When you read “The Immortal Storm”, you get a firm impression that immediately after the collapse of Fantasy Magazine, fandom entered a period during which nothing emerged from the hectographs and mimeographs but invective, broadsides, propaganda, and feud-fare. It was pretty nasty, in truth, at the end of the 1930’s, but there were a few fanzines that sailed through fandom’s stormy seas with as much regard for the high-breaking waves of feuding and politicking as an ocean line pays to the disturbance that a motorboat kicks up in the surrounding waters, One such publication was Walter Earl Marconette’s Scienti-Snaps.
It thrived during the last years of this century’s fourth decade, and it was one of the rare instances in which a fanzine really expressed the actual personality of its editor. Walt was as calm, good-natured, and friendly a fan as has ever existed, well-built physically in sharp contrast to the two-dimensional proportions of so many of us, and slow and steady in his motions. He plunged into the troubled waters of fandom from time to time, having no fear of getting his feet wet in these agitated pools, but the waters magically calmed, as a rule, when his presence was felt. He doesn’t loom really large as a driving force in the fandom of his day, but it’s quite possible that he did more for the field than is generally supposed, simply because he was there, living proof that an intelligent individual could find pleasure in fandom and could contribute to it without sharing in the silly fusses that were shaking up New York City, British fandom, and a variety of other areas.
Scienti-Snaps first consisted of a half-page format, hectographed publication, which was distinctive for the overlapping protective covers of construction paper that were stapled around the fanzine itself. The inevitable handicaps of the hectograph apparently disturbed Walt’s desire for neatness and precision, so he converted to a full-page, mimeographed format after the first half dozen issues. The mimeographed issues are quite beautifully done, with a startling resemblance to Skyhook in the general appearance, but they lost the wonderful advantage of Walt’s hectographed art work. There has never been anyone like him in fandom, for the ability to create distinctive, self-sufficient decorative illustrations with hectograph pencils. I don’t think anyone else ever learned how to get quite the pastel shades that he managed from this intractable medium.
In fact, the hectograph process was the joy and despair of most fans in those days when money was so scarce and fandom so small. Jack Speer was considerably wider-eyed in those clays, and described in the fourth issue of Scienti-Snaps the wonderful things that he had seen when be explored the Washington office of Ditto Duplicators:
“I was amazed at the extent to which the hectograph of my childhood had developed. There was one mechanism that looked and worked like a mimeograph: turn the crank and out came copies (I understand that the rotary duplicator isn’t as hard on the hecto compound as flat reproducing). The jelly for use with these rotary machines was a thin film on a heavy sheet of paper that is supposed to be just as good as the much deeper layers in the pan hecto, This paper hecto ($1 per sheet) can also be used flat; I was shown a $4 film-o-graph which makes the flat duplicating job as simple as possible. However, what was called a “portable” unit (40 some-odd dollars each!) made it even simpler to operate: A housetop-shaped thing fits over the hecto sheet, one side holding the supply of paper. In the other side you insert a paper, turn the crank, which runs a roller across the paper (which meanwhile has mysteriously been laid out on the hecto) to get it flat, then pulls it up and hands it to you.....Ditto still had tray hectos in which the gelatin is a beautiful amber (when new) rather than the traditional green, at $2.75.”
The first issue of Scienti-Snaps, incidentally, may mark the only time in the history of fandom that a fanzine also attempted to boost a postage stamp business. “Scienti-Stamp Collectors, Attention!” an advertisement declared. “To all interested in looking over a selection of my fine approvals I will send a nice packet for a dime. Contains big set of 1937 Fr. Equatorial Africa, plus many others.” WEM apparently was a philatelist and fan simultaneously, a combined avocation that not even Laney could achieve.
It should not be assumed that Scienti-Snaps was entirely sweetness and light. Dick Wilson had a fanzine review column in the third issue which did not pull punches:
“Ho, Moskowitz! Have at you! Of all the poorly printed, messy, badly illustrated, hard-to-read ungrammatical, etcetera, ad. infinitum fan journals, Helios is it. .... Cosmic Tales is in a class, and about on a par with Helios, Its format is of the sloppiest. It’s illustrations... are, altogether without sufficient exception, quit awful. ... Good articles and stories at times find their way into time magazine, tho the errors that are typographed into them are enough to cause the tears to stream from the author’s eyes. We know from experience.”
The late Henry Kuttner, even then among the best prozine authors, still took time to write quite delightful items. “Idle Thoughts on Spinach” in volume 2, number 4 of Scienti-Snaps, was devoted. to spoofing the articles discussing the purpose of science fiction that turned up in every other fanzine in those days. Henry wrote:
“This business of groping for a purpose, and finding, perhaps, the wrong one, has frightening implications. I remember the distressing case of Belshazzar Weet, a promising intelligent young man of seventeen. “The War of the Worlds” proved his downfall. After finishing that novel he remained for some time in a semi-comatose state, brooding; and eventually decided, to his own satisfaction, what the purpose of “The War of the Worlds” was. As a result, he captured a termite (which he named Daisybelle) and fell passionately in love with the creature. Neglecting his studies, he lavished expensive presents upon the termite, and. spent hours composing odes in her honour. This went on interminably, but Daisybelle was unmoved. She had become infatuated smith a rascally wood-louse named. Edward, who did not return her affections. As a result of this triangle, Daisybelle fell into a decline and died; Mr. Weet committed suicide by precipitating himself from a fearful height on to an ant-hill; and the wood-louse, Edward, went to New York and thereafter vanished. I cannot help but feel that Weet took life somewhat too seriously.”
Jack Chapman Miske, one of the most fabulous of all older-generation fans, wrote a two-part biography of Merritt. Some quotations from volume 2, number 6, might be of interest today. Miske is quoting the remarks of Merritt:
“Argosy paid me probably the highest rate they ever paid any writer, but that is to be expected of one whose mere name is magic. However, let it be made clear; Merritt is willing to write and sell his work to the fantasy publications. There are minor considerations, but they are perfectly reasonable: it was not the later price, however, that made me send my stories to the Argosy, Possibly, unfortunately, I do not have to write for a living. I write solely to please myself, and for those who like to read what I write. The Argosy realised this, and printed my stories without change of a single word, I had, and have, a certain sentimental interest in Argosy. Bob Davis, when he worked as its editor, bought my first yarns. The stories built up an interesting audience, young and old and of all kinds. This response interested me greatly – was a real reward for the labour of writing, for to me it is a labour. I write slowly – or in fits and starts. Sometimes a hundred words in a week; sometimes five thousand. words between ten at night and four in the morning. Sometimes a month will go by without my writing a word. I gave my stories to Argosy solely because of this freedom to write what I wanted to write and because of this audience, which, oddly enough, seems still to be appreciative.”
The first anniversary issue of Scienti-Snaps, in February, 1939, contained a queer combination of good and bad prophecy, in the form of an article by James Avery on the burning question of the day, how in the world the nation’s science fiction readers could support the flood of new prozines, which had brought eight titles to the news-stands, in comparison with the former three titles:
“For all this flooding of fantasy it is my own belief that, by the end of 1939, the field will be once more as clear as it was at the beginning of 1937, with perhaps a few improvements in the then existing magazines. And now a prediction that will no doubt startle some, and cause a number of others to shake their heads sagely! If things keep on as they have for the past three months, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the Honourable Hugo Gernsback will again publish a science fiction magazine as he promised in his editorial in The Science Fiction Critic for June, 1936. Mark my words, if there is the remotest possibility of a dime being made in the fantasy field, Gernsback will re-enter science fiction once more!
Charles R. Tanner, another fellow who was commuting between prodom and fandom in those days, published in volume 2, number 5, a rather ingenious parlay of a parody. It began:
“You are old, Author William,” the Young Fan said.,
“And your cheques are uncommonly fat,
“Yet your tales grow more infantile, month after month.
“Pray what is the reason for that?”
“In my youth,” said the old man, “I wrote pretty tales,
“Nor gave much attention to slants
“But they always came back marked rejected, so now
“I write what the editor wants,”
And if you think that those were the good old days when it was safe to do anything you pleased., as long as it didn’t conflict with a written law, we find in the same issue Robert W. Lownes, decrying the fact that freedom to advocate unpopular causes in this country wasn’t combined with freedom to take action to back up that advocacy:
“Advocation will not be too difficult – (although, for example, many people have found themselves very much behind the eight-ball for the simple advocation of birth control. Vested interests concerned.) – but when advocation becomes action (the first step of which is thorough explanation of all points) then you will find censorship and suppression raising their hydra heads in total disregard for our Bill of Rights, Constitution, and. any and every other right the American people are supposed to possess.”