Publishing a fan mag in the 1930s was a low-skill, but not a no-skill job.
At the lowest level — that would be the carbon-copy magazine — it required no more competence than the ability to type a page of copy. The more sheets you could slip into your typewriter of copy paper, each with a sheet of carbon paper appended, the more copies you could make of your fan mag. The practical limit was seven or eight, and that only with the thinnest of copy paper and the cleanest of typewriter keys. (By “keys” I mean the part that hits the typewriter ribbon, not the keyboard keys that you press on with your fingertips.)
Dissidents in the Soviet Union in those years published their own sort of fan mags, only they weren’t criticizing sf magazines, they were criticizing their government, and if they got caught at it they faced, at least, jail, and possibly much worse. The examples of it I’ve seen were carbon-copied, because that’s all they had, and very nearly illegible. But they were passed around until they were worn out, or until the owners were caught.
There wasn’t much satisfaction in publishing a carbon-copy magazine. After you made a copy for yourself and a couple for your best friends there weren’t any left to send to Forrest J Ackerman and Don Wollheim and Jack Darrow and the other Big Name Fans you hoped would reciprocate by sending you theirs, so fans and fan groups with any funds at all would rise to the next level, the hectograph.
About the only people to use the hectograph other than fans were the chefs in small, often Italian, restaurants who wanted to announce the dishes they had on offer each day. The hectograph itself was a page-sized tray filled with jelly — usually purple — and not actually a very big step out of the poverty level because you couldn’t make much more than a couple dozen legible copies of each page.
The technology required you to type the copy you wanted to print on a sheet of specially treated paper (called by hectographers a “stencil,” though it properly wasn’t). To prepare for the printing operation, you first washed off the slab of jelly all the ink that was left on it from its last job, then allowed it to dry. Then you carefully spread the stencil over the surface of the jelly, pressing it gently to be sure of contact.
Then you removed the stencil and laid a sheet of paper where it was. Next, you hung that sheet to a cord you have stretched across the room to dry. Then you did the same with your next sheet of paper, continuing until the latest copy was getting too blurry to read. Then you washed the surface of the ink slab to remove every trace of the copy and typed a new copy, continuing until you ran out of copy paper or thought you had enough. You can usually identify a hectograph user by the fact that his fingers are almost always purple.
Then, when the jelly was good and dry, you washed off the old printing and start all over with a new page. You printed all the odd-numbered pages of your fan mag that way, hanging them all up to dry. Then you took them down and did the same thing on the other side for the even-numbered pages, and hung them up again.
When they were good and dry, they were ready to bind — which we will talk about after we describe a few more methods of printing, since the binding is pretty much the same for all of them. Such as the dominant form, used probably by more fans than all the others combined, the mimeograph.
A mimeograph was a patented and manufactured device. It was what the Army used all through the war to “cut” orders. (They always referred to the process as “cutting,” when it really was printing, maybe because typing on a mimeograph stencil was also called “cutting”). Many businesses used it for many purposes, and Russia’s samizdatters would have used it in preference to anything else if they could have. (What stopped them was that every mimeograph in the USSR had a built-in page counter, and if someone printed extra pages somebody got a trip to the labor camps.)
The machine consisted of a large drum, with a handle attached. Turn the handle, the drum goes around. How large a drum? Why, about large enough to wrap a mimeograph stencil around. How big was a mimeograph stencil? About the size of a sheet of legal-size paper (8½ by 14 inches) plus a little extra for attaching it to the drum. A mimeo stencil, usually blue in color, was made of a soft, flexible waxy substance, attached to a back like the thin, flexible stock of the cover of a slick magazine. To use it you carefully fed the stencil into your typewriter, took the ribbon out so the bare keys cut the shape of the keys into the waxy substance.
If you wanted to be arty you drew large letters or pictures on the stencil with a “stylus” — like a pencil, but with no lead at the end, just a sort of metal ball. If you made a mistake you repaired it with a dab of “corflu” — that’s correction fluid — let it dry and did it over
Then, quite carefully, you wrapped the stencil around the drum, fastening it to stay in position. You turned the drum to a position where the interior is exposed to you, and brushed mimeograph ink onto the inside of the drum. From there it would seep through the fabric of the drum itself, then through the places on the stencil where your typewriter or stylus had cut passages through the wax. Then you put some blank pages in the paper bale and turn the handle some more. Et voila, out of the rollers under the cylinder pages began to emerge, each one printed with what you put on the stencil.
Well, you weren’t quite home yet. If you hadn’t inked the inside of the drum adequately not enough ink was seeping through the stencil and so you were getting poor reproduction. If you inked it too much your pages would smear or offset — that is, each sheet that mad it through the process would be over-inked, and therefore made copies of itself on the backs of the sheets that waft onto the top of it. But you got the pages of your fan mag, and all you had to do next was bind them together.
There were two other common forms of reproduction — letterpress, otherwise known as the kind of printing that Johannes Gutenberg invented in 1450 and caused all the trouble — overthrowing of kings, religious wars and its current pernicious manifestation as direct-mail advertising. And offset, which starts with what we don’t want happening when we mimeograph, and now has pretty well put most of those metal-type printing presses out of business.
Don Wollheim’s personal fan mag — called The Phantagraph — was printed with metal type on what I think was Johnny Michel’s little three-by-five press, but hardly any others were. And I took the originals of my own tiny fanzine, Mind of Man, to the professionals; it only required both sides of one 8½ × 11 sheet of paper to be offset-printed, so I could afford it. Now offset printing is everywhere.
You now know all you need to know about the skills essential to publishing a fanzine but one. We didn’t yet discuss the binding.
If your work has only a few pages there’s no real problem. One fan can lay them out on a table, pick them up in the proper order, tap them to make sure they’re neatly aligned and staple them with a regular paper stapler. If you have a lot of pages, and you want to produce a lot of copies — say 15 or 20 pages and 75 to 100 copies or more — then I recommend you adopt the good old fannish collating party.
What you want is a table big enough to hold stacks of all the pages, and slave labor enough for at least one person for every two pages. When everyone is present, the slaves march around the table, picking up each sheet in the proper order. When they’ve got the whole issue, they tap the sheets for neatness, present them to the binder for binding, and then they’re free, free, free.
We used this system when we published The International Observer, the 30-page edition of the official organ of the ISA — a fan club, despite its name of International Scientific Association — which was a little more complicated because we finished it off with a wraparound slick paper cover with color art supplied by Johnny Michel’s silk-screening. Charlie Brown used it for every issue of Locus, until they got too big and too numerous to be done by amateur labor. And you could do it, too.