The Twiltone Slide Show:
An Introduction to the Fanzine Art Archive
 
Taral Wayne
When I was asked to write an introduction for this site, I considered two important issues:  did I have anything of value to say about the subject, and what sort of nonsense would someone else have to say about it if I refused?  I’ll let the reader decide whether I chose correctly.
 
    saarahonourrole366To begin with, it has to be understood that while early fanzines had precedents in the realm of amateur publications in the 19th century, they were nevertheless a direct imitation of the professional science fiction and fantasy magazines published in the 1920s and 1930s. They shared all the same features as Amazing, Astounding and other “pro mags” – an editorial, stories, features and a letter column.  And, again like the pro mags, they were illustrated.  Imitation is almost certainly why there is fanart.  For the purposes of this archive, it is still what we mean by fanart – art created solely for amateur publications.  For the first few decades of fandom’s history, there was scarcely anywhere else that fanart could have been seen.
 
    Art created with commercial intent was not fanart, even though the subject matter might be much the same.  There was no mistaking a drawing of a spacecraft in a mimeographed fanzine for a painting by Chesley Bonestell on an issue of Fantastic, or a Virgil Finlay drawing on the dust jacket of a novel.  Today, the issue has been badly muddied by the emergence of other media.  We see SF and fantasy art on the program books of vast, commercial conventions, on Internet fiction sites and on semi-professional magazines.  It is still my belief, however, that these represent commercial art.  It is not work done solely for the artist’s own satisfaction, or out of his or her sense of involvement in the fan community. But I concede that the distinctions between fanart and commercial art are no longer so black and white.
 
    For the purpose of this archive, though, we are sticking to the old, ad-hoc definition.  Fanart may be largely a state of mind, and it is our own state of mind that will make the decision what to include in the genre.
 
 
    Most of the fanart in the first two decades of fandom was crude at best.  It wasn’t entirely that the artists lacked talent – though to be sure, most had little of that commodity.  Fanzines, however, were produced in extremely limiting media.  Most were published using a spirit duplicator, hectograph machine or  mimeograph.  A few lucky individuals had a letterpress … or the money to take their publications to a printer to have it done professionally.  The number of such fanzines at any one time, however, was probably never more than half a dozen.  All the rest were strictly hand-made – and it showed.
 
    The art in the average fanzine had to be traced onto a wax stencil for mimeography, or onto a Ditto master for spirit duplication.  The result was usually no better than the tracing skill of the fanzine’s editor, regardless of the ability of the original artist. Both media favoured simply outline drawings, with no solid areas or half-tones.  Furthermore, a poor hand at the mimeo or Ditto machine would erode the appeal of the art still further.
 
    Elaborate cover art was sometimes lithographed, or silk-screened, but that was the exception rather than the rule.
 
    Nevertheless, a few genuine masters of the fanzine medium emerged as the 1940s ground on into the ‘50s.  The physical limits on fanart were strict, and favoured simple expression of ideas rather than subtlety of execution, but some artists, such as Bill Rotsler, Bob Shaw and Arthur Thomson (ATom), took to these limitations like card sharks to four suits.
 
    Fanzines themselves changed considerably in those two decades. The serious sort persisted, of course – those that regarded themselves as serving the interests of the science fiction genre by recording, evaluating and promoting the literature to the public.  But more and more fans took a new, and initially revolutionary, position – they were simply communicating their interests and excitement with each other, using a common idiom.  Putting it more simply, they were just having fun.
 
SketchClasss     in those decades reflected the shift in paradigm.  The dead-serious illustrations of space battles, men in space suits, swordsmen riding dinosaurs and eerie-looking alien beings began to give way to humorous subjects, and cartoons about fandom that often included portrayals of actual fans.  This fanart was fun fanart.  It was self-referential as all hell, and rarely took itself seriously.
 
    In the 1960s, the paradigm shifted yet again, this time a little in the opposite direction.  Offset printing became far cheaper and more accessible to the average fanzine editor – who was, after all, typically aged 18 to 24, frequently a university student and generally without substantial income.  Once it became possible to have offset printing done at an affordable price, “serious” art began appearing on fanzine covers  once again.   It was probably no coincidence that in the mundane world, youth culture was in the throes of a profound visual revolution.  This is the era in which artists such as George Barr, Tim Kirk, Alicia Austin and Grant Canfield came to the fore.  But still, the vast majority of fanart remained the simple, outline cartoons that fan editors favoured for the interior pages of their fanzines.
 
    Through the 1970s, as photocopiers improved and Xerox machines became affordable, some fan editors experimented with “clip art” they found in magazines or newspapers … generally with unsatisfactory results, but it filled a need, since few fanartists would draw a Black and Decker hedge trimmer or a leafy Victorian curlicue if asked.  While not immediately apparent, the freedom fan editors found in xerography would, over time, help undermine the role of fanartists.
 
 
    Then, of course, came the digital age, which changed everything.  No longer was it necessary to print anything at all to publish a fanzine.  Fan editors could  manipulate words and images directly on the screen, and distribute them in whatever file format was convenient.  It was no longer necessary to limit illustrations in any way.  Colour became almost mandatory.   Photographs were a breeze.  Any image that was already digitized was fair game to import into your document.  You could search the entire globe, through the Internet, for the exact image you wanted.  In effect, fanartists became redundant.
 
    It didn’t happen overnight.  Despite being disciples of the future, Old School fandom was rather slow at adapting to the digital age.  Fans took to word processing first, but continued to mimeograph and xerox their fanzines for the first few years.  But gradually the advantages of digital zines and the obstacle of rising postal costs drove all but a few hardy souls to one of two formats.  The more obvious of the two was to open a Website, on which to post your material.  It was quickly understood, though, that a Website or blog was just not the same as a fanzine. New material simply flowed through in an uninterrupted stream, without any need for distinct “issues.”  Material could be added or deleted from any page, at any time.  The site could be set up to allow readers to comment immediately on the current contents.  The Website was also impossible for it’s readers to “collect,” in the usual sense.
 
    The other choice was to publish a fanzine as a digital document.  PDFs quickly became the preferred format.   Each document remained a discrete issue all on its own.  The material was fixed in that form, and not interactive.  Reader comments were delayed until the next issue.  You could “collect” them.  All in all, the PDF fulfilled most, if not all, of the criteria to be adopted as the logical successor of the paper fanzine.
 
    Of course, there remain fans who turn up their noses at digital fanzines, but given the realities of the early 21st century, this is carrying traditional values Too Far.
 
    But as a result of the ease with which any image can be included in a digital fanzine, most zines today are copiously illustrated with photographs of the editor, his family and friends and the places where they vacation or get together on pub night.  Most of the rest consists of the covers of books under review.  The work of the fanartist is no longer a dominant feature.
 
    And yet the old fanart culture has not entirely disappeared.  Many of the artists who illuminated fanzines in the 1970s and 1980s are still with us.  Steve Stiles, Brad Foster, Marc Schirmeister, Dan Steffan, Grant Canfield and Alexis Gilliland illos are still to be found in today’s fanzines, even if they do not monopolize the pages as they once did.
 
    Perhaps this can even be seen as a good thing.  Although fanartists may be a gradually vanishing breed, are not their delightful works all the more precious when we are given the opportunity to see them?
 
showmeyours    It is not just fan editors who have learned new tricks, either.  Fanartists have also embraced Photoshop magic.  They have learned to colour and play with light, to texture and alter, and to superimpose.  We can easily outdo our “masters” by combining photographs of fan personalities with make-believe landscapes … or modify them to better resemble the monsters we know them to actually be.  
 
    Gone are the primitive lettering guides, stencil styluses and sheets of Letraset.  Anyone who can search the Internet for free downloads can have hundreds of sophisticated, playful and fantastic type fonts at their disposal!
 
    Of course, the day will come when fanart as we once knew it is no more.  Although there will never be any shortage of artists, few will be attracted to the tiny, diminishing sub-culture of fanzine fandom.   Someday that number will fall to none.  It is just as likely that the day will dawn when no one has any reason to imitate the long-dead model of printed magazines.  Other than collections of moldering paper, held together by rusting staples, and safely out of reach of anyone with fewer than three post-graduate degrees to their name who might read them, there will be nothing remaining of fanzine fandom … or of fanart.   And that is why we are trying to preserve as much of it as we can here.
 

Fan Art by Taral Wayne Marc Schirmeister Alan White