njpax (njpax) wrote,

Producing a Fanzine in the Before-Time


The fanzine evolved through the '70s from a splotchy mimeographed fold over with line drawings, to a sleek, slick magazine done in offset or lithography with plastic binding and artwork reproduced with delicate care as fine as any you'd find in a museum. Color separation was used on the cover and, in some cases, special interior pieces, in these later offerings with sometimes 200+ pages or more.


There were those fen who decried the coming professional look of fanzines. The S-F fanzine was begun on mimeograph machines and duplicators, and was not supposed to look fancy. The emphasis was on "amateur" in all ways. And yet the new wave of fen coming in through Star Trek had a different angle on it. Professionalism was sought on all levels, from writing, to artwork, to the layout and reproduction of the fanzine. We strove to make them as good and as beautiful as we could.



Before the advent of word processors or home PCs and Macs, everything was a lot more work for the fanzine editors. All we had were our typewriters – in my case, first a manual portable, then a rented electric, followed by a rented IBM Selectric and, ultimately, my very own used IBM Selectric! (Oh, happy day!) For those of you who came along later, you might want to understand the basic difference between each. So, okay, I'll tell you, and if you're "old" enough to know, just skip the next paragraph!


With a manual typewriter, the only ribbon available was made of nylon or cotton; it spun out and back on its spool several times  before it began to wear out (i.e., the type got fainter and fainter). The improvement you got on an electric was that you could use carbon ribbons. These spun out only one time, so were costlier to use, but gave a crisp, clear black type that reproduced well by any printing method, but specifically offset. The crown jewel was the IBM Selectric, because not only did it use a carbon ribbon, but it had interchangeable balls – which gave you a choice of fonts, specifically and most importantly, script for your flashback scenes or italic for mental thoughts, or even just something you wanted to emphasize.  You had a choice of about 6 or 8 "balls", or fonts, you could use. The most popular was Letter Gothic, a sans serif font that was very readable. There was, of course, the italic ball, or, if you preferred, the Script. There was one called Orator. It was also sans serif but it was a large type, used primarily when type was going to be reduced. And there were the old and common fonts like Courier and Elite. Having all these choices for type was a zine editor's wet dream, believe me! The little balls sat in their little boxes and you had to manually change them when you switched from say Letter Gothic to Italic type. A typist got real fast at changing them. One time, I got ready to type  some final copy for one of the issues, I forget which, and I broke my italic ball! Major catastrophe! Our friend, Carolyn Venino, who was living in Baltimore by then, wasn't  using hers and so I borrowed it. In the editorial page, we gave her a special thank  you – it read, "thanks to you, we had a ball!" It was an inside joke – not the kind of ball people were thinking, I'm sure!


A fan friend once asked Martha how we managed to type the same number of lines on each page. Actually, we didn't. What we did was to take a blue pencil and a ruler and make a faint line one inch from the bottom of each sheet of typing paper. When we saw it come into view, we knew we had to stop typing on that line or the next. A blue pencil was always used on final copy because the camera eye on the printing equipment wouldn't pick up or reproduce a blue line.


Sometimes, if a story was particularly long, we elected to reduce it. For that, we purchased a ream of special paper that was 17 inches long x 11 inches wide. I'd type on those huge sheets, usually with the bigger type ball, and I can tell you, it felt like you were never going to reach the end on those suckers! These sheets would then be reduced by the printer before reproduction.


The illos would have to be laid in during the typing process. Often, artists sent quarter page or half page illustrations, in addition to the full page variety. These smaller illos would have to be set into the scene of the story they represented, so the typing could be configured around them. Again, lines were drawn to aid the typist.


Now we come to the Wonderful World of Press-type. In Baltimore, we used to go downtown to a special art supply store, usually when we had all our stories in and were about to start final copy typing. We'd look through huge books of the varied decorative fonts and select the ones we felt fit either the story itself or the title, or the ones we thought were particularly nice or pretty. These sheets of rub-on letters and numbers were expensive – I think some were as much as $5 or more. But after the first time you stocked up, you would usually have enough left over on the sheet for another application on subsequent zines. Sometimes we'd select one font that we'd use on all the poetry. 


We'd also have to buy a sheet or two of all numbers, which we used for numbering the pages. Oh, yes, that was another step we had to take manually –putting page numbers on the bottom of each page. For this, we had to place a mark at a specific spot so far up and so far left or right so that the numbers all appeared even when reproduced. This was usually the last step before taking the zine to the printer.


Another sort of Press-type we used were sheets of graphics, symbols and dingbats that were used to decorate pages or as a divider between scenes of stories and endings of stories. Anything to avoid the appearance of that Dread White Space!


To those of you who have only used a computer, can you believe all the work it took, doing a zine manually as we did back then? Sometimes, I can't believe it myself!


Choosing a printer was an important and sometimes difficult step. Difficult because "All Print Shops Are Not Created Equal!" As I've already mentioned, we did Contact I and its reprint on the Xerox machine where Bev's husband worked. I think we did Contact II on the xerox machine in our church. Bev was working there at the Day Care Center and she had access to the machine. We gave the church a donation in exchange.  By the time we did Contact III, we were moving up the food chain. We went to a printer recommended to us as one that could handle the more delicate artwork we were getting from artists like Alice Jones, who worked in pencil, and Pat Stall, who worked in a  modified gouache style. For the first time, we were able to receive "blue lines", which was a complete copy of the zine on special paper in blue ink that we could mark and correct and see for ourselves what the end result was going to be. This was, apparently, standard practice for the more discerning printers. The only mistake we made with C-III was that we selected a slick paper stock, much like that used in magazines. Fine, except when the boxes (and boxes and boxes) of uncollated pages were delivered very close to deadline, and the collators were already assembled, we discovered, to our horror, that the ink was not completely dry yet! Pages were smudging and smearing on our hands! Plus, even when they dried, the slick paper was difficult to grasp in single sheets, and the collating ground to a slow crawl!  Well, you make mistakes, you learn from them. We never used that kind of paper again!


When we did the first Contact Christmas, I remember we went to a place that was right up the street from where I was living. It was one of those Speed-D-Print places, and they did a nice job for us at a reasonable price. The Christmas issue was a simple job with no delicate artwork and just two color separations on the cover. I believe we used Speed-D-Print for some of our reprint work, too.


We stayed with the same printer for III and IV, but when we approached them to do our spectacular double issue, Contact V-VI, Pat Stall had devised a special double cover that required a die-cut, and our printer recommended another place with the equipment to do that. This was Universal Lithographers, and they were a fanzine publisher's dream. We had a sit-down meeting with them at the very beginning and went over each and every page with their expert guidance. They provided us with the blue lines and gave us a final chance to make sure everything was to our liking. For the first time, we had them collate and bind the issue, so that what we received were completed books. No more trips around the table, no more carting it to a separate place to have it spiral bound. Everything was done at Universal, and while the price was steeper, it was certainly worth it. The result was a beautifully and professionally done zine, which we were very proud to pass along to our readers. We used this printer through Contact VII and VIII, our last issue.


Did I mention the collating parties? These evolved, too, over time. We sent out a call to everyone within driving distance to come on a specified date and help collate. The grand incentive was that collators got a free copy of the zine. This, of course, didn't really matter to those who were already contributors, but they came anyway. Bev and I would provide food and drink – buckets of fried chicken, or a crock pot of barbecue beef, chips and other snacks, cole slaw, whatever we decided was appropriate for the weather and the season.  We would lay out the pages all along Bev's extended dining room table, fanning them as we'd been taught in the beginning, and we'd usually get about 15 pages (that would be 30 pages of the book) on one trip. We'd take up our places and walk around the table, picking up a sheet at a time. When the first section was finished, we'd lay out the next, and so on, until we reached the end of the zine. Workers weary of trudging around the table, sat down and put the separate sections together. Let me tell you, my friends, that was a lot of trips around that table! For a long while, Bev had green shag carpet in her dining room (well, it was the '70s, after all!) and I tell you honestly that we eventually wore a path in that carpet!


Another staple of the collating party was the music. In the beginning, we had a vinyl 45 record that I had bought by mail without hearing, and I regret I'm unable to say now who it was by. It was called "The Ballad of Star Trek" and it began, "The Great Bird of the Galaxy/Swooped down on prime TV. . ." and the resounding chorus went something like, "Star Trek Lives/The Trekkies grow stronger each day/Enterprise flies on/Meeting aliens and planets on its way". It was a delightful little ditty. We'd also play the albums recorded by Leonard Nimoy. (Bilbo/Bilbo Baggins/Only three feet tall/Bilbo/Bilbo Baggins/Greatest little Hobbit of them all. . . Rollin', rollin'/Rollin' down the river. . .) Later, of course, we had our own Omicron Ceti III songs to sing aloud, with or without music. All that enthusiastic singing made the work more bearable!


Up until Contact V-VI, the collated copies were piled into boxes with a colored sheet of paper between them and they were hauled off to a bindery, where they were first stapled, then later bound with combs. We were, I think, the first zine to use the combs for binding, starting with Contact II. Later, many followed our lead. The bindery would then deliver the completed copies to Bev's house, where they were stored (usually in her dining room!) until distribution.


As you can see, this was a lot of hard work, a great many hours spent just on the production end, not even counting all the work and hours that went into the creative end. And you wonder why we laughed when the IRS asked if we made a profit on our fanzines!


This post is dedicated to all those ladies – and yes, gentlemen – who aided, assisted, supported and leant their willing hands and feet and cars and talents to help produce Contact over its ten year run. Thank you from me and thank you from the spirit of my sister, which hangs contentedly over my shoulder at all times.  We (truly) are One – We Reach!




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