Wednesday, May 13, 2009

FANZINE REVIEW: RATS! #16 (edited by Bill Kunkel, August 1972 issue)

The stranger the fanzine the better. How many times have you heard that well-worn motto bantered around the fandom circuit anyway? Well, not as many times as a fanzine fanatic of the seventies variety like myself would wish, especially with the reams of generally substandard and downright instant douse wipes that I and presumably you have encountered for quite a loooooooong time. But yes, there have been strange fanzines out there and they have been better, or at least better than the fanzines that were purporting to be strange but merely came off peculiar. Not to mention pallid, pale and downright puke-inducing. Yes, for every TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE there must have been twenty or so TOO FUN TOO HUGEes and as luck would have it it's probably the latter 'zine (this being from the post-"fanzine" era, as if the term "fanzine" denotes middle-class suburban fans of the form instead of urban sophisticados who are too proud to clean their own behinds) which "people" know the best these days given how it seems as if history going beyond a good twenty years is considered ANCIENT anymore.

Talkin' 'bout strange, RATS! rates pretty high at least on my strange-meter mainly because it's a rag that I for one can't categorize no matter how hard I read up down and between the lines here. I think it's outta the Sci Fi genre since it was edited by a Bill Kunkel who I think was an up-there member of the Sci-Fi fandom crowd, but amongst the contributors here are not only Greg Shaw right around the time he was to make an exit from Sci Fi fandom full blast but Richard Meltzer, a guy whom I didn't think writ anything outside of rock spheres other'n a few blasts here 'n there but he shows up in this read'n not with just a mere paragraph or so but EIGHT WHOLE PAGES which is more than he ever wrote for your fanzine so don't go poo-pooin' this effort because it sure has a whole load of other reads out there in fanzine land beat all hollow!

RATS! does have many of the "trappings" of a typical early-seventies fanzine (Sci Fi or otherwise)...Jay Kinney art, typewritten innards akin to those old WHO PUT THE BOMPs, construction paper pages, obscure cartoons etc. And surprisingly it has very little if anything in the way of actual Science Fiction coverage. In some ways RATS! was a precursor to the "personalist" fanzines of the nineties re. the editor talking about his duodenal ulcer to what he was currently watching on telly (UFO, M*A*S*H, some Leonardo DaVinci documentary), not forgetting some interesting tidbits on ol' Al Jarry and the debut performance of his UBU ROI performed by puppets, but even with the eclecticism RATS! seems to be a fanzine that is more or less about being a fanzine and nothing else! I believe that the term "genzine" might be best put to use here but even that was more or less used to describe the rock fanzines of the early-seventies that weren't pigeonholed into a certain aspect of fandom (say, an artist or particular style of teenage pop music) such as FLASH so really, I'm not sure how I'm gonna dewey decimal this 'un into my fanzine collection since it certainly won't fit in with any of the categories whether mentioned or not in this article.

Not that any of this detracts from RATS! being a pretty hotcha fanzine read despite it's difficulty to discuss. Naturally for me the Shaw and Meltzer articles are the highlights...Shaw clocks in with a piece on rock & roll freebies, this being during the Golden Age of Promotions when rock critics and even "ex"-critics of a Meltzerian variety were getting inundated with exquisite and even expensive baubles promoting whatever up-and-coming act or album needed that big money push. Not only were Rolling Stones tongue patches being delivered to the likes of Mr. Shaw but he even received an inflatable cow udder used to promote Pink Floyd's ATOM HEART MOTHER as well as a whole buncha badges that I'm sure would fetch a nice amount if placed on the auction block these days. (I remember reading an article which mentioned a Jeremy Steig album being pushed with an actual nickel-plated flute which I guess even put the infamous 1969 Sha Na Na promotional package to shame pomade and all!) Meltzer does even better with his eight pages reviewing everything from PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT (the long-forgotten Richard Benjamin vehicle based on Phillip Roth's personal jackoff) to future ALL IN THE FAMILY supporting actress Liz Torres doing here "pregnant" rendition of McCartney's "Yesterday" at the Continental Baths (a skit she actually repeated on Don Ho's short lived ABC daytime television series). Meltzer's by-now famous instructions on how to preserve stillborn kittens in lime Jello and how Janis Joplin's nipples would have been great set in celery gelatin for the festive holiday season is repeated as well, not forgetting this extremely high-larious saga about his "involvement" in the apa-zine movement and his creation of some rather unique (pardon me and my typical loss for words) contributions in the form of some of the strangest examples of fanzines-as-visual art since AJAX, with everything from pubic hairs taped to pages plus dried come (a stunt he actually pulled on Imants Krumins!) on a page all of which got the guys runnin' this thing kinda grossed out albeit they showed their indignation with typical fanzine coolness. Not that they didn't like off-color contributions since they actually printed a drawing of some guy whizzing into a bottle, but having actual below-the-waist refuse (which they apparantly mistook as dried urine!) sent to them was what would be called "beyond the pale". Let's just say that if any of you have an issue of PISSDOODLE you not only have a bonafide Meltzer readymade, but a whole lotta DNA on your hands (or at least your magazine!).

It's a good fanzine. Up there with FLASH and TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE (even personal fave NHRP) in the top ten of self-produced ragdom for that year. Just try getting a copy nowadays though even if you need it more than you need these new specialty blog where one-dimensional losers plug their pathetic "indie" labels rehashing quarter-century-old junk in new wine skins, or something just about as equally odious to lovers of the true form.


Bill Kunkel said...

Haven't seen THAT cover in a long time. Always loved Meltzer's stuff and he was great to write that for me. And of course I miss Greg.

RATS! was one of the Brooklyn Insurgent fanzines, along with POTLATCH and FOCAL POINT though mine was more "out there."

These were genzines/personalzines -- offshoots of sf fandom called "fannish" fanzines that almost never mentioned science fiction. Arnie and Joyce Katz and I later helped create videogame journalism and created ELECTRONIC GAMES magazine, the world's first e-game publication in '81.

Have any other issues?

--Bill Kunkel (aka The Game Doctor)

Christopher said...

The only RATZ I have is the one mentioned in my review. How about putting ALL of it online???

Bill Kunkel said...

First I'd have to find them. I suspect one or two issues might be on, but I'll see what I can find.