Posts tagged ‘Forrest J Ackerman’

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

A few days ago, I received a telephone call to tell me that Ray Bradbury had just died.

I can’t write a proper obituary about the man who had been a friend for very nearly three-quarters of a century, ever since that day in 1939 when both of us — kid fans, yearning to be writers, though neither of us had sold a story yet — ran into each other at the very first World Science Fiction Convention ever. Ray had dreamed of going, but didn’t have the price of bus fare until the great father figure of fandom, Forrest J Ackerman, loaned it to him — and, once present, Ray spent most of his time trying to interest New York editors in the cover art of his friend, Hannes Bok.

In the seventy-odd years since then, our lives intersected from time to time. Now and then I would buy something of his for some magazine or anthology I was editing; sometimes we would appear on some con program together, occasionally I would take him to lunch in the endeavor, usually unsuccessful, to persuade him to write more for me.

One particular lunch, early on, sticks in my mind. We were walking toward a restaurant in Century City when a cab driver slowed, leaned out of his window and called, “How you doing, Ray?” And somewhat sheepishly Ray admitted to me that many of the cabbies in the Los Angeles area knew him well, as a steady customer, because he never himself drove a car. (Later, as he prospered, he kept a car and driver of his own.)

I saw Ray last a couple of years ago, when he and I were joint guests for the science-fiction program at UC-Riverside. He was feisty as ever, rather startlingly denouncing current science fiction as trash or worse — though it turned out that what he meant to be denouncing wasn’t print science fiction, but only the current crop of sf films. I would have liked to go into that in more detail, and to ask if he included the film Avatar. But time didn’t permit, and now I never can.

So long, Ray. You’re leaving me feeling a little lonesome.

Dick Smith demonstrates a mimeograph. (Photo by Chaz Boston Baden.)

Dick Smith demonstrates a mimeograph. (Photo by Chaz Boston Baden.)

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.

Continue reading ‘How to Publish a Fanzine’ »

Illustration by Hannes Bok.

I commissioned this illustration from Hannes Bok after seeing his work in 1939.

The Futurians had any number of members who won awards for writing, but we only had one who earned his Hugo by the beauty of the things he drew and painted. That was Wayne Woodard, as his parents called him when he was born in 1914, though he became better known to fans and to art-lovers all over the world by the name he chose for himself when he needed something to sign to his artwork, Hannes Bok.

Most magazine illustrators get their start with the magazines by visiting their offices, a bunch of samples under their arms, and showing them to whoever on the masthead would look at them until somebody showed up who liked the samples well enough to use a few in their magazines. That wasn’t possible for Hannes. He was a West Coast kid and he had no possibility of affording a bus ticket to where the magazines were. But he had a stroke of luck.

When he moved to Los Angeles — which he did early in 1939 — he met a kid fan named Raymond Bradbury — “Ray,” for short — who was almost as badly off as himself. The kid wasn’t aiming to be an artist; his dream was to become a writer, but he was as unsuccessful at it as Hannes was with his art. However. he belonged to a group of people who, like Hannes, were interested in science fiction and fantasy. The group, the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, would later become the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. They met in an upper room of a place called Clifton’s Cafeteria.

LASFS was a welcoming group for Hannes. Among the people he met there was a writer named Emil Petaja, who did get some of his stories published in the prozines and became Hannes’ best and lifelong friend. Another was a fan, or actually a kind of superfan who knew everybody involved in making of sf films, named Forrest J (No Period!) Ackerman.

The big news in science fiction, at least as far as the LASFS was concerned, was what was going to happen in New York that summer. The city was planning a huge show called the New York World’s Fair, and the fans in New York had uncharacteristically abandoned their blood feuding to work together to create a wonderful new project, a World Science Fiction Convention. It was the chance of a lifetime, they reasoned, because they could take advantage of all the foreigners who would come to New York for the Fair. Some fraction of them, they calculated, were sure to be fans who would be likely to stay for this Worldcon.

It was every last LASFS member’s dearest dream to be among them, but for most they knew it was only a dream. The Depression was dwindling fast, but its effects were not altogether over. And LASFS was made up mainly of teenagers with few resources to draw on.

But one resource was Forry Ackerman. A small inheritance had left him with money in the bank, so he was going to the Worldcon himself. So was a female fan named Myrtle R. Jones — or, as you would say it in Forry’s favorite second tongue, Esperanto, “Morojo.” And, when Forry had had a couple weeks of exposure to the woebegone expression on Ray’s face, he figured out a way of solving one problem. He could lend Ray Bradbury the bus fare. So he tapped the bank account a little harder, and pulled out enough cash to lend Ray Bradbury the price of a ticket to New York.

That was not a risk-free investment on Forry’s part, because the only source of income Ray had to pay him back was what he earned as a newsboy, selling papers on the streets of Los Angeles. But it wasn’t just a kindness to Ray. To Forry’s generosity, Ray added on a kindness of his own. He was going to do his best to meet every sf editor in the world, or at least every one who made it to the Worldcon, and while he was introducing them to himself there was no reason — assuming Hannes would lend him some samples to take along — why he couldn’t introduce them to the work of Hannes Bok at the same time.

 
And that is how it all fell out. Ray wheeled and dealt with such good effect at the Worldcon that, if I’m not mistaken, some of Hannes’ samples were actually bought and published by an editor, and several other editors asked him to do work for them.

One of this latter class was me. I met Ray Bradbury, and heard of Hannes Bok, for the first time at (or, more accurately, near — but that’s another story) the Worldcon, and shortly thereafter commissioned a set of illustrations for a story of my own from Hannes. (I still have one of the drawings on the wall of my office at home.)

That expedition worked so well for Hannes that it gave him the funds to make the move to New York, and that too worked pretty well. Well enough, at least, for Hannes to enjoy some years of relative affluence — affluence enough, that is, for him to pay the rent and have enough left over to eat regular meals.

I think he must have been a pleasant person to be around then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around him for most of that period, because I had received an employment offer — the kind of an offer that you just can’t say no to — from the Armed Services of the United States of America.

 
Watch for Part 2, covering how all this worked out, coming soon — provided “soon” is when I write it.

 
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Fantasy Book No. 6, 1950

Fantasy Book No. 6, 1950.

Sometime in the early 1950s, I was putting together Beyond the End of Time, an anthology for one of Doubleday’s subsidiary imprints. That was something I liked doing, so I did it fairly often.

It was an easy thousand dollars or so, because I had already read about a zillion stories that I liked well enough to be willing to package for some new readers and because all those old issues of Astounding, Amazing and Wonder had not yet been mined by so many other anthologists that every good story had already been reprinted by six or seven anthologists in six or seven books. I needed to include a bunch of those old superstars, because my editors felt that the names were what sold the books, but I also liked to include a couple of pieces that would be new to almost everyone. And I had one candidate in mind from the very beginning.

It was a story that had appeared in a semi-pro sf magazine from California called, if I remember aright, Fantasy Book. Its title was “Scanners Live in Vain.” It was about a bizarre kind of spaceflight, set in a bizarre future world, and it was signed as by someone named Cordwainer Smith. So I included it in my lineup, and then had the problem of finding out who could sign a permission for the use of the story and accept the payment for it. “Cordwainer Smith” smelled very much like a pseudonym to me. But for whom?

At first I thought it likely that it belonged to one of the existing pros because it just seemed to be too professional in quality to have been written by an amateur. However, stylistically it was very unusual, and not a bit like the style of any writer I could think of, So, as deadline time grew close and I had no signed permission I fell back on Plan B.

Plan B was Forrest J Ackerman. Forry knew just about everybody who was or ever had been connected with science fiction and had set up a literary agency of his own that capitalized on that fact. So I got my permission, the author got his money when Forry had tracked him down, and one day when I happened to be in the office, a man named Paul M.A. Linebarger showed up to thank me for publishing his story and to ask if I would be interested in some others he had written.

His timing was perfect. I had become editor of Galaxy when Horace Gold’s health made it impossible for him to go on with the job, and I was looking for strong new writers. Paul was just what the doctor ordered. Not only was he a welcome new voice in that every-issue cantata I tried to conduct, he had one trait I appreciated in particular. He liked to write. He did it in volume. And the stories were all good. Some I liked better than others, but I don’t think I ever turned down a single word he wrote. . . .

Well, except for titles. When Paul was on target, his titles were unlike anyone else’s, and better, but sometimes the muse seemed to have deserted him. I changed fairly many — not by any means a majority, but a significant fraction.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember most of them. If I could go through a complete file of the magazines, I could probably pick them out, but I don’t have one. The only instance I can remember for sure was “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell.” I don’t remember what Paul had called the story, but I thought it dreary … while what I do remember is that on the very next page of the ms., in another context, he had written the phrase “The Ballad of Lost C.Mell,” just begging to be made the title.

(If anyone is desperate to know which is which they probably could satisfy themselves by visiting Syracuse University’s library. After I left, I believe Bob Guinn, Galaxy’s publisher, donated all of the magazine’s papers to the university for a tax break, and the stories should all be there. If you come across a manuscript in which the original, typed title has been crossed out and a new one penciled in, that’s one.)

Writing science fiction was of course not Paul’s sole enterprise. He spent a lot of time on his main job, which was something weighty for the American State Department. I don’t know exactly what. He didn’t volunteer much, and I didn’t press him because I had learned, in the years when I was wandering the Earth to lecture on American science fiction as a sort of ice-breaker for the working diplomats, that there were things they didn’t want to talk about. You’d be chatting amiably with somebody in Washington — or in some embassy or consulate in Moscow or Leningrad or Stockholm or or Singapore or Auckland and at some point they would kick the conversation into a ninety-degree turn and, if you asked why, they’d just say, “Well, we’re not supposed to talk about that.”

Paul did say that the principal reason they considered him indispensable in Foggy Bottom was that they needed him to lecture to some groups of foreign diplomats. These were the people with not quite adequate command of English, and what they liked about Paul was that he could speak u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-y S-L-O-W-l-y, so the foreigners had time to translate his remarks in their minds. But what those lectures were about he never said.

And then he would go home and write stories for me for relaxation.

If you would like to know everything that Paul was writing in those days, just look at my magazines. Up to a point, at least, it’s all there., just about every story Paul wrote in the mid-’60s, because he sent them all to me, and I couldn’t make myself reject any of them. . . .

Well, that’s true with one exception. At that time, Paul’s agent was Harry Altshuler, and one day Harry got in the mail an envelope from Paul that contained not one but two new stories. The bad part of that was that for reasons I can only guess — psychosis? Alcoholic delirium? — Harry had long ago imposed on himself a truly loopy rule prohibiting ever sending to an editor more than one story by a single author at a time. So he sent one story to me — which, whatever it was, I bought and published — and the other, a piece called “On Alpha-Ralpha Boulevard,” which, obediently to his maniacal Rule No. 1, he shipped off to Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Which, of course, not being incompetent, they bought and also published.

When I found out about it, I had words with Harry. This led him to suspend that rule for the duration of his life. But it was too late to prevent the loss of a story I really wanted. The damage was done.

To be continued.

 
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Cordwainer Smith, Part 2