Posts tagged ‘Donald A. Wollheim’

From left, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, me, John B. Michel, Will Sykora, 1936.

From left, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, me, John B. Michel and Will Sykora in 1936.

A congratulations note from Mark Olson reminds me of what I didn’t think of on my own, namely that we just passed the 75th anniversary of that earth-shaking event, the very first science-fiction convention ever, held when a handful of us New Yorkers dared the rail trip to Philadelphia to join with a handful of Philly fans and convene.

Three-quarters of a century! My, how time flies when you’re having fun!

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’ »

Hannes Bok, 1941.

Hannes Bok, 1941.

There were a couple of things about Hannes Bok that we didn’t mention last time, but they were important to him. One was his love of music. Indeed, when young Wayne Woodard, as he had been named by his parents, started working out the name he wanted to live his life under, the names he started with were all variants of those of the great early master Johann Sebastian Bach. First it was Johan, then Johannes, then he modified the spelling and came up with Hannes Bok. (Which was a little odd, actually, because Hannes’ favorite composer wasn’t anyone as old-fashioned as a Bach, but the quite modern Finnish master, Sibelius.)

The other great passion of his life took up even more of it than music — and was less sympathetic to most of his fellow fans. That was his passion for astrology. Hannes didn’t just believe in it, he studied it with the same intensity that a disciple might have given to the works of his 12th- or 14th-century master. Hannes went so far as to work out complete astrological readings for a few of his friends. They were detailed and — inasmuch is there is anything that could be called trustworthy about the study of astrology in general — quite trustworthily prepared. Looked at as art objects rather than useful tools, they are in fact well worth hanging on your wall. Which is what I did — way back when, with mine — but it’s long lost now and I can only wish that I had it still.

During the years of the War and just after, Hannes had been having his most prosperous period, doing over a hundred covers for Weird Tales and a dozen other science fiction and fantasy magazines, plus interior black-and-whites for them and covers for Ballantine and many of the semi-pro book publishers that were springing up. Most of them didn’t pay very well, and Hannes had a self-defeating habit of putting in long hours of experimentation on new techniques of enhancing the color on each job. But he was eating, and relatively happy.

That, however didn’t last. Hannes had developed another self-defeating habit, this time of becoming pretty quarrelsome. Sadly, a lot of the people he quarreled with were the customers for his artwork. One after another of them quietly took Hannes’ address out of their card file — which had the effect of cutting down on his income — which had the lock-on effect of making him still more quarrelsome.

I saw very little of Hannes in that immediate post-war period. The only contact I remember is running in to him by accident at someone’s office, I think perhaps John Campbell’s. He didn’t seem particularly thrilled at meeting me again, and I wasn’t overly charmed by his manner. It was quite a while after that that I went up to his desolate little flat and saw him for the last time.

It happened that I had met with Don Wollheim for some reason, maybe for lunch one day, and as I was getting ready to leave he said, “What I have to do now is go up and see Hannes Bok to talk to him about some artwork. Want to come along?”

“Sure,” I said, before I could change my mind. The apartment was pretty far uptown, but the subway got us there quickly enough, and Hannes was buzzing the door open before we even rang his bell.

“I was sitting by the widow, and I saw you guys coming, Have you got my checks?”

Donald’s reason for coming, he had explained to me, was to buy a couple of drawings that he hoped to be able to use in his job at Ace Books, but he shook his head at that. “No checks till we get the art,” he said. “I told you that. Have you got the drawings?”

Hannes complained briefly about that, but he went into the room that he called his studio and came back with two flat packages wrapped in newspaper. “When will I get the checks?” he asked Donald.

“As soon as I can get them signed,” Donald said. “You know what it’s like.”

Hannes gave him a bitter grin. “I do,” he said. Then he turned to me. I guess I’d been looking him over pretty closely. He was a lot skinnier than I remembered and quite a lot surlier.

“Is something the matter?” he asked.

I lied. “No, nothing,” I said. But what I had seen in that quick snarling grin had been a real shock. The man had no teeth at all, not even dentures.

I didn’t take much part in the conversation for a while after that. I was doing my best to understand what it would be like to have no teeth. Hannes wasn’t much older than I was. Under forty, anyway. By no means old enough to be the toothless grandpa he had turned into, and by no means as old as the oldest old fart I’d ever had the actual experience of living with. That particular old fart was my own real grandpa, briefly occupying our back room before Ma had managed to shift him off onto the care of Aunt Marie, who had a bigger house and a bigger yard and a hot, dry attic where he could cure the backyard-grown tobacco no one would give him money to buy.

That was when I figured out that you didn’t have to have all that many calendar years behind you in order to turn into Grandpa. Or worse.

Continue reading ‘Hannes Bok, Part 2: The story with the unhappy ending’ »

Donald Wollheim, 1937.

Donald Wollheim, 1937.

When Don Wollheim and Johnny Michel came to convert the Brooklyn SFL to the cause of annihilating Hugo Gernsback, Donald was all of seventeen years old. I was twelve, and to a twelve-year old seventeen looks nearly indistinguishable from grownup. He acted and talked that way, too.

He and Johnny, in fact, were at that BSFL meeting on the very grownup mission of trying to persuade us to join them in punishing Hugo for the cardinal sin of not paying his authors, of which Donald and Johnny were, sort of, two. Gernsback had published Donald’s first story, “The Man from Ariel,” concerning an alien whose home world was so puny that you could pretty nearly jump right off it into space; Gernsback had promised to pay $25 for the right to publish, and had in fact come through with part of it, but was dodging Donald’s attempts to collect the balance.

It wasn’t the case that Donald was hurting for the money. The Depression still lingered, but Donald’s father was a very successful heart doctor with a large and comfortable apartment in the expensive part of West End Avenue. But, though he didn’t actively need the few dollars involved, Donald had the right to collect them and Gernsback was definitely in the wrong.

As we got to know Donald better, I came to have a lot of respect for the frequency with which he generated ideas. He was definitely a leader. I was happy to follow his ever-changing leads … at first.

Later on we sometimes became competitors. But we always remained friends, sometimes off on ventures that excluded even Johnny Michel, to whom Donald otherwise often seemed spot-welded at the spinal column.

More when I get around to writing it. . . .

Harry Steeger

Harry Steeger

In the late 1930s, I was a teenage science-fiction fan and would-be writer. I had come to know a number of editors of the existing science-fiction pulps by reinventing myself as a literary agent and visiting them at their offices, offering them the latest stories written by some of my fan friends. The writers were pretty amateurish and my sales of them around zero. Still, the deception wasn’t entirely implausible. A couple dozen of us would-bes had formed ourselves into a fan club called The Futurians. Drawn from that pool, some of my clients were Cyril Kornbluth, Don Wollheim and Isaac Asimov, and they were all already coming fairly close. Close enough, at least, to be taken at least slightly seriously by the editors.

What I noticed about the editors was that they spent much of their time reading science fiction. Well, that’s what I was doing, too, only I was doing it for nothing. I summoned up the nerve to ask one of the friendlier editors, Robert Erisman, if he would like to hire me as an assistant. He didn’t laugh at me. He didn’t even tell me what I am sure was true, that he didn’t have a budget for an assistant or any hope of being given one. But he did tell me that he had heard that some new magazines were coming out from Harry Steeger of Popular Publications, way at the far end of 42nd Street (Erisman’s office was almost as far west as you could go on 42nd Street, in the old green glass McGraw-Hill Building, while Steeger’s, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, was almost as far as you could go east — that is, in either case, without running into a river.). So why didn’t I, then, go see Mr. Steeger and see if he might hire me to edit a science-fiction magazine for him?

So I did, and, wonder of wonders, Mr. Steeger did. He said I could start right away. He cautioned me that these new magazines he was adding would be paying only a half-cent a word, instead of the traditional pulp penny, and to be consistent, all he could pay an editor for them, like me, was $10 a week, which even in 1939 was starvation wages. (I learned later that I wasn’t even the worst-paid of his new hirees. A young man named Costa Carousso was hired at about the same time, and his deal was that he would be paid nothing for his first three months and then raised to $10 a week. Curiously when Carousso, like me, got swept up into the Air Force a couple of years later, they turned us both into weathermen.)

What he didn’t tell me, but I found out for myself soon enough, was that none of the editors got paid very much, but were all expected to write enough stories for themselves to add up to a passably almost decent income. I volunteered the information that I would prefer to do my own typing and there, too, he managed not to laugh in my face, since that was what all the editors did. He simply walked into an unused office, poached a typewriter off its desk, carried it a few yards down the stem of the great T the offices were laid out in, set it down on that desk and said, “This will be your office. My secretary, Peggy Graves, will come to see you tomorrow and answer any questions you may have, Good luck.” And he walked back to his own office, leaving me to enjoy my very own desk, in my very own office in my very own employer’s publishing company.

Would you believe it, I was 19 years old and actually a professional editor.

(There is one memory from that day that still rankles a bit. All this had taken place on a Thursday, almost all of which I spent in the Popular office. The next day was Friday, which I spent working there. When, the following Friday, Peggy marched through the offices, depositing a paycheck on everyone’s desk, mine was for the five days of that week, with nothing for the Friday and most of Thursday of the week preceding. I contend that I am owed 1-1/2 days pay, or $3, for that week, that I have been owed it now for the better part of a century, and that the debt should have been earning, and compounding, interest all these years. Only I don’t know who to send the bill to.)

More to come.

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Part 5 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

The Futurians by Damon Knight

Audience: Could you elaborate on how you co-write with someone?

Pohl: With Cyril Kornbluth? Well, it’s different with different people. It’s like being married! Incidentally, Alfie, have you ever collaborated on fiction?

Bester: Never. I’ve never collaborated in my life. I’ve strictly been a loner always.

Pohl: I’m afraid I’ve been much more promiscuous than you have!

Bester: I’m curious, too, Fred. What was it like working with Cyril?

Pohl: Well, Cyril Kornbluth and I grew up together. We began writing together when I was about 18 or 19 and Cyril maybe 15. We belonged to a thing called the Futurians; it was a science-fiction fan club in New York in the late ’30s and early ’40s. There’s a book by Damon Knight called The Futurians, which I think is in print here now, full of all sorts of libelous, slanderous gossip about all of us. Much of which is true, but he shouldn’t have said it anyhow! People like Isaac Asimov and Don Wollheim and others would have paid him well not to publish the book.

But we all belonged to this club and we all wanted to write and we all tried. Cyril and I began working together and as we were just beginning to write we developed a lot of each other’s writing habits. We started much the same way, we were used to each other. Then the war came along. He went one way and I went another. And then we got together again on The Space Merchants. And with Cyril, because we had this background of common experience and common attitudes, writing was almost painless on most of what we wrote. We published altogether I think, seven novels and maybe 30 or 40 short stories.

Bester: Did you collaborate line by line?

Pohl: Mostly what we did was talk to each other for a while. He’d come out to my home in Red Bank, where we kept a room for him with his own typewriter, and we’d sit around and drink for a while, and when the booze ran out we’d start to talk seriously about what sort of book we’d plan to write. And we’d think about a situation and talk about a few characters and what might happen to them, and as long as the conversation was flowing we’d keep on talking. We didn’t put anything on paper.

And then when we were beginning to flag, and it felt like it was ready to write, we’d flip a coin and the loser would go up to the third floor — Cyril’s typewriter was in one room there and mine was another — and he would write the first four pages. And then at the end of those four pages, which would stop in the middle of a line or a word sometimes, he’d come down or I’d come down, and say, “You’re on.”

We called it the “Hot-Typewriter System” — just keep the thing going day and night — and we did in fact usually work straight through.

Bester: Now it’s you that’s on, right? You go upstairs, you read the first four pages. Now, did it ever happen that you came down and said, “Cyril, you’re out of your mind. They can’t do it that way?”

Pohl: Not once. A couple of times when we were towards the end of a novel and getting a little giddy we’d play tricks on each other. There was this scene at the end of one novel when, at the bottom of the last page I had somebody look through a microscope and the next line was, “What did he see?” and I said it was Charlie Chaplin in a bowler hat. Then I went down and said, “Take it from there.”

But he fooled me — he just crossed out that line. Usually we didn’t even cross out a line, we just drove from line to line. Page 5 to 8 would be Cyril’s and page 9 to 12 would be mine; we just kept on going until we came to the end of the book. This was rough draft and it always got rewritten all the way through, by one of us, almost always by myself except for the case of one novel, Wolfbane, which was the last writing Cyril did before he died, and there was quite a lot of revision involved in the rewriting. But basically, when we were finished, the novel was there, and it would sometimes only take five or six days to do a whole novel, because we’d work straight through for 24 hours a day.

Bester: I’ve another question! Timewise, sometimes the four pages would take four minutes, four hours, four days, what?

Pohl: Well, there’s a great incentive to speed when you know that the other guy is down there having a great time, and you want to break it up as quickly as possible, so usually it only took a couple of hours. You know that the other guy is waiting, and if you don’t get down there pretty soon he’ll be off to a bar somewhere. So we worked pretty fast. It’s a good way to write a book with two people who are close enough in their ways of work that they don’t kill each other.

I wrote a novel with Lester del Rey once and we almost did kill each other. He was one of my closest friends up until that point. Now we’ll never write another word together.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 5: Collaboration and the Futurians’ »