Wednesday, March 07, 2012

As you might know, one of the better "fringe benefits" of being involved in the fanzine world is that, at least for a few lucky bastards out there, such publications have been pretty convenient stepping stones into the bright and lucrative world of professional creative expression. Or better yet, a nice fat paycheck since eating unsold fanzines can be rough on the digestion. Well, at least the fanzines of yore were a good place for goombahs just like you'n I to start out 'n work their not-always-rehashed ideas into something a li'l more cohesive before they headed out into the big bad world to make their mark in life. Jerry Siegel and Jerome Schuster did it with their early-thirties 'zine SCIENCE FICTION (which I guess wasn't as overworked a term in '33 as it would be a good three or so decades later), while a good portion of the comic book industry grew out of the burgeoning sci-fi and comic book fandom of the forties onward which must have been a dream come true for all of those overgrown adolescents who have been running the business for the past umpteen years. As far as the "rock journalism" industry went, the likes of such professionals as Don Waller, Sandy Pearlman and Lindsay Hutton got their starts in fanzines and hey, even some of the big boys like Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer were more than willing to toss some of their work that was too outre for CREEM to a variety of low-budget outings that most certainly could have used the BIG NAME front cover come-on to pull in an extra few sales.

Sure, most of the people who wrote for and published fanzines remained stuck in neutral never making the indent they most certainly craved to do (present company included), but the few who were able to go places were smart enough to take their fanzine-level acumen and make a indelible mark at whatever they were doing, just as long as they whored out and did what the powers that be deemed as all nice puppets do. That's undoubtedly the reason why the professional rock critiquing scene of today's such a sucky endeavor next to what had transpired a good fortysome years back...after all, why do you think Jan Wenner sent his attack pooch Parke Puterbaugh to badmouth Lester Bangs as well as Bangs bio author Jim DeRogatis when the latter's Bangs bio hit the shelves (which I guess was the modern day equivalent of Henry VIII ordering his men to desecrate the resting place of Thomas a Becket)?  And why high energy rock, once the cornerstone of the business, was eventually held in utter contempt while squeaky-clean post-hippoid musings eventually ruled the airwaves!!!

But why should I keep crying over lost hopes and what-should-have-beens if only to pad these nauseating posts out even more? Today I'm gonna tell you about a complete run of fanzines that I just got my paws on...not the originals which would set me back a good bazillion dollars but some early-eighties reprints that I've been wanting to read for eons. Fanzines that I'm sure nobody cares about these days lest they are staunch comic historians or satire nuts, and I think there are a few of 'em out there in the sample BLOG TO COMM audience, huh?

Actually if it weren't for the fact that FOO was published by a teenbo Robert (soon to be "R") Crumb I don't think anybody woulda paid attention to this obvious post-Kurtzman fanzine one bit. Well, that is nobody other'n the few other miscreants doin' the lampooning fanzine bit which was heavily influenced by the comic book version of MAD and the various swipes and homages that had sprung up as the decade was careening towards the early-sixties space age upheaval of coolness. There were a number of others mind you such as JACK HIGH (which was the earliest showcase of Jay Lynch's work), ODD,  Jay Kinney's NOPE, THE FARCE OF FANDOM and who but you could forget FANDOM FUNNIES.  Latching onto these magazines can also get to be pricey once a rare copy gets put up for auction on ebay (I bid on copies of all at various times and usually got outpriced within the matter of a few hours), so maybe that's why I figured that I better grab up this ltd. ed. rerun before even that's gone for all eternity because as we all know, fanzines such as these are nothing but cheap imitations of the real thing, and in these budget-strapped times the cheap imitation usually takes precedence!

As you can see I reprinted the fancy schmancy sleeve which encased these FOO's, since underground impressario and satire fanzine editor in his own right (FANFARE) Marty Pahls' sleeve notes give you a good enough historical background w/o me having to pop my own two cents in. But as you can read with your own eyes (just click it for larger type!), there was a nice budding "underground" of MAD fans who were willing to give the lampooning game a try as well as a lotta networking goin' on via the trading of various wares 'n letters which I'm sure are also hitting the high-priced market these days. I would guess that FOO was typical of the lot from the obvious MAD comic book styled cover to the various inside gag jokes and ideas that were pilfered from that classic read. Well, at least the idea of paying homage to your influences in this fashion wasn't hackneyed like it would be by the seventies and eighties with EC cover swipes galore and of course (in the non-mainstream record world) all of the mock up covers and labels that eventually looked silly unless it was Norton Records doing the mocking natch!

Of course one of the bigger surprises one's gonna notice while thumbing through these fanzines is that it ain't Robert who was the wit and wisdom behind FOO, but his older brother Charles who created all three of the fanzine's cover drawings and whose artwork clearly outshines Robert's various submissions. Not that R doesn't do a pretty good job himself with his early sketchy style but Charles' work is more evocative of the various qualities that he is honoring as well as parodying. The guy also does a pretty heart-felt if fannish homage to the EC horror comics in issue #1's "Revenge", the story about a guy who hates his father so much he buries him alive, and although it's nothing that'll make ya wanna gag'r anything it still is a nice encapsulation of the entire EC spirit if only through the pen of a teenage fanatic. And as far as noting and remembering a trend in comic books that's only been gone three years yet it might as well have been a million, I'd say that Charles did a rather noble job of it. Keen eyes will note a sly Jack Davis swipe on the fifth and final page of this downright unfunny saga that woulda been more in tune with one of the many EC drooling fanboy appreciations of the sixties, as if EC swiping wasn't anything new in comic fandom for the next forty or so years to come!.

R's contributions almost seem to be lighthearted in comparison with a lot of that fifties cool-thunk hipsterism that everybody from the likes of Stan Freberg, Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs, Jean Shepard and of course Harvey Kurtzman himself used to wallow in. Maybe that sophisticado take on the do anything for a laugh schpiel didn't come off so hot a good decade later after Frank Zappa, Cheech and Chong  and ultimately Howard Stern copped that style and stretched it into areas once unthinkable, but back '58 way I'm sure there were more'n a few bedroom hipsters who probably wore glasses even thicker'n Crumb who thought themselves high-falutin' for osmosing these personalities' entire snatness. Ish #1's "Report From the Brussel's World's Fair" has a cartoon Crumb interviewing everybody from Bert and Harry Piels of oldtime animated beer commercial fame to getting involved in a food riot before finding a vendor selling hot dogs for two bucks apiece (which doesn't necessarily tend to make any big impression now, but in '58 the big controversy was when the price of dogs when up from a nickel to a dime!). Issue #2's "My Encounter With Dracula" once again has Crumb portraying himself as a ball (as in dance)-goer whose trip takes a rather strangeoid detour into the darker reaches. And #3's "Kruschev Visits US!!" and "Jack Webb's Noah's Ark" are remarkable for the fact that the former's a rather standard Cold War one-beat joke that woulda fit in just about any of the professional humor magazines that were cluttering up the newsstands at the time (and seems rather straight 'n narrow for a guy who would be doing class war drawings only a few years later) and the latter I have no idea as to what is being spoofed or how it fits into whatever Jack Webb was doing when this 'un hit

The other contributors to FOO are what'cha'd call standard fanzine humorists who are mostly working in comedy levels so steeped in tired old gags and cliches that only I could laugh at their work. Mike Britt's "Bug Rogers" in ish one's a good example. David Landson's and W. Scully's contributions in # 3 are slightly clever, though you woulda thought they'd've sent their work to some higher circulation sci-fi fanmag where it most definitely'd fit in a whole lot better. But hey, what can I say other'n I really enjoyed the overall effort and results that went into these three issues, badgags, misfires and general obscurities aside. Efforts like this are engrossing even if the intended results seem to have strayed far beyond the intended target (which, as a former publisher/editor of a fanzine myself I can tell you is nothing outta the ordinary) and even if jokes fall flat or some snobbiod'd just look down upon the entire affair ("For an extra dime I can buy the REAL THING at the newsstand!") I can sure find a lot of worth and entertainment in these 'zines which might've floundered just a tad bit, but then again next to what I coulda done when we were their ages I think the results are marvelous!

Hope I don't get into any trouble reprinting the following story from the final issue which not only shows off more of brother Charles' developing style (this being long before he freaked out and became a "zen master" to rival Mr. Natural with the ability to swallow an electrical extension cord and defecate it w/o it getting all bunched up inside him) but of the style of humor the brothers were dabbling in during the time. The old TOM AND JERRY cartoons don't usually get the satirical treatment so let's just say this story, even with the weird twist it takes halfway through, is a welcome change from the usual comic strip/superhero lampooning seen in these fanzines. It's stories like this that go to show you just how fun and energetic those oft-loathed post-World War II/pre-hippie revolt days really were no matter how hard your usual sourpuss naysayer stamps his feet in abject protest before regaling you about the time he proudly took part in a tribal circumcision ritual while working for the Peace Corp in Burundi, and how he still has the scars to prove it (ouch!). So, as Jimi Hendrix said to Vin Scelsa in the men's room at the Fillmore East...dig it.

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