Finished Xerox Ferox Cover Art, But Still Suffering Flashbacks…
To sort of celebrate the completion of my cover art for John Szpunar‘s forthcoming Headpress book Xerox Ferox—more on the book, and the cover art, next week, here!—I thought some folks might enjoy a brief overview of my own horror/sf/exploitation film fanzine body of work. Just an overview. I’ll save more meat-and-potatoes flashbacks and analysis for later in the summer, closer to Xerox Ferox‘s publication.
* Before I graduated from Harwood Union High School (Duxbury, VT) in 1973, I was already mail ordering genre zines. It was a lifeline of sorts, and in my senior year I screwed up the courage to start sending artwork to a few of my favorite zines. This was before photocopiers were accessible to lowly rural hayseeds like myself, so once I sent away a drawing, that was it—I couldn’t keep a copy of it, and sending original art was the only option.
The first zine publisher/editor to respond to my humble efforts and fan letters was Ohio-based Greg Shoemaker, who had begun publishing his groundbreaking Japanese Fantasy Film Journal in 1968 and continued with a run of 15 issues, each better than the one before. I began ordering Greg‘s zine around the time of his third or fourth issue—oh, man, I wish I still had those zines today! At some point in time, I loaned or gave them to an interested friend, and that was that.
Greg kindly wrote back to me and encouraged me, and I finally sent a piece of artwork—a portrait of the Manster—that made the grade. It saw print in one of the final issues of JFFJ, years after I’d mailed to to Greg, but it did see print, and that was important to me, and an inspiration to keep trying. Thanks, Greg! Forever in your debt.
* My next positive zine experience was with Ohio-based (what is it with Ohio and great genre zines?*) Ted Rypel, editor/publisher of The Outer Limits: An Illustrated Review. TOLAIR was an ambitious and (at the time, 1977-78) definitive Outer Limits companion, and though it lasted only two issues, it set a new standard for all that followed in the movie/TV zine scenes. I mail ordered both issues and immediately upon receiving #1 struck up a correspondence with Ted, who responded enthusiastically to my submissions of artwork and published my Zanti Misfits portrait in TOLAIR #2.
I was, by this time, a student at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art in Dover, NJ, and offering much more polished work. My best work never saw publication, but only because TOLAIR folded up shop: there just wasn’t the audience or the means for Ted to continue his ambitious venture. I’ve written about TOLAIR before on Myrant, but there’s more on Ted and TOLAIR I will get into—in another post!
Above: cover art, not by me; below: Zanti Misfits scratchboard portrait, by me. The original is long gone, but I did keep photocopies—shoddy though they were, at least I could make copies of my work when I mailed it out in the late 1970s!
* By this time, I was also contributing to comics fanzines, too. The best of them all was edited and published by one of my Kubert School classmates, Ken Feduniewicz aka Citizen Ken (Ken had a bit of the Calvin T. Beck gene in him, and Citizen Ken was an Orwellian Beckism if ever I heard/read one).
Ken‘s Third Rail (June, 1981) was an absolutely stellar production, from its Al Williamson/Wally Wood cover art to its interior contents and polished, handsome format and cover and paper stock. Interviews, art, and comics—what a zine.
I was lucky enough to be among the contributors, along with fellow Kubert School classmates Rick Grimes and Tom Yeates; my first all-dino-action comic story “Scraps” debuted here, and poured the foundation for what would later mature into S.R. Bissette’s Tyrant®. Salute, Citizen Ken!
* Among the other comics zines I contributed to in the late 1970s and early 1980s was James Van Hise‘s venerable Rocket’s Blast Comics Collector, which had one of the longest runs of any fanzine in any field.
By the 1970s, Jim was publishing RBCC as a pretty sharp offset-print zine, with every issue jam-packed with articles, interviews, columns, comics, and more—including a lot of Don Rosa‘s seminal pre-Disney work, both as columnist and as cartoonist and storyteller.
I’ve held on to most issues of RBCC I mail-ordered from Jim back in the day, and I contributed artwork to a few issues, including an unusual Wizards full-page illustration (in which Vaughn Bode‘s Cobalt 60 and Wendy Pini‘s Elfquest vengefully figured), and one of my all-time favorite zine efforts celebrating The Rocky Horror Picture Show. More on this hoary old Bissette stuff another day…
Things changed—not for the better—when Jim Van Hise began his partnership with Hal Schuster and Schuster‘s imprint, New Media Publishing. “Designed and Edited by Hal Schuster” began to resonate in negative ways for me, including Schuster at one point claiming copyright to one of my contributions. That, as they say, was that.
The Schuster experience, coupled with a couple other sad zine experiences (lost original art, etc.) put me off the comics zine scene, despite my growing stature in the comics field as the 1980s wore on.
Ah, what the heck: now I had two kids, a family to support—and I could barely keep up with my pro work. I couldn’t continue contributing free work to uncaring zinedom.
* That all changed in the late 1980s when I lucked into Chas Balun‘s self-published chapbook The Connoissseur’s Guide to the Contemporary Horror Film (1983) and a copy of a new horror zine entitled Deep Red (1986), co- founded by Chris Amouroux and Chas.
It’s hard to articulate the impact Deep Red had on readers like myself at the time, given how completely what made it distinctive has been swallowed up by much of what followed. For me, it was the up-front, no-nonsense editorial and prose style of co-editor Chas Balun (solo editor as of #2, if memory serves) that immediately won me over. Small surprise (as Chas revealed once I wrote to him directly) that Lester Bangs was one of his heroes. Subsequent zines (like Rue Morgue) stole their own swagger and snarl from Chas, adopting his then-fresh voice and mannerisms as their own, thus homogenizing Deep Red‘s vigor into a new norm that has grown, frankly, tiresome.
Take my word for it: in its day, Chas‘s self-published The Connoissseur’s Guide to the Contemporary Horror Film and subsequent The Gore Score and Deep Red #1 were something unapologetic, bracing, invigorating, and new. Chas was riffing off those-who-preceded him, for sure—notably the sadly now-late Bill Landis (Sleazoid Express, 1980-83), whose work I subscribed to and with whom corresponded with until his death, Michael Weldon (Psychotronic Video, launched as a tabloid-format biweekly in 1980 and continuing as a zine after the publication of the massive, definitive Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, 1983), and Rick Sullivan of Gore Gazette (1981+, one of the only genre newsletters to publish anywhere near GG‘s 110 issues), who were followed by Chas, Steven Puchalski (Slimetime, launched in 1986 and later followed by Shock Cinema) and others.
Landis, Weldon, and Sullivan had been self-publishing their own ballsy brands of criticism since 1980 or so—but there was something else happening in Chas‘s stuff. Chas was seasoned West Coast to Weldon, Landis and Sullivan‘s scrappy East Coast; streetwise, one and all, but oh so different in tenor and tone. Chas was also one hell of an artist, and he brought a production class and polish to Deep Red that set it apart and above the rest.
Most importantly, for yours truly, Chas invited and encouraged me to contribute. Chas wasn’t the first editor to ask for my writing along with my artwork—but he was the first who really encouraged I jump into it, roll up my sleeves, and cut loose—and it was working with Chas and Deep Red that opened the torrent of writing work that continues to flow from my keyboard to this very day.
Thanks, Chas; that’s a debt I will forever be unable to pay.
* Shout out to Ohio zinemeisters Tim and Donna Lucas and Tim Paxton. Have I forgotten any Ohio zine geniuses?
To Be Continued Next Week!
TOLAIR #2 illustration ©1977, 2013 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved. All other images ©original creators/proprietors, their original year of publication; all artwork and images are posted for archival and educational purposes only.