Fanzines – Creative Genius at the Grass Roots (Part Three)

In my previous two posts, I’ve talked about my general experiences with, and thoughts on, fanzines. Now I’ll share a few more specific thoughts about the actual zines that I’ve come across over the years.

The earliest zines that I collected date from the 1970s and early 1980s, and were mostly based around SF literature and comics. But these were sporadic, one-off zine purchases, and I didn’t really become a hardcore zine collector until well into the 1980s. The pattern of zine purchases in that latter period was also different to what it had been before, in that most of the zines that I collected from the mid-80s onwards were deliberate, regular purchases of individual titles, in order to have a complete collection of each of my favourite zines. The pattern was also different in that the vast majority of these newer zines were based around my favourite sci-fi television series, rather than SF literature and comics.

My first regular fanzine (which I have every issue of, more than twenty of them) was published in the mid-80s, the excellent Flickers ‘n’ Frames, a reviewzine, which now has its direct descendant on the internet in the form of The Borderland website. Flickers ‘n’ Frames ran the gamut of pretty much everything, publishing reviews of sci-fi films, TV series, books, graphic novels, music, and the occasional piece of fiction. This one zine pretty much kick-started my current obsession with collecting zines, and I immediately moved on to collecting other fanzines, mostly based around telefantasy and SF.

My main fanzine collecting years coincided with what is known as the “Golden Age” of Doctor Who fanzines, circa 1985-1995. And so most of the zines in my collection are therefore based on Doctor Who, which just happens also to be my favourite ever TV sci-fi series. Although I’ve got quite a few non-Doctor Who zines in my collection, such as the previously mentioned Flickers ‘n’ Frames, and a large number of other zines covering various cult television shows ranging from Star Trek, to Blake’s 7 and the various Gerry Anderson TV shows, the bulk of my collection is made up of Doctor Who zines. That love of Doctor Who zines continues right up until the present day, and I still collect as many of the current batch of zines as I can.

The hoard of zines that I collected over the years covered many different themes and types, but most of them tended to fall into several different categories.

The first, and largest, category was the general review and article-based zines, which covered not only Doctor Who and other telefantasy series, but often other completely unrelated topics as well. They usually also included the occasional piece of fan fiction. These were mostly traditional A5 zines, and included (off the top of my head):

Circus (which also went A4 for several issues out of the eight-issue run).
Soft Targets (A6).
Brave New World.
Purple Haze.
Cygnus Alpha.
Game of Rassilon.
Club Tropicana.
Burning the Ground.
the original Skaro.
Shockeye’s Kitchen.
Timelines (the fanzine of the Grand Order of the Time Lords).
Sonic Screwdriver.
Queen Bat/Space Rat.
Eye of Harmony.
Vipod Mor.
Drake’s Drum (an A5 Star Trek zine).

and a few others that I can’t recall right now. But occasionally the zines were A4 and glossy (or sometimes not), such as:

Celestial Toyroom (the news/reviewzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).
Second Dimension.
Antoinine Killer.
Metamorph II.
Neutron Flow.
The Tomb.

and a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

The second category was fictionzines, mostly A5 but sometimes A4, zines composed almost totally of fan fiction based on Doctor Who, Star Trek or other telefantasy series. I’ve always had a soft spot for good quality fan fiction, so I have a LOT of fictionzines in my collection, including:

Silver Carrier and many other one-off fictionzine “novels” by the excellent Seventh Door Fanzines.
Cosmic Masque (the fictionzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).
Inner Door.
The Key and The Key Presents.
the various Gallifreyan Presses publications.

Inferno Fiction.
Fan Aid – The Storytellers.
Wondrous Stories.
Black Pyramid.
Universal Dreamer.
Trenchcoat (US Letter).
Myth Makers (US Letter).

and, again, quite a few others that I can’t recall right now. Again, mostly Doctor Who zines.

The third category was the larger A4, glossy (and often more colourful) semiprozines such as:

The Frame, which contained an enormous amount of photographs and background information on Doctor Who.
DWB, which started off as a semi-prozine dedicated to Doctor Who, but then morphed into Dreamwatch Bulletin and finally the professional newsstand magazine Dreamwatch, which covered telefantasy and sci-fi cinema of all shades.
Century 21 (based, obviously, around Gerry Anderson shows).
Portal 31 (a tribute to the classic TV21 comic).

There are quite a few other zines that I haven’t mentioned, as this is all from memory, but this is a good sub-section of them, all falling into the three categories which cover most of the zines in my collection.

To Be Continued…

Fanzines – Creative Genius at the Grass Roots (Part Two)

I remember my older Doctor Who, Star Trek and other general SF and telefantasy fanzines from the pre-computer DTP era, and the difference between those old zines and the modern variety is startling. The contents of those old zines were amazing, but the production values were, understandably, universally low, dodgy typewritten and photocopied efforts, the text and pictures so faint that they could often be barely made out.

The computer/DTP revolution of the late-1980’s and early-1990’s gave rise to a modern generation of zines where even the bog standard A5 and A4 variety are far more professional and classy looking than the older zines. I know that many older fans wallow in nostalgia and bemoan the demise of the old cut ‘n’ paste photocopied zines, but I myself (despite usually being one of the nostalgic mob) much prefer the more modern DTP-produced zines. In fact, I would love to see some of those classic old pre-DTP zines reissued in modern DTP format (not just scans, totally DTPed), even if only as PDFs.

But fanzines, the printed, paper variety, have always been expensive and bothersome to produce. The computer/DTP revolution of the last twenty or so years may have resulted in a quantum leap in production quality for even the humble A5 fanzine, and given all zine editors the ability to produce zines of at least semi-professional standard. But the one weak link in the production chain still remains, largely unchanged since the bad old days of the 80s – the cost of printing.

Printing has always been a major source of grief and expense for zine publishers. Most printers deal in print runs of thousands or tens of thousands, and the more copies printed, the cheaper the cost of each individual copy. But fanzine editors deal with tiny print runs, maybe two or three hundred zines at most. This makes printing individual zines extremely expensive, relatively speaking. And once this is done, the zine editor also has to deal with the trouble and expense of mailing out a couple of hundred fanzines. A guy (or girl) has to be pretty dedicated to do this on a regular basis.

Since the second half of the 1990s, the explosive growth and widespread accessibility of the internet has given the vast majority of former and new zine creators a much easier and cheaper option. Many of these creative types have given up on printed zines (sadly, but understandably) and turned instead to producing online fanzines. Websites and blogs are now, for most editors and readers, the online equivalent of classic fanzines. They are certainly a lot easier and cheaper to produce, cutting out altogether the problematic and expensive final stages of dealing with print shops and postal distribution.

Except for the most dedicated tradzine publishers, most zine editors no longer go to the expense and trouble of doing it the old way, printing and posting out a small (but relatively expensive) print run of a couple of hundred zines. Why bother, when making the zine an online edition instead is much easier, has a potential audience of thousands, rather than hundreds, and costs virtually nothing to produce (financially), except for the time and effort?

Some other editors have taken a “half-way” approach. Rather than translating the fanzine to a full website or blog format, they produce their zines as PDFzines, which are then made downloadable from their websites. PDF is a print format, used almost universally by the modern printing industry in the publication of magazines and books. An electronic PDF zine is the exact equivalent of the printed zine, except on a computer screen. Actually it often looks better, since you have the full-color, highest quality version of the zine. Most zine editors simply cannot afford to have their zines printed out in colour, on high-quality, glossy stock, and instead resort to black & white (even if the on-screen version of the zine is in colour), and cheaper paper.

For some people, zines in high-resolution PDF format are extremely useful if they actually want to print out the fanzine themselves, on a colour inkjet printer, and on nice, high-quality, glossy paper. Some of us more obsessive collectors even like to collect entire runs of their electronic/PDFzines. Maybe not quite as nice as a collection of paper zines, but a bit more coherent and less disjointed than a bunch of webpages. 🙂

To Be Continued…