FANZINES

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Posted July 3, 2008 in Feature Story

Blog tracking website Technocrati estimates that there are over 100 million blogs in the world. If our math serves us right (keep in mind, we’re not number types), and we can assume that since the Inland Empire is about eight-one thousandths of the Earth’s terrestrial square mileage, there are probably some 10,000-odd blogs emanating from our region at the present. These blogs, ranging greatly in topic, discussion and inherent value, are largely self-published by individuals from the comfort of their home computers. Many are amateur writers and journalists, seeking to disseminate information, reveal thoughts, and argue in conjecture, across the globe, all satisfied with the eventual click of a mouse. Setting up a blog takes minutes. Adding your thoughts and firing it off for all to view, just a few ticks more.

However, the pre-Internet days weren’t as simple for the self-publishers of such irreverent or finely tuned thoughts. Those days were filled with long nights, toiling with glue sticks, typewriters, Sharpie makers, glossy photos and X-acto blades. Those publishers incurred expenses for transportation, postage, photocopies, paper and developing. They usually saw limited distribution. Some of them even went broke trying to get their words out to their general vicinity. Many gave up after a few issues—or even after the first issue. Those were the halcyon days of fanzines.

Distilled into a more historical frame, the blog of 2008 is much like the fanzine of 1988, minus the headaches as described above. Still, defining a fanzine (or ‘zines for short; some pronounce the truncated version rhyming it with “line” and others with “scene”) can be a quasi chore. The spectrum and presentation of said content in a fanzine is infinitely expansive. Much like the material that makes a blog, there is no real right or wrong, with no etiquette or style guide to follow. Each fanzine starts the same way—with a blank sheet of paper—but often ends in the most diverse collection of publications imaginable. Often, ‘zines could be found at record shops, either for free or for sale on consignment, or at concert venues. Some, however, are mail-order-only—so either you know about it, or it’s completely off your radar.

Though the exact history of fanzines has been linked into the sci-fi realm of World War II America, or even far before such periods, many of the Inland Empire’s prominent ‘zines spawned from the punk rock wave of the late ’70s and early ’80s, as a vehicle to relay news about a music scene that was, at the time, largely ignored by the mainstream press. Creating this underground form of communication—whether it was used to promote shows, review albums or publicize new artists—with stapled sheets of letter-sized pages was de rigueur for the punk rock community.

Greg McWhorter knows his local fanzines. A collector of many printed works, the Moreno Valley-based educator and Artifix record label owner has built an archive of ‘zines from across the region. McWhorter (who had also used the “McDeath” pseudonym) produced his own fanzines in the ’80s. His most famous was dubbed Disturbed Minds, and was mainly distributed locally in the Victorville and Apple Valley area. “As far as I know, I was the only one and I never heard or saw another one,” he says about his ‘zine’s exclusivity in its immediate region.

McWhorter says he launched Disturbed Minds for the same reasons as most others did—to simply communicate with like-minded individuals that were part of a particular culture.

“Just trying to reach out to different people and find out what was going on in the area,” he says. “When I moved up to the High Desert, I didn’t know anybody, so I thought, OK, I had made fanzines before, when I was living in Dallas, Texas—I had made gaming fanzines, as I was into Dungeons and Dragons and stuff. So, when I moved to Victorville, I wanted to get in touch with the music scene and the punks, so, I made this up as kind of a way to meet people and get to know people.”

And there was another aspect that he found attractive: the whole do-it-yourself aesthetic, in which anyone could assemble a ‘zine without any credentials and the freedom of being able to cast his voice, particularly as a teenager. “The fanzine had the ‘anything goes’ aesthetic in cutting and pasting,” he says. “Things like what font to use—all of the slick layout stuff did not matter.”

Disturbed Minds was funded solely out of McWhorter’s pocket. “I remember taking what spare money that I had, and I’m talking like $15 or $20 and going to the copy place . . . and they had really overpriced copies, but it was the only game in town, so I had to do it. Basically, I’d start off with 100 at a time, and that would cost me, I don’t know, $20, and I’d sell those and then go in and press another 100.”

McWhorter sold his ‘zines for 75 cents at record stores. He ended up selling some 300 copies of certain issues which, for a then-teenaged McWhorter, was considered highly successful. However, after a couple years, he ended his ‘zine production when he was forced to move to a new location. One down.

McWhorter flips through a stack of IE-based ‘zines he’s collected throughout the years. Of his sample, the variety and sheer number of titles is enormous. There’s Just For Fun from Chino, 12XU (published in Pomona by Bill Tuck and Gary Cifra), Fad Gadget (from Phelan of all places), a heavy metal/thrash Christian fanzine from Apple Valley in the late-’80s called Straight Fish, Murrieta-based The Life and Times of Karol Wojtyla, Claremont’s ambitious The Altered Mind (which featured a free Halo flexidisc) and Think Again, Corona’s Smash, San Berdoo’s The Last Word, and Wicked Mission from Moreno Valley, amongst others. Most of these are photocopied on white or colored copier stock, staple-bound, sporting single-color ink. However, of this sizable stack, McWhorter stops to discuss a pair of ‘zines laid out on the table.

“Probably the biggest guy for fanzines in the Inland Empire was Drew Blood,” he says. Blood died in the early ’90s but, according to McWhorter, not before producing scores of chapbooks and mini fanzines of different sorts, including poetry, clips and short stories. McWhorter adds that Blood walked the streets of Riverside with a backpack full of fanzines and would leave them in places for donations—or for free if nobody was buying.

Blood’s prolific nature found him releasing over 70 issues, including 1991’s Why Be Dead When You Can Be Dying? (a collection of clippings and stories of the early punk movement in Riverside from 1979-1983), and his famous 1988 double-volumed Germs: A History In Cuttings. (McWhorter says he gave Blood flyers for this fanzine, which was recently used as reference material for the Germs movie, What We Do Is Secret.) McWhorter adds Blood played in two bands, was friends with the Germs, and was well known and very well liked in the area.

One author not seeking to be well liked through his ‘zine work is Lance Koenings. Based in Big Bear in the ’80s, Koenings became disgusted with the music scene and underground culture. “Aside from the music stinking, I thought a lot of people seemed to have this very lackadaisical, right or wrong attitude, the slacker thing that metastasized into the grunge phenomenon,” Koenings says. “Basically, people were being pretty lame and the music was terrible. So, it wasn’t so much a fanzine as it was more like an ‘antago-‘zine’ or something like that. Making an effort to confront people; that was probably a bit overboard in the way I presented my opinions.”

Over the course of a few years, Koenings published Hellbound and Determined, a ‘zine dedicated to the failings of the music scene, plus Chaos Box (“a continuation of the same thing”), and Open Up and Bleed To Death (which consisted of 30 single-spaced legal sheets written in a 12-hour period).

“I probably wouldn’t be very representative of most people who put out fanzines, because most people put out fanzines to be liked. And I was actually going out of my way to antagonize people,” he says. Such antagonism was distributed solely through mail-order, which gave Koenings a national (or international) voice, and plenty of response from his literary offense.

“You put out 300 issues and you might have 150 things coming back your way, essentially for trading,” he says. “I got reviewed in the Village Voice, and that got me requests for copies from SPIN magazine and other places.”

But the provocation didn’t last too last long. “Torquamaligula Rex” (Koening’s pen name—a hybrid of Torquemada, Caligula and Tyrannosaurus Rex) closed up his publishing shop around ’88 and hasn’t returned since. Yet another down.

Former Victor Valley resident and musician Jason Diehl remembers the thriving IE fanzine scene well. “It was one of the few ways to get exposure,” he recalls. “There was really nothing. If you had a gig at the Showcase [Theatre], there was really no way anyone would know about that, unless you had an ad in whatever [fanzine] at the time. For established artists, that was, a lot of times, the way they got their big breaks.”

With so many in the underground deftly exercising their First Amendment rights, the question begs: Where did these enterprising Inland Empire-based fanzines go? (McWhorter notes that most area ‘zines lasted less than five issues.)

“They just get discouraged,” says Bill Plaster, owner of Doctor Strange Records, of ‘zine publishers. Plaster has sold a host of ‘zines at his store over the past several years. “You’ve really got to have dedication, and it was probably more work than they thought.”

And what was the final nail in most coffins? It appears as if much of the once burgeoning ‘zine scene was axed by the proliferation and adoption of the Internet as a self-publishing medium in the late-’90s.

“When the Internet hit, that’s when blogs started taking over, because it’s such an efficient means of distributing information,” adds Koenings. “The Internet’s great for raw information, but the only problem is that it’s not so great for quality writing, because people don’t put the same effort into their blogs as they did in the fanzines. I think it’s human psychology that if something’s an actual object, if something has a physical presence, people are more inclined because there’s more of a sense of permanence in it to actually make an effort to make it a quality product. There definitely has been a decline since the Internet rose around ’97 or so, to the point where within ‘zines themselves, you might have a ‘zine review section, in the past, of literally hundreds of titles, where now you might have a dozen, or a half-dozen.”

“It’s just too easy electronically and kids are just too plugged in these days,” says McWhorter. “I don’t think it’s going to make a serious comeback. And plus, printing costs and paper costs, rising cost of gasoline and everything else, it’s just too prohibitive these days.”

 

Still, there’s the “our little secret” mentality that those in the underground publishing world shared and seem to recall with both fond memories in discovering the latest in subterranean dialogue, be it punk, prose or personal vendettas.

“If you were a reading a fanzine, chances are you were between a certain age, you had some level of, I don’t want to say affluence, but at least cultural awareness,” says Diehl. “You were literate to a point. You weren’t looking to MTV as your primary source of cultural information. I don’t want to say it’s sophisticated, but you were a culture junkie. I think that’s what the fanzine really helped out, it really enabled a lot of people who liked a particular style of culture and it spoke to that. I think that’s what was really cool.”

“It wasn’t an easy thing to even know they existed,” adds Koenings. “You had to be driven to exceed the limitations of the pop culture you were surrounded [by] to even make an effort to find such a thing. You actually had put effort into it and be persistent to learn about things through the fanzines. They were basically a very primitive information network.”

“To me, fanzines were one of the only outlets for teens to express themselves in a pre-Internet world,” says McWhorter. “I can’t remember having any other outlets except maybe starting a band. That was another outlet, but relied too heavily on finding like-minded others. The fanzine allowed for the ultimate in independence and a platform from which to spout off about anything from music to politics, from creative writing to art. I think teenagers today have it much easier with the Internet. My own kids are constantly expressing themselves and communicating through MySpace, blogs and the like. What I don’t see is the creativity, though . . . where is the artistry when computers are involved? Can you create something with your hands if your computer became unplugged? That is what is real and meaningful to me. Not just with fanzines, but with anything. Losing fanzine culture is just one small element that indicates to me that we are losing our ability as a nation to create and build things with our minds and hands.”


 


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