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The High School
"Underground" Paper
by Mike Gunderloy
from "How to Publish a Fanzine"

Most of you, on seeing that title, probably conjured up a vision of a group of young, dope-smoking revolutionaries, publishing a sheet that was equal parts rhetoric, obscenity and direct challenge to the administration, and getting frisked, suspended, and expelled for their efforts. I'm afraid that I'm going to disappoint you. While there may still be a few HS undergrounds in the grand tradition of the early '70s (and I'd love to see examples if anyone knows of them), I'm going to talk of my own experiences on the staff of the Underground Pony Express. We were a product of the late '70s, satirical rather than radical, and we had a lot of fun and a few years' success. I think this experience did a lot to get me started on the road to self-publishing, and it might be instructive for those of you wondering what makes a self-publisher.
Like most other schools, Simi Valley High School had an "official" paper, the Pony Express. It was a training ground for the sort of journalists who write the sports news in towns with populations under 20,000, and of course it was excruciatingly dull. They regularly printed 2500 copies about one for every student and burned 90 percent of them the next week because no one had bothered to pick them up. If no news is good news, their content was excellent.
On the other hand, life at SVHS wasn't all that bad. It was an open campus, so we could get away for lunch or to cut classes. The rules, such as they were, weren't strictly enforced on the students. A couple of the administrators maintained close and friendly ties with the campus community, and some of the teachers were on a first-name basis with the students (practically unheard-of at the time). Even the smokers did their thing across the street without being harassed.
But this didn't stop some of us from wanting to have fun. Born as a four-page dittoed effort, the Underground Pony Express (UPE) came into existence. The first issue set the tone for what was to come, dusting off a few hoary old jokes (like the Round Tuit), and printing "news" that was a mixture of satire and surrealism, with made-up quotes from campus figures and bizarre stories, such as one of the classics about the Killer Rabbits lurking in the shrubbery.
I got involved around issue #3, when we went to offset printing and the UPE took off in popularity. Someone hunted up a printer who would give us a good price on a four-page full-size paper (translation: a bunch of students could come up with the money to front the first issue), we all went over to somebody's house and shot the breeze, and somehow an issue emerged. Over the next couple of years we got our act together, and although it never became routine (mostly because the editors were always getting into vicious arguments with one another, and quitting on a rotating basis), the broad outlines of the operation stabilized pretty well.
Most of the content of the paper was in the form of columns, each written by a different person. Some of them were just plain bizarre, as for example "Colonel Fonsby," the adventures of our man in deepest Africa. Others had a vaguely philosophical bent, like "The Seaside Wanderer," who walked along the sands and came up with ideas on how life and the universe and all that worked. My own major contribution was simply inexplicable, a loving discussion of pay phones and all the uses they could be put to for shaking people up, together with a listing of choice phone numbers.
Besides the personalized columns, there were features all of us worked on. Chief among these was the first-page section devoted to invented quotations from student leaders, faculty and administrators. These were designed to point up people's typical concerns and way of speaking in a friendly (mostly) manner. There were a few people we got vicious towards, but they were the butt of general campus disapproval in the first place. Then there were the classified ads, the "Believe it or Don't" section (DID YOU KNOW THAT: Simi High was originally built as a Holiday Inn? BELIEVE IT OR DON'T), and various filler, like "The Marines are looking for a few Good Men.... But They'll Take What They Can Get."
We usually ran three or four actual articles on issue, ranging from the absurd to the mildly subversive. The closest we got to the Sixties stereotype of an underground paper was "How To Steal Books From the Library," an article that very nearly got us all suspended who would have believed that 200 fanatic readers would follow instructions? The next issue we published instructions on making a bomb from a can of chicken soup, but apparently no one planted any of those around campus. Too Bad. Other favorites include one on a rash of UFOs kidnapping teachers, students and homework and, of course, the Killer Rabbits story.
Occasionally, when the funds ran low or we felt like a change, a special issue would appear. One of these was a dittoed program book for "Parents' Night," which we handed out in addition to the more usual one prepared by the administration. There was a series of calendars, featuring famous dates and the occasional illustration, like "Invention of the Frog." Our senior year, the Other Paper decided not to print any "Senior Wills," for the first time in years, and the UPE stepped into the gap.
One major advantage of our lighthearted approach was that we were at least tolerated, if not loved, by the administration. (It also helped that we had checked out the applicable laws which in California at the time basically stated that you could distribute a paper any place and time you wanted so long as you did not interfere with the orderly running of the school.) In fact, we made a special point of giving copies to teachers, walking even into the Sacred Teacher's Lounge on the morning of publication day to hand them out.
The only problem with student distribution was that we always ran out. Our press runs hovered around 500, which meant that they tended to be all gone within hours of hitting the campus. But they were passed from hand to hand for weeks, and we were satisfied that our actual circulation was much greater than that of The Other Paper.
Financing was solved by simply begging for the most part, although we did manage to sell a few ads (but, by far, the majority of the ads were fakes). When we were ready to print an issue, the staff would begin systematically harassing everyone on campus who we were in the slightest acquainted with. If someone didn't want to contribute, fine, but we were popular enough that the stash of dollars, quarters and dimes would accumulate enough to pay for the issue after a hard day or two of soliciting funds. on occasion, one of the more student-oriented teachers would kick in a twenty, but even this didn't keep us from making fun of them as well as everyone else.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. After my class graduated, we left the UPE in what we thought were capable hands in the next class. Unfortunately, they stepped over the fine line dividing satire from libel, and after a single issue that disgusted even former supporters and staffers, they wisely shut up. Too bad.

Copyright 1988 Mike Gunderloy. Posted with permission. To download "How to Publish a Fanzine," click here. To return to the index, click here.

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