Science Fiction Fanzines
by Stephen Perkins
In April 1926 Hugo Gernsback published "Amazing
Stories," the first magazine devoted solely to science fiction.
Previous to this time science fiction had appeared only in books
or in the large circulation magazines of the period. Losing control
of this magazine during the crash of 1929, he returned with two
new science fiction magazines which were soon combined into Wonder
During this same
period, and feeling the bite of the Depression, Wonder Stories
with the hope of increasing sales started the first...
...large-scale science fiction fan club, the
Science Fiction League, as a promotion device. It was their hope
that they would be able to enroll thousands of members, all of
whom would buy every copy of the club's official organ, which
of course was Wonder Stories. Their expectations were not realized.
Many of the members bought the magazines more or less regularly.
But more importantly they invented science fiction fandom....It
was through the SFL that local clubs got their first major impetus
in forming and staying alive, and from them came everything else.
One thing that came from this coalescence of science
fiction fans was the appearance of what in the 1930s were originally
known as fan mags, and in later years shortened to the more familiar
word fanzine. The general consensus amongst science fiction writers
is that The Comet, which came out in 1930 was the first fanzine.
As the science fiction fan clubs multiplied so did the fanzines.
in what appears to be the only book devoted to this subject (2),
details four phases in the historical development of fanzines:
- One first point was that professional commercial science
fiction magazines began to introduce special substantial columns
in which they printed letters from readers.
- When the magazines added to these letters the addresses of
their writers, the readers began to write not only to the magazines
but also to one another.
- As science fiction organizations, clubs and conventions were
increasingly organized, the correspondence became very large.
The result was that special letters and amateur fan magazines,
fan-mags, developed to which amateurs and semi-amateurs, professional
and semi-professional writers all contributed.
- The field enlarged gradually not only in scope but in diversity
of subjects as well. Literary and often personal contacts went
hand in hand.
The type and variety of fanzines are endless,
depending upon each editors' particular interests. The editors
and reviewers of fanzines have developed a descriptive language
that encapsulated the concerns of particular zines, Fredric Wertham
lists a few in his book including, "satirezine, humorzine,
parody fanzine, reviewzine, rockzine, artzine, Tolkeinzine, articlezine,
newszine, strip zine, communicationszine..."
What emerges from
this self-publishing activity within the science fiction community,
and its relevance to zines from the '80's can be summarized by
the following points:
- Fanzines are uncommercial, nonprofessional and irregular
small run publications which have taken advantage of the cheapest
and most accessible technologies in any given period, i.e. mimeography,
spirit duplicating (ditto) and xerography, as well as more traditional
printing methods such as offset printing.
- Fanzines are published by and for special interest groups
and they provide a physical link between these communities and,
equally importantly they provide a place for networking and exchange
within this community. The inclusion of correspondents' and contributors'
addresses establishes the fanzine as an 'open system', and one
in which interaction and reader involvement is essential.
- The distribution of fanzines takes place principally within
the community that generated it (small print runs and the uncommercial
ethos mitigating against wider circulation). Aside from subscribers
and contributors, editors frequently adopt a fairly idiosyncratic
approach to who receives copies, with some fanzines not for sale
and some for exchange only.
1. Bretnor, Reginald. Science Fiction, Today
and Tomorrow. New York, Evanston: Harper & Row, 1974.
2. Wertham, Fredric. The World of Fanzines. Carbondale &
Evanston: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.
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