Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 11 - Trekzines

Fanzines, and by extension Trekzines, are in danger of becoming a thing of the past.

In modern culture they are seen as a throwback to the sixties, the cultural revolution, the "Hippie Era", and in many ways that was their hey-day. They have been around much longer than that, though. Frederic Wertham in his scholarly 1973 study, "The World of fanzines", cites "The Comet" from 1930 as the first fanzine although Wikipedia traces their roots to amateur press associations that go back to the 19th century. Wertham describes them as "uncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their editors produce, publish and distribute. They deal primarily with fantasy literature and art. The fact that they are not commercially oriented, may come out irregularly, and are privately distributed differentiates them from the professional newsstand magazines. Their writers and readers belong chiefly to the under-thirty group." If you're interested in reading transcriptions and scans of those early fanzines an entertaining evening can be had in wandering through the virtual bookshelves of Fanac.

Perhaps the most well-known fanzine was ERB-dom which started as a mimeographed fanzine created by Al Guillory, Jr. and "Caz", Camille Cazedessus Jr., in May 1960 and ending it's run with issue 89 in 1976. Caz returned to fanzine publishing in 1988 with The Fantasy Collector which he renamed Pulpdom in 1997 and is still going strong today, retaining the flavour of the original ERB-dom articles but gathering its material from the wider genre of pulp fiction in general.

 J.M. Verba's "Boldly Writing" gives us a pretty exhaustive picture of the early history of Star Trek fan activity between 1967 & 1987 - and that it was a fertile time for Trek fanzines can be seen from the fact that she has a five page list of 'zines that are referenced in the book! Another important resource is "Star Trek Lives" by Jacqueline Lichtenberg who, with her writing partner Jean Lorrah, was an early luminary of the Trek fan world who has gone on to champion the use of action / adventure stories to test the boundaries between science fiction and romance.
Star Trek fanzines started off in much the same vein as others, with news, letters of comment, articles of critique, commentary and review, but eventually it started to settle into a specific vein. The growth of fan fiction as a legitimate form of fan expression created a massive number of readers and writers of fan-written fiction. The law of supply and demand soon proved to the Trek fan community that fanzines, their own fan publications, were an elegant and sought after means of a fan-author "getting published" and Trekzines became defacto anthologies of Star Trek fanfic.

Fast forward to the start of the digital age and we find that fanzines suffered from the same problems that the printing and publishing industry was to later face. A quarterly fanzine had no way of competing with TV & radio news and their modern competitor the internet for the immediacy of its news and comment. Communication between fans was much easier and faster on mailing lists & forums (Facebook, Twitter...) and if a fan wanted to comment and get it seen, it was much easier and immediate to have a blog or website of their own. Even fan fiction authors found that they could be more certain of feedback and comments if they posted their fiction on the fan websites, message boards & forums where their fellow fans 'lived' on the web. APAs have all but died out. They had always struggled to acquire and distribute contributions between isolated members a task that blogs, internet forums and mailing lists now did effortlessly.

Fanzines started to become a protected species with a certain amount of literary recognition. There has been a Hugo award for fanzines since 1955 but, even though Star Trek fandom has played a significant part in the history of fanzines, the award listings and records are pretty much devoid of mention of any Star Trek fanzines. Because of copyright problems and a generally low opinion of fan fiction which we can blame on the poor quality of its lower end contributors, Trekzines never shared in the recognition that Indie amateur fiction received.

Part of the problem too was the growing identification of Star Trek fan fiction with adult fiction. Certainly Star Trek has always had an emphasis on character centric storylines and over the years a large subgenre of Trekzines came to focus on love and lust in the Star Trek universe. Indeed, one of the ways that Star Trek fanzines broke new ground was with the invention of the term slash, from "Kirk-slash-Spock" (K/S), the idea of Kirk and Spock being lovers.

This, of course, did nothing to win them acceptance and recognition with mainstream fandom.

That's not to say that "Gen" Trekzines did not exist, as can be seen from the listing on Zelda Scott's excellent TOS website, nor that intelligent commentary was absent as can be seen by the examples on Laura J. Sweeney's 2008 treatise. Probably the largest, strongest and most diverse production of Gen Trekzines came from Orion Press whose driving force, Randy Landers, has been providing a service to Trek fan fiction since 1979!

My initial contention that Trekzines are in danger of going the way of the Dodo depends on whether you define them by their content or their media.

The hard-copy stapled, spiral or perfect bound amateur magazine is still available as back copies from specialist websites but I only know of one that is still producing, Asidozine's Legends which is looking for contributions for their eighth issue. If there are any, I would assume that they would be released at the Media West Con which comes to Lansing, Michigan every year, the next being May 25. Of course there are always the established sites such as Agent With Style, but new material? Randy Landers has moved on to a fan film, Project Potemkin as his chosen form of fan creativity and if there are any Gen 'zines that are in production I haven't found them. If any readers know of any, feel free to add their contact details here as a comment.

If, however, you think of a Trekzine as an amateur periodical of fiction, commentary, art and poetry there is no reason why they cannot make the leap to the digital world!

TrekUnited Publishing is experimenting with a way of keeping the grand tradition of Trekzines alive with it's fan fiction series, Personal Logs! Our first edition (right) released in July 2011 on the Issuu publishing platform, was well received both by readers and writers of fan fiction and this encouraged us to follow it up with another edition, released in March 2012

You can get all the details of what is in it on the TrekUnited Publishing website, for now I would like to point out what makes them different from both digital anthologies and paper fanzines.
[To Be Continued]

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