All Our Yesterdays 24
by Harry Warner Jr.

Jack Chapman Miske

Jack Chapman Miske might be a good nominee as the forgotten man of fandom’s iconoclasts. We are just emerging from a thorough Burbee-memory spree, featured by the publication of The Incomplete Burbee. The Laney bull market is still strong, if we may judge by such trustworthy signs as the willingness of two fans to reprint the huge “Ah! Sweet Idiocy!” We have had several articles in recent fanzines crediting T. Bruce Yerke as an important predecessor of Laney. Willis has not been as successful as these three in creating enemies, and his criticism is accomplished with such a deft application of the scalpel that blood doesn’t spurt all over everything, but the epidemic of WAW reprints and memory-joggings prove that he might qualify to the iconoclast ranking.

Miske came into prominence before three of those four. He was contemporary with Yerke, but less of a local phenomenon than T. Bruce, whose acid dripped mainly over the fans with whom he had been in personal contact. Miske was almost totally a fanzine fan in a day when that term had not been invented. He had little contact with fans except through his typewriter, and it was a traumatic experience at a convention that eventually resulted in his disappearance from the fannish landscape. After hard thinking, I can remember only one fan who visited him in his home in Cleveland. Elmer Perdue. There was even considerable speculation throughout fandom for a while over the prolems of what this person could possibly look like, since he didn’t send out pictures of himself. Miske finally ended that by investing in one of this postage-stamp-imitation sheets of reproductions of his portrait, pasting them on all the letters he wrote for a month or two.

Miske was an exceptionally interesting correspondent, and wrote longer letter than any other fan with whom I was in contact around the years when the 1930’s were turning into the 1940’s. He was active for a while in FAPA and persuaded me to get into that organisation. He sold a poem or two to Amazing Stories in the Slone age, and he bobbed up in serious articles in most of the major fanzines during the early stages of World War Two. But I think of him most as a writer of a column from Spaceways, my old subscription fanzine. Stardust, signed as the writing of The Star-Treader, appeared first in the March, 1939, issue, the fourth issue of the magazine. Miske didn’t miss a deadline for two years, hitting 15 consecutive issues until he decided to stop writing the column with the instalment in the January, 1941, issue. I plan to confine my sampling of Miske to this column, although it demonstrates only Miske the critic, and Miske the creator also deserves some space someday.

Stardust began as a column whose writer was a mystery to everyone but the creator and the editor. Internal evidence caused the identity of Miske to leak before many issues had appeared, but this made no apparent difference to his frankness. It should be understood that the fanzine traditions of those days were quite different from today. In the column’s first edition, Miske used most of his two pages to give news notes, but he also wrote some remarks that were sensationally candid for those sercon, guarded days. A paragraph like the following would be quite ordinary today, but it was sensational when written:

“Has anyone else noticed the obvious ‘resemblance’ between Edmond Hamilton’s “Child of the Winds” and “Bride of the Lightning”? The stories are so similar as to be identical, Editor of WT Farnsworth Wright must not even bother to read Hamilton’s ‘stories’ any more.”

For his second column, Miske really had something exciting to write about. But both he and I were chicken and we decided not to be specific. So Spaceways’ readers gasped at the smashing illusions about the ethics of those gods, the pros:

“A most startling piece of information has come my way the other day via a Spaceways reader who will go unnamed for the present. Also, I wish to ask that he tell no one of his discovery till more information is available. A very well known and well-liked fantasy artist had in a recent issue of one of the fantasy magazines a drawing which was an absolute copy of one appearing in the Saturday Evening Post last year. There are two slight changes, otherwise the drawings are precisely the same. In fact, since they are the same size, they might have been traced! Coincidence is impossible. I shall look further into the affair, and report any further developments.”

As I remember the comparison, the changes were slightly more than Miske’s description. John Hollis Mason, a long-vanished Canadian fan, was the individual who spotted the borrowing, if my memory banks haven’t gone into liquidation.

By its fifth instalment, The Star-Treader had broken away from the policy of news notes combined with brief comments and editorial-ising. He was getting into the swing of frankness that made his column the most popular regular column in the fandom of those years. He was a particularly brilliant pioneer at the art of baiting Palmer, which was not widely practiced until the Shaver stories began appearing five years later. For instance:

“I think it is worth noting that though the October Amazing ostensibly features five different artists, Julian Krupa is obviously the creator of all the artwork. What Palmer expects to gain by having Krupa sign five names to his drawings is a bit obscure, but it does serve to show once more that Palmer is the most blatantly commercial, not to mention contemptible, editor in contemporary fantasy fiction.”

His column had grown from two to three pages, giving him room for an occasional outburst of poetry such as:

“Down with Richard Seaton,
And Campbell’s heroes, too.
It’s Hamilton you’re after
When a Man from Mars says ‘Boo!’”

Miske was also in a brawling fuss at this time through the letter column over the improbable topic of whether Lovecraft was a communist. But even more remarkable, in view of the prices that “The Outsider and Others” has brought in the past few years, is the revelation that Miske gave about this first Arkham House publication in the January, 1940, Spaceways:

“The fan world has let them down (-Derleth and Wandrei-) down in a most disappointing manner. Perhaps I do wrong in disclosing these figures, but I feel that perhaps only thus may the need for each of you to buy be fully impressed upon you. Messers. Derleth and Wandrei spent $2,500 to present this volume to the fans whom HPL never refused to aid whenever possible. No fan publisher was ever refused material by HPL, and now the fans are spoiling the significance of his memorial. Less than 200 — yes, 200! — orders have been received to date, and Derleth and Wandrei are out about $1,750 of the $2,500 they’ve invested — with no thought of profit.... If this first volume fails to break even, plans for two further volumes....will necessarily have to be dropped.”

There is a disturbingly familiar ring about some portions of an open letter to Campbell which Miske included in a column later in 1940, so it’s no wonder that JWC doesn’t quiver too noticeably when he reads remarks in 1962:

“The same thing menaces your success that brought about the downfall of Tremaine. You’re getting typed, in a rut. Everything: stories, letters, captions, they’re all Campbell. While you’re probably a swell fellow, even you can get monotonous.... Changes have been made in Astounding, and the readers and I liked most of them, however, good or bad, the changes were made to the complete exclusion of the desires of your readers. You’ve taken the attitude that ‘I think you’ll like it, so you will.’ Only where your views paralleled theirs were the fans’ wants observed. Astounding is still the top s-f publication, but that’s principally because the others are so incredibly bad.”

The April, 1940, column was particularly bold, written at a time when all fandom was feeling sorry for Farnsworth Wright, just kicked out of the editorial office of Weird Tales. Miske acknowledged that Wright had done good work to maintain the magazine’s literary standards, but shook up Spaceways’ readership by detailing

“one of his less commendable actions. There was his shabby treatment of H. P. Lovecraft. For no good reason he rejected, as fast as HPL could send them in, many of Lovecraft’s finest stories. For example, he rejected “The Shunned House” twice — then accepted it after HPL’s death and tagged it ‘one of his best stories!’ And it ranked first in the issue in which it appeared. Also, Lovecraft, WT’s most popular author, never got a cover illustration! His “At the Mountains of Madness” was rejected by Wright at a time when he knew Lovecraft needed money badly. You know how good the story is, And then there’s the matter of Wright’s accepting stories (to be paid for on publication) and holding them for one or two years — while the authors starved, presumably.”

My younger self got thoroughly scared in the spring of 1940. It was a time when the rustle of legal papers had not yet been heard in fandom. But I woke in the early hours from nightmares of lawyers descending upon me. I didn’t want to stop publication of my most popular feature. So “Stardust” in the June issue was preceded by an editorial note in which I screamed loudly that Miske’s statements “are based solely upon conjecture and must not be taken in any way as fact.” I also got Mark Reinsberg to write three worshipful pages about Palmer and put them near the front of the magazine, because of the detonation that Miske was unloosing at RAP and Ziff-Davis in this column. Then I used editorial scissors drastically on the column, and proved it by inserting parenthetical remarks about censorship at one or two places. I didn’t get sued, and some day I want to try to find the original manuscript and see if it is printable now. Miske mainly predicted the imminent disintegration of most of the prozines because of a glutted market and bad writing. A sample:

“I trust no one is so juvenile as to believe Fantastic Adventures went small-size and bimonthly because the large size was driving away buyers, as Palmer would have one think. It got into trouble because it published the worst bastard ‘science fiction’ I’ve ever seen. You won’t see it around much longer, I’ll venture to predict. Also, you might ask Palmer how Amazing’s circulation is coming along. It isn’t large size — but I’ll bet you Palmer isn’t sleeping well these nights.”

Miske was right, of course: there were 17 titles on the prozine market that year, the boom continued another year, but there were only 14 titles by 1942 and only 8 left in 1944. And in his next column, Miske explained that he didn’t expect the boom to bust for another year longer. That July instalment, incidentally, continued information that led readers to believe that the Lovecraft letters would be published Real Soon Now. He said that Wandrei and Derleth had 3,000 single-spaced typewritten pages of material on hand for that volume.

Later in 1940, Miske devoted a column to a Chicon report that indicates that he had a splendid time. He had had a two-hour argument with E.E. Smith over the merits of “The New Adam”, had come to realise that Palmer was a slave of Ziff-Davis policy, and thought Kornbluth told boring stories and behaved like a child with his palm-shocker.

The last Stardust column in Spaceways deserves reprinting in full. Bizarre, the luxury-type printed fanzine with which he had been working, had crashed and burned, Miske was cutting out most fanzine reading and letter-writing, the world situation was oppressing him, and most startling revelation of all, Miske had just gone wild over boogie woogie music. His King James peroration included such things as:

“Fantasy magazines shall fall right and left, the havoc a wonderful thing to see, and something to inspire any intelligent person. The wholesale white slavery into which this form of literature has been delivered by mongering editors, authors, and publishers in recent years will die of its own vileness, and fantasy will survive the rape to rise to new heights... I refuse to worry about the world. For me — for though I rise above all others, I shall still go down..... Louis Chauvenet thinks I’m a poet after all. Now I can die. I think Ackerman is a nut. I know of no fan who ranks as ‘intensely active’ who is not some sort of disgusting character. I rank among them, so save the weeping and wailing. Goodbye, we meet here no more.”

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

Return to home page

Site counter