Rob Jan, 2017.
Wilson (Bob) Tucker, Le Zombie, vol. 4, no. 3, April 1941.
Rob Jan at 3RRR, 2010.
Captain's Log, Austrek Newsletter, 1997.
G'day, I'm Rob Jan and I do the science fiction fantasy show Zero G on 3RRR FM. We're on every Monday between 1 and 2pm. I've been doing that since 1994, so we recently celebrated our 20th anniversary, well past that now though.
Our co-presenter is Megan McKeough and we basically will cover anything that's other – essentially from the science fiction perspective and the fantasy one, which is the easy one, but also historical, because it's future-past, so you look at one or the other aspect of things.Next up: What's your definition of a zine?
What's your definition of a zine?
A zine, from a science fiction perspective, is a fanzine essentially. Usually they're a compilation of short stories, some serial stories, poetry, a lot of artwork and also letters of comment, which are very important in the fanzine world because that's the feedback that you get.
They're usually bound up semi-professionally, or professionally in some cases: spiral binding, staples (staples are an old 'staple' for fanzines), then they've usually got card covers, they try not to have them too floppy over time – but it depends and, of course, over the years the technology's changed as well. They went from Roneo, Gestetner spirit duplication, right through to early offset printing and photocopying later on. That was the big thing in the '90s – everyone would have their own rented photocopier in their house and they'd do the fanzines there. Later on they went onto digital means, of course. So some of those are actually just printed online and are not actually physically manifest in the real world.Next up: How did science fiction fanzines start up in Australia?
How did science fiction fanzines start up in Australia?
This has always been the thing about science fiction magazines in Australia, fanzines in Australia. They sort of plugged the gap back in the 1940s and there are a couple of examples of science fiction fanzines in the collection there – I think Le Zombie and Antipodes. Now those magazines – one of those is an overseas one from the United States, the other one, Antipodes, was produced here locally in Australia by Lee Harding. Now those magazines, in Australia we had a shortage of material coming from the United States and Britain because of the war. Not only was there a paper shortage but there was also a shortage of that material, they weren't bringing it over. So that vacuum was being filled by local fanzines in Australia.
And the same thing happened in the 1970s. There wasn't much Star Trek around that was new and so we thought, 'Well, we'll make our own.' So that's a lot of Star Trek fanzines and newsletters – and it's important to actually remember that the two were coupled together. A fanzine might only come out once every two months or something, or one month, but the newsletter would be there quite constantly throughout the year, so you'd get this interplay between the newsletters, where you'd get quick comment (not as quick as the internet but still relatively quick) and the fanzines. So there were two ones there. Austrek had The Captain's Log, which was the newsletter, and SPOCK. That was an acronym, strangely enough – it stood for 'Star Trek Propaganda On Club Kids'. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, but there you were.Next up: How did you develop your own style of artwork?
How did you develop your own style of artwork?
I was very interested in the types of artwork that I could experiment with because there were different technologies in play as we went along and it was all about what would reproduce the best using the technology. Pencil drawings didn't reproduce too well with the printing, but pen and ink, that was the one that worked the most. So I did a lot of pen and ink work. But I wanted to extend it further.
There seemed to be a standard type of artwork where you take a publicity photo – nothing as simple as a DVD screenshot back then – and then you would duplicate the photo in your chosen art medium. So you'd have your picture of Kirk or Spock or whatever – I didn't want to do that, I wanted to put me into the picture, not as a character but with my own style.
So a lot of the things that I was doing were experimental for me. I went from pen and ink, doing what they call 'stipple work' – doing dots to represent the shading, which reproduced quite well – to cross-hatching, which was a bit faster than stippling. Then I started doing some experimental space scapes. Like I would use a toothbrush to flick latex frisketing film onto a piece of paper or cardboard, then I'd let that dry and paint it all black, and then peel off the latex and it would give you a star field. I also did it the other way round, which was to paint something black and then use a toothbrush to flick liquid paper onto it to create star fields.
Then there was airbrushing, I got into that too, which meant that I was using plastic film that you stick on as low sort of tack plastic film, and you cut out shapes in it and then you use the airbrush over that and then peel it all off and hopefully it comes out as a wonderful picture.
Now another thing I was doing was scratchboard, that was one of the more sophisticated techniques, even though it's very old, where you've got a sheet of card that's covered in a layer of white clay, very, very ultrathin and it's been set. And then you paint it black with ink and then you go in with knives and scratch away. Kids do this in school with crayons and paint and stuff, but this is a very complicated way of doing it. It produces some really quite finely detailed drawings that way and these reproduced really, really well with the technology that we were using at the time.
So I learnt a lot just experimenting with this, doing a lot of graphic design too, because one of my things was doing spaceships. So I would depict these in three-point perspective. I'd be using French curves, I'd be using all the rules of graphic communications that we learnt in school – and later on I naturally gravitated to the first graphics program. So I was using MS Paint – I still use that to this day, it's great for sketching in. CorelDRAW with vector graphics. Photoshop, of course, so I graduated to using photos that I would collage together, as well as real collage too – you know, actually physically cutting things up.
A lot of that kind of work – I felt it really helped expand my artistic palette to be able to do that and have an audience for it too. To have a venue to have it published in, and you could just do the whole project and see it there.
But they were mad days – you'd stay up all night hitting deadlines. I remember we lost the power in our house, the entire power system went out, and I had a deadline in three days' time, and so I spent three days doing an elaborate face portrait by candlelight.Next up: What role did networking and socialising play in publishing your fanzine?
What role did networking and socialising play in publishing your fanzine?
The social side of fanzines, my god! Because it was a club, there was that aspect to start with, so you'd go off to the club and you'd talk to people. You'd talk about the fanzine that you'd been part of. But there was a logistics side to that as well. I'd printed the fanzines at someone's house using the photocopier, turned the handle on the spirit duplicator, all that sort of stuff. Then I'd be part of the collating party, where we'd have the fanzine on massive tables, kitchen tables, on backs of couches and everything. We'd all walk around like something out of Midnight Express, picking up one sheet of paper at a time, collating them and then getting the big staple gun (and I mean a massive one) and punching it through.
It's funny, I've seen some of those fanzines in various collections since and they're so old now that the staples have rusted and it makes me think, 'Well, I'm still going alright, I'm not rusty I hope.'
And then you'd have to bundle them up and put them into a big carry bag and I remember that, it's one of those sort of plastic hessian bags, and they're blue and red and white striped, and they're big, massive things – they're just junk bags. We'd carry them off to the GPO – you'd have to lodge them there. They'd have all of the standard postage sort of things that were on them as well, the declarations and copyright and all that kind of thing. And then we'd have to take one copy of the newsletter and of the magazine and lodge them at the State Library in their collection. So, that was fun too.
So there was all this massive logistical chain and of course this meant interacting with lots and lots of people. This was something I had not done at the time. So this was a big introduction to society, people, to camaraderie. It was great; the social side of it was quite unusual for me at the time and that of course is where I met Paula Ruzek, who was the president of the club at one stage, and she was the person who came up with the Zero G idea and we took it off to RRR and the rest is history. Bouncing out into deep space at the speed of light with the radio signal out now a quarter century into the void.Next up: How do you think the internet has changed fanzines and independent publishing?
How do you think the internet has changed fanzines and independent publishing?
I think one of the things about the internet and having online zines, basically – can you still call them zines? They're not magazines, are they? I don't know, it's hard to say. One of the things about that is they can be a quite hazardous space to inhabit. You are at the mercy of the comment stream, which happens at the speed of light. It is anonymous, so people can say what they want to say. Editors can never keep abreast of that, moderators – they just can't! There's no way to do it in real time, all the time, because the planet's 24 hours around, so somebody putting something on in one part of the world may not be seen for another 12 hours. Yeah, it might get taken down then. So that's quite hazardous to people.
On the other hand, it's kind of good too because you get instant feedback. You don't have to wait a month for the newsletter to come out or for the next fanzine to come out in two months' time with its letters of comment. So you get instantaneous feedback. We've already seen how that works with other social media – like Flickr, for example, Instagram, Facebook too. But it does make me wonder, because we are now all our own publishers. I mean Zero G has a Facebook page, we all have our own personal social media, we're all creating our own zines all the time. So I don't know if you actually need, as such, fanzines in the same way that we did. That need is being filled there.
However, it is still a safer place at least to put stuff into print. That still has those same rules applying. Well, okay, you may have the instantaneous comment on the website of the fanzine but it's still going to take you a month to print it out and produce it. So there is a buffer there. Plus the editors also exist online as well as in the fanzine. So if you print something in the fanzine, the editors get a good shot at moderating it beforehand. They're not being bombarded by a thousand different comments. So I think that there is still a place for zines there. Are they still relevant? Oh, hell yeah!Next up: Are there any parallels between fanzines and the science fiction magazines of the 1940s?
Are there any parallels between fanzines and the science fiction magazines of the 1940s?
I was looking online for some information about one of the magazines in the collection, Le Zombie, April 1941, produced by Bob Tucker out of Bloomington, Illinois, and he had a connection with Forrest J Ackerman who did Famous Monsters of Filmland, a professional film magazine, which every person growing up in the '60s and '70s just loved. It was basically a film magazine that was devoted to science fiction, fantasy and horror. And Forry Ackerman, 'the Ackermonster' as he was called, he had this magnificent collection of science fiction magazines and artefacts, many of which he had sourced from Hollywood technician special effects people. And he was actually distributing Le Zombie a little bit.
And so when I was researching that, I found them all online, they'd all been uploaded diligently, and it was a window into the past showing that it wasn't entirely different from the 1990s. There was the hand-drawn artwork, the short stories, the fiery letters of comment between fans as they had little disputes about things – was Starship Troopers fascist or not? You know, that sort of thing – 1940 a little bit early for that, but those magazines were essentially the same as the fanzines that were in the 1970s and '90s, printed a little bit differently, usually a little bit smaller, but nevertheless, still the same.
And having it downloadable is really quite useful, not only from the point of view of research but also just the nostalgia. Being able to go back and confirm that they were just the same, that those fans could have been us. And some of those fans are still around, and you can go back and have a chat with them about the old days and they will tell you about it all the time.Next up: What were some of the quirks of Star Trek fandom?
What were some of the quirks of Star Trek fandom?
In terms of what you would have called 'flame wars' back in the days of fanzines and letter columns, and people having disputes back and forwards over 'which is the best Star Trek?', 'which Enterprise was the best spaceship?', 'who was the best captain of the Enterprise?', that kind of thing – one of the things about Star Trek fandom in particular, we actually had a moral code.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, had invented this thing called 'IDIC' – 'infinite diversity in combination' – which was all about encouraging equality amongst all different races, creeds, colours, and I mean species of beings out there in the universe. So you might end up having a dispute with somebody and then somebody else would wag their finger at you and say, 'That's hardly in the spirit of IDIC.'
Now, I don't know too many other fandoms that had anything like that, so we had a kind of a moderation there. Of course, if you happened to support the evil bad guys in Star Trek, the Klingons, then you could get away with just about anything, it didn't matter.Next up: Tell us about your collection of fanzines.
Tell us about your collection of fanzines.
It's a fairly common experience for people to move house and for people who've got libraries to move – you know how much they weigh and how much it costs to move and how much time it takes to pack everything. So when I was approached about this exhibition of zines, I thought, 'Oh, I've got to pack up some books and fanzines, this might be a good idea to go through some stuff.' Not exactly have a cull but we have a lot of doubles of things because my partner was an editor of a fanzine. So I would get contributor's copies, she'd have her own copies, we don't really need to have both copies. So we were able to donate a few of them to the Library's collection.
There was a whole bunch of SPOCKs from Austrek's Star Trek fanzine collection, so quite a few of those early ones and later ones. They ran from about issue number 1 to about into the 50s and 60s, that kind of number. And also a lot of overseas fanzines, not just Star Trek ones but I think some Blake's 7 ones, other media properties, even some Space magazines that I contributed to in a small way back in the '90s. And what I'd actually done after I'd spent a lot of time putting artwork and articles into the local fanzines, into Austrek's ones in Victoria, I spread the artwork and the articles out like a franchise, kind of like Star Trek itself going syndicated. I spread them out to the interstate Star Trek fanzines and from there it was the world!
So a lot of the artwork and stories went out overseas and that kind of reached a high watermark in the 1990s. There were magazines coming back to me from New Zealand, from the United States, a couple from the UK, actually a lot from the United States. And that actually was a lot of fun because I was getting stuff back in these exotic mailing packages with stamps, and that was part of the thing. You could do that and be collecting experiences from all over the world – it was nice. It was like how people will send you cards back saying, 'I heard your radio show in Moscow. I heard it at this time, on this frequency, etc.' They still actually do that with podcasts, by the way. So there was that aspect of being in touch with exotic locations.
It actually got out of hand. Bjo Trimble, who was one of the people who was instrumental in saving Star Trek in its third season, original season, she got hold of some of the work as well and she published the Star Trek Concordance, which is an encyclopaedia of Star Trek. So she was using my artwork in that as well as other local Australian artists. So we kind of thought of that as a high watermark because there it was in the magazine, in the actual reference encyclopaedia. So it was kind of art meeting life meeting art, and coming back again and reflecting itself.
So there was a lot of fanzines that I donated that were like that, and they were incredible pieces of work from the United States! They had colour covers, they were professionally bound. One of the fanzines or a couple of them were nothing more than indexes to the other fanzines. These things were about the size of telephone books, full of meticulously annotated text with all sorts of little details telling you that so and so had done a magazine article in this issue back in 1995. I got contributor's copies from those, not just because I put articles in the fanzines they were talking about but because they were using my artwork to illustrate the entries. It was a very strange time.Next speaker: John Stevens