by Christina Lake
At this year's New Zealand national convention, the award for top fanzine went to a modelling zine from Auckland. "Why?" I asked Alex Heatley, editor of quarterly genzine Phlogiston, the only fanzine I had received at the convention. He shrugged dismissively: "No reason. It just depends on who's at the convention to vote."
"Oh, just like the Novas in Britain," I joked.
But was it, I wondered, as Alex strolled away to show off his second pierced nipple to some other unsuspecting female. The Nova Awards may be susceptible to lobbying and block voting, but at the end of the day they usually produce a winner which, if not necessarily the absolute best fanzine of the year, is recognizably from among the top contenders. Club zines or special interest zines simply don't figure, so there's no question of factional block voting in that sense. Of course, I may be doing the modelling zine from Auckland a disservice. Alex's dismissal might be sour grapes and the zine a true exemplar of witty writing, transgressional modes of thought and inspirational artwork. But somehow I doubt it. More likely the zine provides invaluable advice for the aspiring model maker, but is of no interest whatsoever to the rest of the convention.
Later in the weekend I managed to talk my way onto the mandatory fanzine panel. New Zealand conventions seem to work on a broad church principle that allows equal time to every special interest group. So there was the comics panel, the SF in New Zealand panel, the Star Trek panel, the furry fandom panel, etc. etc. Even the four guests of honor roughly represented the different strands -- Danny John-Jules from Red Dwarf for the media fans, Pat Cadigan for the lit fans, Chris Chitty, the mastermind behind the sheep in Babe for our rampant modelers and Dan McCarthy as fan GoH. Dan, it should be added, is a well-respected fan artist in New Zealand and the only guest to make a structured speech (the rest ad-libbed happily, in Danny's case for two hours, fielding ever more abstruse questions on the making of Red Dwarf.)
On the fanzine panel was Tim Jones, editor of the occasional, but definitely fannish Timbre, Alex Heatley again, thankfully fully dressed, and a demure looking woman with a hairband called Kelly. It wasn't till Kelly opened her mouth that I remembered that not so long ago she had been Justin and a man. Only her voice gave it away. Kelly explained that she produced a Red Dwarf zine, but was really only using it as a platform to get her name known (which name, I wondered, unfairly). In the fullness of time she planned to do her own zine. I applauded this intention, but the audience seemed more sceptical. Who would pay to subscribe to a personalzine? I tried to explain about the theory of participation, the joys of trading zines, the interactive letter columns, the bulging mailbox (I wish!). Alex, who takes subscriptions for Phlogiston, backed me up. He never receives any response, he grumbled, just the money. In fact it was so bad, he was impatiently waiting for the last subscriber to fall off his list so he could fold the zine. The editor of the Dr. Who zine in the audience remained unconvinced. Who needs this vanity press? He did nicely on his 150 subscriptions, thank you very much.
For the first time in my life I began to miss fifties fandom. New Zealand fandom was founded in the later 70s, roughly contemporaneous with my own entry into fandom, so should have been perfect for me. Yet it wasn't. There was no tradition of fanzines to point back to and explain what I meant. People like Tim Jones and I were anachronisms. A minority so minor that even our special interest slot didn't understand us. No wonder Nigel Rowe moved to Chicago.
At the end of the panel, one of the audience insisted on buying a copy of Never Quite Arriving, even though it was so badly reproduced by the hotel staff that the staples were falling out. I pocketed the money gratefully (it was my last day in New Zealand and I was running low on cash). There's a lot to be said for subscribers when you don't have any income. I wondered if perhaps New Zealand fandom wasn't a lot saner than I am.
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