All Our Yesterdays 5
by Harry Warner Jr.

Early FAPA

The rarest thing from the fantasy collector’s standpoint is a complete file of FAPA mailings. My guess would be that there aren’t more than three or four of the critters in existence. Only two or three people have held membership in the organisation since its formation, and it isn’t likely that many other fans have managed to get hold of all the mailings. I lack the first half-dozen myself, but if any philanthropic soul would like to cause another complete file of the FAPA to come into existence, he can do so quite easily, simply by sending me those first six mailings.

The first couple of years of the FAPA weren’t productive of such large mailings. But the publications compensated for the lack of bulk by means of extreme energy. There were half a dozen violent disputes going at all times about organisational matters, most of them purely theoretical disputes about what might happen if the constitution were interpreted in such a fashion. There were a couple of dozen publications in the June, 1939 mailing, half of them one or two-sheeters, and out of all the editorial credits in these fanzines, I find only two names of people who are still active today. James V. Taurasi was listed on the masthead of The Fantasy Amateur, because he was secretary treasurer of the organisation, and Bob Tucker was represented with a couple of publications.

This mailing contained the third issue of the SF check list. I think that this was the most herculean research job in the history of fandom. R. D. Swisher, a New Englander who had never shown any other wild tendencies, conceived the bright ides that it would be nice to publish a list of all fanzines that had ever been published. He had a good collection of them, he got some other prominent fans to help him, and setting up a card index file, he went to work. If memory serves me, he went through the alphabet twice in five years of publishing the SF check-list. Then he found to his horror that his indexing was slipping behind the onslaught of fanzines in the 40’s. He struggled feebly for a time, then quietly gave up. There have been so many fanzines since Swisher’s activity that it’s hard to imagine the prospect ever being brought up to date again.

The SF check-list listed the titles, editors, size, nature of reproduction, and dates of issue of every fanzine. It even included fanzines which were announced but never appeared. It feretted out three different fan publications which had used the same title Science Fiction Review — up to early 1939. Some idea of the difficult ies that confront you when you try to do some indexing like this can be found on the quotation under Supermundane Stories:

“Probably one of the most unusual fan magazines ever issued was the first issue of Supermundane Stories...No two copies of the magazine were identical. Each and every one contained different illustrations, articles, ads, set up of stories. Cover and illustrations done in hand, therefore, no two copies of this issue are identical. Some pages titled Oct, some Dec-Jan.”

This particular publication was issued by a Canadian fan, Nils H. Frome, and the best Swisher could do was to publish two separate descriptions of it, from varying descriptions given by Dick Wilson and Don Wollheim.

In case anyone in the audience feel Swisher left off, let me give some indication about the size of the job. This issue in 1939 required 16 pages to go from Science Fantasy Movie Review, to Unusual Stories. Remember that fanzines didn’t begin until the early 30’s and that they never reached the numbers in the 30’s that the attained in the 40’s.

Ackerman had a little publication in this mailing which contained an advertisement to sell some books. The price and titles give a good idea of how inflation has hit the fantasy book market in recent years. For 15 cents, Forry was offering “The Hamphenshire Wonder or The Diamond Lens”. Two bits would bring you one of the Not at Night series, Haggard’s rather scarce “Witch’s Head”, or a couple of Marie Corel1i novels. Listed at 35 cents apiece were such tit1es as “Woman Alive”, “Sugar in the Air”, and “The Green Man of Kilsona”. Wells’ “The Croquet Player” and “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” were each offered at 40 cents.

The long line of evolution that has ended in the creation of Laney and Burbee began back in the late 30’s when Sweetness And Light exploded in this FAPA mailing. On the editorial board were Russ Hodgkins, Fred Shroyer, Jim Monney, Art Barnes, and, of all people, Henry Kuttner. Debunking, satirising, and shocking were their principal aims. Much of their material seems mild today, but a decade ago this sort of approach to fandom was like a bucket of cold water in the face. Here are some excerpts from “That Odour in the Back of the Book”, Don Ellis’ dissertation on the fellow who writes letters to the prozines.

“You have read his letters hundreds of times. He takes himself with fantastic seriousness, self-righteously blasting every story in an issue as utterly unfit to print.... Occasionally he deigns, with pontifical condescension, to praise highly. “Wellman”, he says loftily, “shows some promise of developing into a fairish writer. Keep up the good work.” This kindly pat on the back by the Great Critic, to a professional author who has spent days or weeks, is enough to make anyone seethe.

“Harsh and ruthless criticism has its place. Voltaire’s pen was a scalpel. But Voltaire served a higher purpose because he knew what he was talking about; he was merely an exhibitionist. The pipsqueak scarcely ever knows anything about literature. ‘Gee,’ he is apt to observe, ‘that’s swell. The hero tears down the Empire State Building and kills all the Martians. What a brain.’ Of course, of the principles of good writing he knows nothing; he will brashly condemn a piece of literature (which he does not understand) and tout to the skies a bit of lousy hack work. But he will never admit he’s wrong. How could he? To do so would wreck the lovely psychological structure of ego he had built up. He visualised himself as the Supreme Critic, the discriminating reader who prefers High-Class Stuff (meaning science fiction) to stories published in Cowboy Stories, Argosy, Sateve Post, or American Mercury. The pipsqueak throws himself headfirst into stf, and in his absorption he loses sight of the fact that he’s just a dumb kid in so many cases. Naturally there are exceptions, but this article is not written about the exceptions. It’s the typical fat-headed pipsqueak I wish to excoriate. He’s a child attempting to sit judgement.”

Each issue of Sweetness And Light contained several “Meet the Gang” features, The drawings of these typical people were an important part, but the description can stand alone. For instance:

This is Horation M. Thirkwoddy
He is slightly lacking in musculature
His gluteus maximus is callused
By long hours spent sitting
Reading Science Fiction
And thoughtful Books on Fictionized Science
Naturally he feels the Literary Life
Is Ultima Thul
To be attained only by the Brainy Few
His magnificent cranium
A large soggy mass
Of Suppressed Desires
The existence of which, however,
He will not admit even to himself
He is protected by strong armour of
And his strength is as the strength
Of ten because his heart is pure.

Jack F. Speer distributed the first and probably the last linoleum block fanzine through this mailing. It was Z. Z. Zug’s Gazette. It was simply one sentence written — or carved — on a linoleum block, created in an effort to get last place on Swisher’s Check-List.

If he reads this, it may make him feel as old as the hills, because in that 1939 mailing was a publication celebrating Tucker’s tenth anniversary in science fiction. It was entitled “Invisible Stories”, and most of the contents were closely akin to that famous book, “What I know about Women”. However, there was wordage on the covers. Tucker explained:

“In 1929, Argosy published a Ray Cummings yarn entitled “The Brand New World”. Tucker read it. Tucker fell. Since that time he has been labelled by the handle s-f fan.”

On the back cover was a description of the front cover:

“Our cover subject this issue (reproduced on the front hereof) is reminiscent of the old Wonder Stories of the Charlie Hornig and Hugo dynasty. Ah, for those good old days. The covers were usually by Paul. Not that that mattered any, for you usually couldn’t see them anyway. Hugo had the cover so cluttered up with his name, his signs, his disguises and such that very little of a brilliant yellow Paul sky could be seen.

“We chose the second October issue, 1934, as representing the best cover of this dynasty. That is it which you see reproduced (or a reasonable facsimile) on the front of this publication. Notice the glaring yellow sky, typical of Paul, and the particular era. In the background can be seen purple coated figures, running for a green spaceship, pursued by red and orange monsters from the stone age. The only colour Paul and Wonder did not use in those days was black.

“We didn’t have room to crowd in, across the top, that streamer that Hugo plastered up there, announcing his magazine to be “The Cream in Your Coffee” or words and music to that affect.”

Needless to say, Invisible Stories did not possess any drawing at all on the front cover.

Finally, here are some facts about the famous Frank Reade stf, dime novels, from H. C. Koenig’s The Reader and Collector:

“To the best of my knowledge, the Frank Reade stories are among the rarer dime novels. They are tremendously in demand and are collected not only by dime novelists and science fiction enthusiasts, but also by those who collect aeronautical items, Thirty years ago they sold for one to five cents a copy and it was easy to get hold of them. But, due to the cheap grade of paper used and the flimsy covers, very few copies are still existent. As a result, the prices of copies of these stories have soared to fantastic prices – prices far beyond the reach of the average pocketbook.

“The first Frank Reade stories, about twenty-two of them, appeared in Wide Awake. A complete set of this group runs between $300 and $400. Those twenty-two stories were later reprinted in the Frank Reade Weekly, covers coloured. I understand a set of these, 96 of them, are valued at $400. I suspect that hundreds of copies of the Weekly passed through my hands in those “dime novel” days of mine; the days of Young Wild West, Old King Brady, Frank Merriwell in Tip-Top Weekly, and Fred Fearnot in Work and Win. And now copies are worth from $3 to $10 per copy. Oh, how I wish I were a boy again – and know what I know now.”

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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