Friday, December 14, 2007

Day 2: Two Fanzines

Christmas should be a time when you can sit back and enjoy some light holiday reading. Fanzines, literally fan-made magazines, have been around since the 1930's and for the most part have survived the leap from paper to the Internet age. Today I feature two fanzines, Imaginations Unlimited, a member's project of Starfleet International, and Acrux, a new Blogzine that this month focuses on the Twelve Trek Days of Christmas.

The opportunities today for creative people to self-publish are immense - you can blog your thoughts, podcast on your fan obsession (watch out for Day 4!), create a newsletter in any one of a number of different media, contribute to fan fiction archives, virtual seasons, play by mail RPG's ...

However there is a form of fan publication that has been around since before there was an internet, yes, when people could only distribute their writing on pressed wood pulp known as paper. Fanzines have today become a significant part of our literary culture but it was not always so. Where have they come from? What have they become? But more to the point of the Twelve Trek Days of Christmas what part did Star Trek play in their development and what lies in their future?

In his 1973 "The World of fanzines", Frederic Wertham describes fanzines as "uncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their editors produce, publish and distribute. They deal primarily with fantasy literature and art. The fact that they are not commercially oriented, may come out irregularly, and are privately distributed differentiates them from the professional newsstand magazines. Their writers and readers belong chiefly to the under-thirty group." He cites "The Comet" that came out in 1930 as the first fanzine although Wikipedia traces their roots to amateur press associations that go back to the 19th century. If you're interested in reading transcriptions and scans of historical fanzines look no further than Fanac.

J.M. Verba's "Boldly Writing" gives us a pretty exhaustive picture of the early history of Star Trek fan activity between 1967 & 1987 - that it was a fertile time for Trek fanzines can be seen from the fact that she has a five page list of 'zines that are referenced in the book! Another important resource is "Star Trek Lives" by Jacqueline Lichtenberg who, with her writing partner Jean Lorrah, whose work was in Spockanalia, the first Star Trek fanzine, are two early luminaries of the Trek fan world who have gone on to champion the use of action / adventure stories to test the boundaries between science fiction and romance.

Star Trek has always had an emphasis on character centric storylines and over the years a subgenre of Trekzines have come to focus on love and lust in the Star Trek universe. One of the ways that Star Trek fanzines broke new ground was with the invention of the term slash, from "Kirk-slash-Spock" (K/S), the idea of Kirk and Spock being lovers.

For the purposes of this project, I set myself the goal of looking for fanzines that covered four criteria: They had to be about Star Trek, free, family friendly and a fanzine as opposed to a newsletter. Whilst the first three are self-evident, why, you might ask, make the distinction with the latter?

There is no hard and fast definition of what is, and is not, a fanzine. Over the course of the years different subsets of the fanzine world have been identified, such as Perzines (personal 'zines) Clubzines and even Crudzines which are the 'zines that no-one likes! One of the things that they all have in common though is their individuality: they have a purpose ... even though that purpose might be, to be aimless!

Newsletters on the other hand have one, over-riding purpose, they exist to report on and for their readership or membership. Their scope of content is created to cater for the likes and dislikes of the members. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the newsletters of Star Trek fan clubs and Starfleet international is a perfect example of this. Not only is there an expectation that a chapter or 'ship' will have its own newsletter, like the ScuttleButt that I have edited. Often there are newsletters for the region, such as the award winning Subspace Communicator and SFI has an excellent, long-running, tabloid-sized, hardcopy newsletter sent by mail to all members, Communique and has in the past produced their own fanzine, the last being Stellar Visions V which was released at the 2003 International conference at Greensboro, NC.

So what is the difference? Because of their mandate to focus on the membership, a newsletter sacrifices a large amount of the individuality that is part and parcel of the fanzine. A newsletter editor would be remiss if he reported on the latest casting rumours from the set of the new Star Trek film at the expense of reports that could encourage a member to participate and feel part of the crew. By the same token, Jacques Moreu, a some-time Star Trek fan of Montreal, is unlikely to be interested in the administrivia of a Star Trek club in Ohio. This is not to say that the Ohio newsletter does not have some well written material that is of general interest to Star Trek fans all over the world, but you might have to search for it.

Club newsletters need to have a certain amount of general Star Trek news because part of the scope of a club's newsletter is that it acts as the chapter's window to the outside world through which interested members of the public can peer in and see if there is anything happening that they might find interesting, thus drawing new members.

Imaginations Unlimited is a Trekzine that follows the formula of providing a regular dose of fan fiction for it's readers. Edited as a members project by Jeff Davis, the chapter president, or CO, of the USS Indiana, which is a chapter of the largest science fiction fan association in the world (according to the Guiness Book of Records) Starfleet International (SFI).

Jeff's fanzine follows the accepted Trekzine formula of a fan fiction anthology covering short stories, serials, artwork, poetry, filk, etc. He draws his material from a core of contributors in SFI's Region 1, covering Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North & South Carolina and Virginia & West Virginia although submissions from outside this area are welcome. Especially for the Twelve Trek days of Christmas he has released a 37 page Christmas special with a Christmas themed story from his long-running "Captain Ryan Chronicles" entitled "Not Quite A Dickens Classic". The Imaginations Unlimited website sometimes has issues with different browsers, so if you can't get the download links to work, use these direct links:

2006: Sep, Nov
2007: Jan, Mar, May, Jul, Sep, Nov, Christmas Special

The term Trekzine has, to a certain extent become synonymous with the semi-professional fanzines that are for sale by mail order or from dealers tables at conventions. They still retain the flavour of their roots in the early Star Trek 'zines of the 1967 - 1987 era which is described in J.M. Verba's definitive "Boldly Writing". If you are interested in the phenomena you will want to get a copy of Jacqueline Lichtenberg's seminal "Star Trek Lives" as well which covers the whole fan experience of the time, not just fanzines.

Most fanzines were, in practical terms, free - the pittance that was asked was barely enough to cover photocopying and mailing expences. Interestingly it was usual for a fanzine editor to offer a free exchange with other editors, such that they would send you one of theirs in exchange for one of yours. This had the effect of encouraging a readership of people who would be expected to have similar interests. In their heyday, fanzines were a forum for discussion for their readership and it was expected that if you exchanged fanzines, you would exchange LOC's or
"Letters Of Comment" about matters raised in articles. because they were hand-made, artwork was often original and hand-drawn.

The problem is that many of the functions that the fanzine used to service for the literary everyman have been usurped by other, more efficient internet-driven media. Whereas APA's struggled to distribute contributions from isolated members, internet forums and mailing lists take all the work out of it ... although alas perhaps some of the style as well? Similarly, whilst a Letter of Comment might be laboriously drafted and typed out, to be mailed off once a month, now we can dash off our thoughts and comments in a night, to see them exhibited and commented back on within minutes.

The internet is changing many of the things that made fanzines what they are. I found the article "Fanzines: Their Production, Culture and Future" by Phil Stoneman to be fascinating and stimulating reading, even though the thrust of the content was more on music 'zines in the UK. I particularly liked his comparison between Perzines and personal home pages, to which, given the speed with which things change, I would now add Blogs, Facebook or MySpace. These all facilitate cultural communication far quicker than the unwieldy fanzine yet ... I cannot help but think that it might be that very aspect of the intermittent nature of LOC's that makes them more valued.

The other fanzine for Day 2 is slightly more experimental and yet at the same time more traditional. Acrux is a fanzine that I publish as a personal project. Acrux is what you might call a blogzine, a fanzine created using Blogging software - very simple to set up and maintain and yet it has enough flexibility to have it's own individual look.

In my case, I've set up the front page using a four column template developed by Mauriya The Ripper and detailed by myself. This front page (set up to emulate the look of a four column newspaper) is the navigation and credits page, with everything linked to more standard formula Blog pages. My philosophy is to try to get closer to the format of yesterday whilst still using cutting edge technology so, if you see something that you think requires a response, feel free to leave me an electronic 'Letter of Comment".

What does the future hold for fanzines? Well they're certainly not going to disappear altogether. Perhaps they will be relegated in the not-so-distant future to a historical curiosity? Who know? If we take as given that "content is king" then how much should the fanzine need to change? I think the challenge is to utilise changing technology to improve the mechanics of production, delivery and feedback so that the writer's content can shine through in a stylish, stimulating and entertaining fanzine.

All that's needed is to work out just the right combination of good fiction partnered with intelligent comment and feedback. Planet fanzine and Sci Fi Studios Magazine are examples of what I see as a step in the right direction to creating an easy & consistent 'zine using blogging style software.

What is for sure is that there will be a steady and possibly growing audience for everyman publishing and for those interesting in fanzines I'd say, be bold! Go for it!

The free downloads linked from here are all fan productions. The trademarks and copyrights of Star Trek lie with CBS / Paramount and no profit can be directly or indirectly made from fan productions. Any attempt to sell, rent or otherwise make a profit from any of these projects will be reported to the copyright owners or their licensees for their action.

No comments: