All Our Yesterdays 38
by Harry Warner Jr.
The most frustrating thing about writing these fan history books is the lack of space. All Our Yesterdays was the longest individual manuscript about fandom ever published, the next book dealing with the fifties will be at least as long, and still there’s never enough room to consider fully many major topics.
For example: why has Hyphen gained such an extra-ordinary reputation, one that continues to grow many years since its last issue appeared? Obviously, it was a great fanzine, but that’s not a sufficient explanation. Thousands of words could go into a full exploration of the reasons for Hyphen’s place in the dizziest heights of the fanzine Olympus.
Since the next volume of fan history won’t permit such detailed delving into every topic, I’d like to advance here a few theories and explode a couple of misconceptions about Hyphen.
There are really two aspects to Hyphen’s reputation in fandom: one it acquired in life and one that has grown since its death. Fandom today contains only perhaps five per cent of the individuals who were active when Hyphen flourished, and most of its admirers today never saw an issue while it was current.
The overwhelming reasons for Hyphen’s reputation was the basic one, the quality of the writing in it and magical way in which the illustrations meshed in spirit with the text. Willis himself and the other Irish fans who were frequent contributors formed a superbly literate, erudite, and good-hearted team of writers who had perfected the informal essay, or rather had restored it to the good health which it had enjoyed before it had been badly battered in the fanzine writing which predominated in the 1930s and 1940s. The standard of writing in Hyphen was so uniform and so superior to the very end that I actually experienced a pang of unhappiness when each of the last few issues arrived. They came at constantly increasing intervals, like the rattles from the throat of a dying man, and I experienced momentary gloom because these increasingly rare issues of Hyphen somehow symbolised remnants of civilisation in an otherwise deteriorating universe. The final issues became painful reminders of the earlier times when there were several fanzines of nearly equal quality and taste appearing on both sides of the Atlantic.
But there must have been other causes for Hyphen’s popularity. Maybe it benefited from the accident of its isolation. The 1950s were the years when fans first grew into the habit of visiting one another frequently, forming more and more local clubs, attending a half-dozen or so conventions every year. Before then, fans were fewer, auto-owning fans were scarce, and first the Depression, then World War Two had caused most fans to be isolated except in a few metropolises. Certain ideals get pulverised when fans begin to have numerous personal encounters with one another: we discover that other fans are unable to create in unrehearsed conversation the brilliant remarks that they include in their fanzines, they sometimes live like pigs and they may outstay their welcome as visitors. By the late 1950s there weren’t many little-explored areas in fandom’s geography, but Belfast was only known in imagination to most of us. Hyphen, along with other Irish fanzines of the period, benefited from the fact that we could paint Oblique House, John Berry’s moustache, and ghoodmington competitions in whatever colours we pleased. The handful of North American fans who visited Willis found him personally as admirable as his fanzine, but the point is still valid. Hyphen was a survivor of the earlier days when fanzines had been the best known things about fans.
I think Hyphen may have attracted us as a symbol of the victory of fandom over prodom, too. Remember, the first Willis fanzine, Slant, had resembled a professional periodical by using letterpress reproduction, science fiction stories had been prominent among its contents, and some of them eventually sold to prozines. Willis, obviously gifted by nature with more ability to write professionally than nine out of ten fans who deserted fandom to write professional science fiction, not only remained a fan; he also discontinued Slant and substituted for it Hyphen, the most fannish of all fanzines. Hyphen’s existence told us that not everyone was selling out at a penny per word less agent’s percentage.
What’s more, Hyphen was comfortable to the eye and to the fingers: never so thick that it required too much time to be read on the day of arrival, never so mint in condition upon arrival that you were afraid to open it less you create the first wrinkle. It was mimeographed on medium quality paper, mailed without envelopes, and it arrived creased down the centre. I’m timid about reading some of the magnificent fanzines published today simply because they look too perfect. And this brings me to one warning to anyone who may never have read an issue of Hyphen. If you’ve such an unfortunate neofan, don’t feel disappointed when you finally decide to splurge out a year’s savings on a few copies of it. It doesn’t look at first glance nearly as good as it is.
One misconception I mentioned involved Hyphen’s reputation. Don’t imagine that it enjoyed while it was alive quite the legendary reputation that it possesses today. It was on everyone’s list of the ten best current fanzines. But many fans would have rated above Hyphen certain of its contemporaries. Today, Hyphen is probably the most sort-after of all fanzines, except among those who seek the extreme rarities and the earliest fanzines.
Anyone who praises Hyphen for its good influence on the fanzines which followed is throwing bouquets in the wrong direction. Maybe the opposite was true for logical reasons: very few fanzines were modelled after Hyphen because it was too good to be imitated.
But Hyphen as a whole never had a first-rate equivalent from any other fan’s mimeograph, no more than any successors ever sprang up to fill the gaps left when such diverse fanzines as VOM, Le Zombie, and Quandry succumbed.
If anyone today feel in the mood to create a second Hyphen he shouldn’t try to imitate it in any way at all. Instead, he should try to fill his fanzine with better writing than exists consistently in professional publications, maintain editorial control that is absolutely conditioned by what the editor wants to write and print, and blend seriousness with humour, trivia with philosophy. He won’t publish another hyphen, but his fanzine might attain a couple of decades from now much the same reputation that Hyphen enjoys today, for similar reasons.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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