher U.].
Glendale, KY : [s.n.], 2008.
[MCL call number: ZINE 070.572 U 2008; six copies, no holds]

When people investigate zines today and try to assign ancestors, antecedents, or roots to them, the two places they generally look to are the punk rock fanzines of the 1970s, and the science fiction and fantasy fanzines of the 1930s.  These are not the only places to find zine history, not the only past traditions that have affected today’s zine creators and readers, but it is true that the connections are strong. (Though of course there is no doubt that many latter-day zine creators have done their work without ever hearing of, or realizing they had any ties to either either punk or sci fi fanzine creators.)

And it’s easy to see why a devoted zine creator or reader might be interested in exploring the long-gone world of early science fiction zines in particular.  Fandom of any sort creates an inherently intriguing sort of subculture — the very practice of fandom is a celebration of deeply connecting to a specific world, and showing off, sharing, and expanding on that world with other fans.  There is something compelling about this intensity of focus.  Perhaps the most magnetic aspect for latter-day zinesters, though, is the simple notion that there were people making zines 80 years ago, people without access to photocopiers, who’d never seen an issue of Beer Frame or Duplex Planet or Doris.  We might be able to just barely imagine life in the 1930s, but adding an understanding of a long-gone subculture into that picture is difficult.  Learning about antique zines begins to do the trick.

Christopher U. reports that he stumbled on a copy of The Fanzine Index at his local library.  It piqued his interest, and he eventually tracked down an archive of early 20th century science fiction fanzines and examined them too.  My Time Annihilator reports on and discusses this endeavor.

After a brief introduction explaining how he came across the trove of old zines, Christopher takes readers through a brief, helpful history of sci fi fanzinedom, covering matters both philosophical and practical.  He discusses the social context that inspired 1930s and 40s sci fi zine creation; outlines typical fanzine formats, binding, and graphic design strategies; and explains some of the technical details of printing and distribution methods zinesters used.  This is followed by a selection of excerpts from some of the fanzines he examined.

The explanatory parts are clear, interesting, and even show the potential to be of practical use for anyone who might want to use the methodology of zines of old.  But overall, Christopher’s take is a little jaundiced — and perhaps rightly so.  He sums up his experience reading through the zine archive in a section titled “Let down. . .”:

“. . . i found that actually reading these fanzines was massively boring.  i really don’t know anything about obscure 40’s science fiction and the zines were so full of inside jokes and nerd jargon that not much of it made sense anyway.   words like ‘gods, demons and beer’ were inexplicably written as ‘ghods, dhemons, and bheer.’ . . . after thinking about it, there really isn’t that much difference between the science fictions [sic] fanzines of the early 20th century and the punk zines of the 90’s.  our zines deal with obscure bands, rambling stories about fests, tons of inside jokes and typographic slang (e.g. ‘have a crucial youth cruew sesh and get a riot grrrl ‘zine from the distro’).  unless you happen to be steeped in modern punk culture, you would probably get as much out of the most recent MAXIMUMROCKANDROLL as i do out of ‘le zombie’ #59.  which isn’t much.”

Still, you’re pretty likely to be charmed by old timey sci fi zinedom, if you look at the choice excerpts Christopher provides.  My favorites are:

  • A flowchart which takes science fiction plots from the opening word “Earth” through through a variety of grim finales like “so they kill us (The End),” and “which turns them into disgusting lumps (The End).”
  • The cover of FemiZine number 11, from 1949, featuring a drawing of a group of women in a protest march with signs like “No new names for FemiZine” and “Down with Distaff.”  It may be that I find this interesting mostly because there is no way to grasp the context, but it’s also true that the drawing is very cute — I particularly like the three ladies in front, who are all wearing heels and nice coats.
  • A collection of post card zines, called “news cards,” typewritten with incredibly brief newsbites announcing new publications, travel plans, and in one example from 1943: “We humbly announce final issue.  Paucity of worthwhile news forbids weekly publication; my imminent induction also a factor.”

* * *

Additional analysis of zine history and culture can be found in Amy Spencer’s DIY: The Rise of Lo-fi Culture (London ; New York : Marion Boyars, 2005), which I reviewed in Duck Duck Book number 30 and found interesting but flawed; and in Frederic Wertham’s The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication (Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press [1973]).  Comics lovers among you may recognize Wertham’s name — he is most famous for his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, which inspired the Comics Code.  But his work on early fanzines is pretty interesting, and has lots of facsimiles to illustrate it.

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