All Our Yesterdays 25
by Harry Warner Jr.
On the second night of Nycon, I met a wiry, lively, and happy fan who impressed me as an exact replica of the to-the-point, merry, and intriguing fanzine that he had published a quarter-century ago. He is Walt Liebscher; it was Chanticleer. After I got back to Hagerstown, I dug out all the copies I could find of that legendary fanzine. They made as fine reading in this ancient, disillusioned world as they did when I was very young and was preparing to enter an idyllic world that the end of World War Two was sure to produce.
You sometimes read about a composer’s composer or a writer’s writer, the sort of creative person who is appreciated and liked by his peers almost more than by the lay people. I suspect that Chanticleer is the closest approach we’ve hed to the fanzine publisher’s fanzine. It isn’t sought out today as ardently by collectors as Le Zombie, Acolyte, and some other famous titles of the 1940’s and it didn’t quite reach first place when polls of favourite fanzines were taken during its lifetime. But I know that I wondered when I read it why I hadn’t been able to publish a subscription fanzine that was as tightly packed with interesting and funny things in such a small number of pages, and I suspect that most of the other fanzine publishers in that day found in it excellences that weren’t fully recognised by those who had never tried to do the same things.
What was Chanticleer like? If this were a question in an examination for a fannish doctorate, the student would list certain distinguishing things about the Liebscher fanzine. Everything was kept as short as possible: only rarely did you find an article or story that exceeded two pages, a book review was more likely to end in a dozen lines than to cover half a page, and in the poetry, not only was the number of lines kept low, but the length of each line was sometimes startlingly abridged. But there was no sensation of choppiness. Most of the big name fans of the day wrote for Channy, and they seemed to write tightly out of a spirit of emulation.
Then there were the incredible things Liebscher did with typewriter art. He specialised in little faces with subtle expressions which no fan to my knowledge has imitated since Ted Pauls used them in Kipple a few years back. The contents page was frequently a dazzling display of inventive borders and separating lines. Variety was imparted to some pages simply by running down one margin a repeated motif created from various characters.
A third distinctive matter was the consistent emphasis on books. The typical issue might have one-third of its pages devoted to book reviews and related writing about fantasy and science fiction between covers. Remember that this was before the great paperback explosion hit the United States, before hardcover reprints from the prozines had appeared in any quantity. It took some doing to find reviewers who would review books that hadn’t already been reviewed in every other fanzine for the past six months; that’s how seldom a new hardcover with fantasy as its theme came out.
Most of the issues of Chanticleer were published from Slan Shack in Battle Creek, although Liebscher moved to Los Angeles before the fanzine folded. The Battle Creek influence was obvious in several ways. It guaranteed a fannish element to alleviate any kind of sercon impressions all this talk of books might have given. It also gave access to ample supplies of first rate artwork. There vere beautiful airbrush covers by Jack Wiedenbeck, such as the first issue’s black, red, and yellow rooster in an attitude that expresses frank exhaustion, or the impressionistic pair of spaceships spiralling over the cover of the second issue, in green with purple shadow areas. Examples of the fannish aspect can be drawn from the first issue. There is, for instance, a page of definitions. Some are jokes and others are puns, but a few are apparently genuine examples of fantalk that somehow failed to catch on as fanzine and bem did. “Foogie”, for example, would be a useful word more specific than “mistake” and more inclusive than specialised terms like “Typographical error”. Liebscher defines it: “A grammatical error, a word jumbling. One can also foogie with the ears, i.e., misunderstand someone. Originated by the Slan Shackers.” Here are some more:
Ah, and the Michigan report, which should be reprinted complete some day as a prime example of the old school of hysterical exaggeration of improbable real events.
One of the regular features in Chanticleer was a listing in each issue by some fan or other of his favourites in prodom and fandom: a few words on why he preferred above all others one novel, one short story, one fanzine, and so forth. Most contributors seasoned their favourites well with disclaimers to the effect that they really liked other things almost as well or even better when in certain moods. But, I’m sure that some mature fans today would feel dismay at their literary tastes way back then. The safest way to write about this without embarrassing anyone is to cite my own example. I don’t feel too badly about choosing as favourite science fiction novel “The Time Machine”, or the seance near the end of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain”, as the best brief piece of weird fiction. But how could I have ever plumped for “The Circle of Zero” as my favourite science fiction short, or “The Blind Spot” as my favourite booklength fantasy? And why can’t I remember at all today the story I chose as favourite fantasy short? It was Blackwood’s “The Pikestaff Case”.
Poetry in Chanticleer was never serious on the surface. Liebscher wrote most of it and sometimes said serious things behind a dazzling facade of wordplay, nonsense rhymes, and neologisms. However I think I’ll quote a poem by Charles Tanner, the old prozine writer who turned into a fan in Cincinnati. It strikes me as a masterpiece of some sort, although I wouldn’t care to try to define the sort:
Anyone who is interested in fantasy books over and above what you can find in the paperback racks should try to buy up all the issues of Chanticleer as soon as possible. The book sections are treasure troves of information about volumes I’ve never seen mentioned in any other fanzine. Real quick now, can you name the fantasy writer for pulp magazines who never did much fiction between hardcovers but did get his autobiography published in hardbound form? It’s Arthur J. Burks. Do you think that fans got interested in children’s fantasy only a few years ago when Los Angeles fans started to write about it? Not so. Liebscher published reviews of such items as Harry Collingwood’s “The Log of the Flying Fish”, which Michael Rosenblum defines as “reminiscent of Jules Verne without the involved scientific explanations” or “The Princess and Curdie” by George MacDonald whose “sophistication both of vocabulary and attitude, makes this really more suitable for adult than for juvenile fare” according to Chan Davis. Francis T. Laney appeared quite frequently in a special book section called “Those Gay Deceivers”: brief descriptions of books whose titles or blurbs or other manifestations gave a mistaken impression that they ware fantasy instead of their real mundane selves. Rosenblum’s “What They Are About” reviews were transplanted to Chanticleer from my defunct Spaceways. Liebscher did a lot of reviewing himself, and he even had a professional reviewer in his stable, someone who did work for East Coast newspapers, wrote for Channy under the name “Autolycus” and was apparently never unmasked.
Seemingly there were only seven independent issues of Chanticleer. (The Fanzine Index doesn’t even know much about that seventh issue, which is undated, but arrived at my home on September 24, 1946.) The editorial, written from storied South Bixel Street, Los Angeles 14, unwittingly may explain why the eighth issue never appeared: “I’ve tried to put out the whole issue in too short a time. I’ve gone the last four days with only two or three hours of sleep a night. Besides the magazine I have Tucker and Wheeler on my hands to enjoy myself as I always do when they’re around, and I forget the mag. Right now there are about 35 fans running around the house; fanning, gabbing, playing poker, and rushing out every hour or so to meet some new celebrity. Then the next four hours are spent in introducing the newy to lots of other celebrities.” It’s a particular shame that the eighth issue hasn’t been published yet, because Liebscher had for it Tanner’s list of favourite stories, a column by Bob Bloch, and the start of a new series in which prominent fans would list the ten fantasy characters they’d like to meet at a party.
All through Chanticleer’s career, Liebscher kept reminding us to remember the rooster that wore red pants. I wish he’d remember the eighth issue and publish it, then many more after that.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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