RETURN OF THE SON OF THE FANZINE FANABLA!
Scuze me if this post don't look, feel and smell exactly the way like it should. The lack of cohesiveness all boils down to my having a bad time of it (really!) with my Pee-See, first with it shutting off indiscriminately making me think that some dreaded and incurable virus has inflicted it, and later (after sending my "tower" to the local Staples to have them remedy the problem) for some unspeakable reason have to endure the mutha running slower than a rancid syphilitic discharge. Not only that, but I had to spend the entire past evening (6:00 to midnight) on the phone with some guy from iyogi trying to get my Norton in shape (the antivirus people, not the record label) only to wake up this AM finding the computer running even slower and the Norton still not engaged! Finally I got the antivirus downloaded but the computer has pretty much gone to a standstill, giving me about as much frustration as I would have talking to an Alzheimer's-riddled octogenarian having to repeat myself over and over before getting a halting answer of sorts.
Let's just say that this particular blogger ain't quite the happy camper that he usually is. I'm a very exhausted, frustrated guy who feels more worn out than a prophylactic that's being shared by all of the Scotsmen at the lodge but (as usual) I am not gonna let that get in the way of presenting for you a great, info-packed and socially redeeming episode of BLOG TO COMM which is the obvious reason you tuned in inna first place (I think)!
Now that I got the introductory mood-setting jiz outta the way let's get down to the brass tacks of it all. Following are some reviews of a buncha fanzines that I have laid not only eyes and paws upon but full frontal lobes as well o'er the past few weeks, and rather'n let this weekend post go to rot w/o any creative juice flowing from my fertile brain I figured hey, why not? True I could, maybe even should be writing about fanzines that are closer to the BLOG TO COMM taproot of it all but hey, the likes of NEW AGE let alone more issues of INITIAL SHOCK are very few and far between so we'll just hafta make do with what some of you readers might think are "slim pickins". But as the old saying goes "if life gives you a yeast infection then MAKE BREAD!" And this go 'round we've got enough yeast on hand to supply an entire bakery or hey, maybe we can get some hops and barley and brew some beer!
***First up on today's fanabla's an English fanzine that I purchased if only outta sheer boredom. Even the most myopic follower of the form's gotta admit that the UK breed of self-published 'zines were never as good as many of the Amerigan or Canadian ones usually filled with old news, fashionable opinions and a general lackluster approach to an at-times lackluster subject at hand. Only THE NEXT BIG THING, BAM BALAAM (both of which were actually Scottish) as well as a few earlier stabs at the English fanzine genre were really of any consequence. Does ZIG ZAG count? I guess if VIBRATIONS could promote themselves as being a fanzine in the same fashion and manner as a TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE or CRETINOUS CRETENTIONS then hey, why not Pete Frame's brainkiddie?
SHEWS was but one of the many fanzines that plummeted out of England during the big p-rock explosion over there and hey, I gotta admit that this particular entry into the self-publishing sweepstakes was not one of those cheaply cranked-out ten-page excuses for SMART STREET PUBLISHING CREDO you used to see all over the place, especially the kind that were being put out by outta-nowhere jerks just like me. Nice saddle-stapled actual print job here, with fantastic layout and good writing skills to make this something a lot more than some four-paper staple PO Box affair. Looks like this ain't gonna be one of those sorry excuses for rock criticism/writing/journalism or whatever it's called these days, and hey it's a neat read t'boot!
A slim package true, but quite digestible. Perhaps a little misguided as the opening schpiel would lead me to believe since SHEWS begins their primo issue with a rather run-of-the-mill disdaining of big guns NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS complete with a pat putdown of Charles Shaar Murray. Naturally it's all done in that typical "let's dethrone the old fart to make way for the new fart" tradition, but whoever wrote this does "reckon (Julie) Burchill's o.k." which is a comment that I must admit sets this magazine off on the wrongest foot possible! Not that I should necessarily judge fanzines by their opening editorials, but it just goes to show you just who the English punks (and those on the periphery) thought were "the enemy" and who were their friends, and the results as they say just might surprise you!
Naturally I won't let this slice of fanzine snobbery ruin my opinion of SHEWS. Maybe I should, but there still are a few interesting items here that made for some good reading. Page two (more or less) not only has a rundown of the recent goings on on the London punkitude scene but a July '76-vintage Max's Kansas City listing, run probably to "illustrate" the Heartbreakers information that was being disseminated in the nearby vicinity. It's nice to know that I wasn't the only one running old CBGB and Max's gig listings in order to beef up my page space, and this particular 'un's a doozy because it shows us just how encompassing these so-called punk clubs were, at least between the time punk was on the way up and way down. For example I never knew that blues legend Louisiana Red played there, not to mention the fact that the strangely incongruous Suicide/Pezband/Kongress show was held at Max's on July 30th of that rock-active year!
Some interesting tidbits...when the Damned were caught shopping for records Captain Sensible was seen purchasing LED ZEPPELIN II and the Soft Machine while the rest were gobbling up the predictable MC5, Stooges and Ramones. Even more surprising was the admission from whoever was writing this that he liked the Slits' bassist because "she looked like a Runaways type" which not only shows you exactly what kind of differing opinions could be found in these fanzines but that the bathtub amphetamine that was going around London at the time was bound to cause blindness!
As for the rest...well, it does seem to stumble about in that same English fanzine sameness way that I really never did cozy up to that much. Nice enough two-page Damned photo spread, a Wilko Johnson bids farewell to Dr. Feelgood piece, Jean Jacques Burnel from the Stranglers getting on his anti-Amerigan soapbox...actually nothing that different from what the competition was doing but you gotta give SHEWS all credit for at least getting this out even if it is more than obvious the editorial board could have used a subscription to BACK DOOR MAN and DENIM DELINQUENT. SHEWS made for a few good minutes of diversion but frankly it, perhaps like some of the music being paid attention to at the time, comes off nth generation been there done that which is fine in itself even if some of the intensity seemed to be lost in the process.
***And now for the "serious" portion of our program, mainlly the sci-fi/comic book fanzines! As I've stated many a time, when I can't get my fanzine kicks rock-style I just settle for getting 'em comic book or sci-fi-wise! And, as anybody who's cruised the ebay fanzine listings can tell ya there are PLENTY of these fanzines up on the auction block just waiting to be bid on which is good for the comic book and outer space nuts but kinda frustrating for rockists like myself because...hey, these early-seventies rock 'zines are getting scarcer than virgins in Melbourne, and who knows if I ever will be able to score copies of many of these obscure wonders that I most truly desire!
Anyhoo the following two reads have a few things in common; both have that late-sixties/early-seventies youth ideal energy to 'em that seemed out of place once the altruistic sixties morphed into the snide seventies. Another thing of even more importance is that both of 'em decided to stick pix of topless gals on their covers perhaps as an expression of artistic freedom or better yet cheap thrills, to which I say "nice try guys, but your chicks ain't anywhere as sexy as the antenna'd alienoid that shows up on the cover of GRAPHIC ILLUSIONS"!
Not exactly being that overt a fan of science fiction, there has to be a good reason for me to want to pay upwards of ten smackers US for a classic-era fanzine dealing with said subject matter. Thus, the only reason that I even thought about picking up an issue of the English 'zine STARDOCK was for the article not on Michael Moorcock or 2001 but on Steve Ditko, who as anyone faithfully following this fanzine knows is one of my all-time favorite comic book delineators of SPIDER-MAN/DR. STRANGE/HULK you-name-it-he-drew-it fame. I always get a kick reading articles about the guy both pro and con considering just how hard Ditko continues to go out of his way to be controversial 'n all, and although I just knew that this particular Ditko article wasn't exactly going to be a positive assessment of his work I, trying to be the well rounded-out Ditko fan that I am, decided to purchase it anyway just to get the other side of the Ditko coin more or less. After all, even the staunchest pro-Ditko articles I've seen did take him to task for various issues...nothing wrong with that as long as the tone of the piece is well thought out and balanced, but unfortunately this particular piece was so ill-conceived and executed that I must admit that it didn't exactly make for an informative, fun-filled time.
The title alone sets the tone..."Why The Blue Beetle Voted For George Wallace" (written by a Michel Parry) lets us know right off the bat what the writer thinks about Ditko and his views, and as you could guess his opines are not exactly positive. Strangely enough, the ire of Mr. Parry's tome was not directed at Ditko's "moral avenger" MR. A. (the character who during the late-sixties was pretty much upsetting the Marvel Age readership who began getting even more comic kicks via the fanzine circuit) but his post-SPIDER-MAN Charlton-era hero Blue Beetle and specifically two sagas appearing in issue #5 of that character's short-lived title. Not having read this issue I'll have to summarize from Parry's piece exactly what the two stories in question that got the man so enraged were about...in the first entitled "Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes", Blue Beetle's alias overhears an art critic at a museum lecturing some typically shabby Ditko youth regarding a sculpture entitled "Our Man", a piece of modern art that this critic considers the perfect distillation of the human condition in today's (or to be more succinct, 1967's) totally messed up and phony world. "Our Man" is a wreck of a statue, a formless hunk of clay riddled with failure and neuroses, and compared with "The Unconquered", a sculpture which Blue Beetle considers Man at his Best the modern glop just seems to wither into a mass of frayed nerves. Of course this does not stop one of the hippoids named Hugo to create his OWN anti-hero, or villain if you will, based on "Our Man" and soon Hugo/"Our Man" sets about to destroy the rival statue for what it represents only to be thwarted by the Blue Beetle at which point Hugo sorta withers away from sight, the true representation of mankind symbolically surviving yet another attempt to be toppled by losers.
The second story in question has, no pun intended, "The Question" as its lead character. You may remember this guy as Ditko's own knock off of Mr. A. created to be more suitable for the comic book industry. You may also remember the Question for an issue-length saga that many consider one of the best to come out of the at-times lethargic late-sixties non-Marvel scene. I guess that's why Charlton copyright holders National Periodicals reprinted that particular mag as part of their end-of-millennium collection of the best DC (and related) titles of the past sixtysome years. Surprisingly enough, this story seems to have almost the exact same premise as the first and in fact features the same art historian from the lead saga, Ebar, as a main character. This time Ebar's singing the praises of a hilariously concocted painting (containing a foot and an opened up soup can amongst other pop arty spoofisms) dealing with "Man's Inhumanity to Man", which is (as you'd expect) countered with Sage and his female assistant's idea of mankind portrayed in a more positive light via a painting of a muscular man with hammer in hand standing amidst a jagged mass of rock. Ebar is somehow haunted by this presumably counter-revolutionary painting to the point where he, like Hugo in the previous story, wants it destroyed even going as far as to hire some thugs to have the questionable painting done away with. Finally the poor guy loses all control over himself and becomes a simpering ball of emotions because after all, he can never be the man that the painting he so loathes represents.
I'm only going by what Parry wrote so if the actual stories are quite different don't blame me. However, the guy's reaction to these two pieces are extremely annoying even if they are not totally unexpected. Maybe it's the mis-reading of Ditko that gets my goat here, and although Parry is allowed to have his own prejudices just like the rest of us this author seems to twist what Ditko is saying as a basis for Parry's very own defense, acceptance mind you, of the man of clay feet and imperfection as if it really is a representation of the typical human being. Yeah, I know many of us are in fact representative of this kinda fellow, but gosh-it-all, that doesn't mean we have to be like him let alone honor him in any way.
Some of Parry's comments are so downright hilarious in their youth culture righteousness that they only reinforce why the love generation was held in such contempt by the establishment at large. In the Blue Beetle story, a hippie steals a policeman's gun and tries to kill the superhero, to which Parry muses that perhaps the hippies turned to New Left violence because of the "distortions" against the peace movement presented in stories such as this one! Of course I can forgive the Englishman Parry for making a few errors in his piece regarding Amerigan culture, like confusing Joe Pyne and Johnny Carson as I'm sure a number of those who were not familiar with television in the USA might have, but as for the main gist of the thing all I gotta say is NO, the Blue Beetle would not have voted for George Wallace! After all, these libertarian/objectivist types were never too crazy about the idea of populism (Southern or otherwise) and had very low opinions regarding those whom they considered racist in even the remotest way categorizing them as being just as irrational as the violent youth and simpering politicians of the day. Sure it might have broken Parry's entire premise if he had only researched something along these lines, but as the blogmeisters and political/social commentators of today can tell you, why let facts get in the way of a good smearjob?
Even the ending summation stating that none other than arch comic book fiend Dr. Fredric Wertham would approve of the Blue Beetle is entirely wrongheaded. I guess Parry does not comprehend the fact that Wertham was a man whose ideals were closer to his own than to Ditko's for he was a Marxist, not a card carrying communist or anything along those lines but a believer in the cause for whom comic books were just another form of the capitalist stranglehold on all of us mindless boobs at large which needed to be policed by right-minded eggheads such as himself. Such opinions could easily enough be found not only in Wertham's infamous SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT but in other tomes where he seems to put the blame on everything wrong with our society not on the individuals who were causing the problems, but on the society itself. A reading of Wertham's early seventies THE WORLD OF FANZINES where the doctor glowingly rambles on about the variety of comic fanzine stories that portray various anti-war and anti-prejudice opines in the sappiest 1971 neo-hippiest fashion imaginable was ample enough evidence of this supposed scion of the "repressed" fifties' true colors. If Joe McCarthy had gone after Wertham, the wrongfully-disgraced senator would be a hero today. It's no wonder that the same fanzine cadre that tried to divorce Ditko from his beliefs oh-so-hard-like were more than ever anxious to eventually claim a camaraderie with Wertham when his Old Left sense of social planning ultimately collided with their New Left spine of jelly.
I'll have to admit that there was one miniscule claim in Parry's piece that I did agree with, and that was when Sage's galpal held up the painting considered to be representative of the Positive Man. Parry did mention how that piece of work looked more like a Stalin-era proletariat poster and I certainly can see his point. (He also remarked that the sculpture put forth as an example of the true human spirit in the first story was more representative of Steve Reeves than anything Apollonian.) Of course what Ditko intends and draws does not mean that the viewer will observe and translate into his mind the message that Ditko is transforming into print, which is I guess the whole point of this article whether Parry himself intended it to be or not.
The rest of STARDOCK is taken up by sci-fi rumblings and the aforementioned Moorcock piece not forgetting the usual artwork which this time ranges from "eh!" to "feh!" The nice slick paper and effort put into the publication of such a fanzine can't hide the fact that it's nothing really that spectacular, and for science fiction/comic book maniacs who tend to hold the same personal points of view while held up in their hobbits.
***About a year or so ago I reviewed what I believe was the final issue of SENSE OF WONDER,a fanzine that was published by comic fanzine chronicler Bill Schelly between the mid-sixties and early-seventies. Since that time I've chanced upon this particular issue which I must admit is a good 'un even in a field where there were plenty of good examples of top notch comic fanzines, but still there seems to be something missing that keeps this issue from being a real A #1 winner. Can't put my finger on exactly as to why this is right now but...
There is much to love about this issue (#11). F'rexample, the print job is immaculate and a real come up from the fanzine's xerox roots back when SENSE OF WONDER could clearly and honestly be categorized as a "crudzine". I could only wish that my old BLACK TO COMM would have turned out looking as immaculate as this 'un. But as we all know, ya can't judge a fanzine by its outward appearance and it's what's on the inside that really counts, just like with us human beings!
And what is on the inside does...well, vary. The ish starts off with an actual Steve Ditko MR. A. saga (a story that was originally slated to appear in the more fan-oriented STAR-STUDDED COMICS but was axed due to space, or that title folding, or something along those lines) that has since been reprinted in one of those recent Ditko exhumations that I've been telling you about over the past few months. Kinda surprising to see SENSE OF WONDER handling this story especially after the way Ditko ranted and raved about the previous use of his work in that title, but as Schelly said in his autobiography not-so-surprisingly titled SENSE OF WONDER the publication of this particular story went off without a hitch. The text on SPIRIT creator Will Eisner was particularly pleasant mainly because this was written (1972) before the cult surrounding Eisner got so big that even little outta-the-loop folk like myself knew who he was. Schelly's writeup on that hard-covered EC HORROR LIBRARY collection that was going for like a whopping $12 back then was also one worthy of the best descriptive cliches, perhaps because that particular book was one of the very few sources we had for EC comics back in the early/mid-seventies unless you wanted to dish out a buck each for those "East Coast" reprints or could still find those mid-sixties Ballantine paperbacks at a flea market somewhere.
As for the rest well, this issue withers and flop about just like a fair portion of the rest of that comic fanzine work of the day which, despite the best of intentions and talent, seemed aimless and too in-joke/referential for outsiders like myself to really appreciate. I mean "Captain America Bunny"...cuh-MONH!!! That one doesn't work either as homage or satire of funny animal titles or the good Cap himself being totally devoid of humor, pathos, energy or just plain fun! "Rites of Man", the collaboration twixt Schelly and artist Robert Sanborn, also lets down bigtime especially after the way Schelly mentioned it as his own personal pride and joy creation in a variety of comic book fanzine histories published over the years. What I thought was going to be a powerful drama in the tradition of an old Harvey Kurtzman war comic was just more warmed over early-seventies melancholia and quasi-humanist bleating sans any soul-jarring power. Y'know, the kinda stuff like BILLY JACK that might have wowed the iron-haired gals back in 1971 but was rendered totally obsolete once 1973 rolled around and the likes of Alice Cooper and Marc Bolan made those fiber-laden folkies look like total stroons. Better CAPTAIN AMERICA'S BEST RED-BAITING COLD WAR STORIES than this!
But in all I like SENSE OF WONDER when it gets off its high hippie horse and settles into a good fanzine groove similar to the other big titles of the day. It could be easy just to write the whole thing off as one big error in the art of fandom, but despite the dated stories that backfire there's much good about this issue that's not gonna stop me from trying to find more of this "Hamster Press" offering once they hit the ol' ebay auctions.