Today, geek and nerd culture is basically built around the monolith of the internet. Every subject of our interest is at our fingertips: reviews, discussions, fanart, shopping, you name it. Not to mention, it’s a relief to constantly be reminded that no, you’re not the only person into this goofy thing.
Technology may have its costs, but as far as being united in our love for all things dorky, it’s a godsend. So what did our people do before we had a strong, reliable, media-friendly internet that didn’t tie up the phone line? What happened in those days before 2004 and especially (gulp) 1994?
If you wanted to consolidate permanent and easily readable information, incorporate pictures, and make it all look like more than the scribblings of a maniac, you had to get into the world of print publication. Enter the fanzine.
Published by dorks of the niche for dorks of the niche, its breed will never really live as it once did in those pre-digital days. They were prepared and published with no permission, no funding, no corporate interest; just a group of geeks scraping together any fifty bucks they could get to run a Xerox machine all day or send something off to the short-run printers.
The investment was thorough in both publisher and subscriber, with your time and money and satisfaction in finally connecting to your favorite fandom riding on the line. As a result, emotions could run as high as pure soap opera. Letters to the editor had their dull moments, but it was rare that an issue would go by without some kind of bizarrely personal blowup.
People would argue with each other, flirt with one another, talk about dead relatives, and then get condolences. I could show you a two-page letter, published in full, from a person talking about the deep effect a national event had on them – in a movie monster fanzine. In a later issue of this same fanzine, the editor expressed a rather excessive politically charged belief out of left field in his intro column, and the subsequent issue’s letters were full of debate over the issue. It’s the kind of stuff that would be unthinkable in Time or even Nintendo Power (RIP), but it was just accepted as standard procedure in a fanzine.
More often, though, the passion was channeled into fan works. You could see some amazing paintings, comics, and model buildups in these magazines, reproduced in only the most beautiful smudgy newsprint. But hell, it didn’t matter, you were just happy to see it at all! I don’t know if the same could always be said about fan fiction, but that too certainly clung to the pages of most fanzines.
Before the massive, terrifying, and awesome power of FanFiction.net allowed you to read and write whatever you wanted in the privacy of your own home, you had to roll up your sleeves and proudly embrace it in the pages of your homemade periodicals. One of these brave souls, Jennifer Guttridge, brought us what might have been the first Spock/Kirk sex story and even the first slash story period, in the pages of a self-circulated publication that’s been going around since at least freaking 1973. Bless your controversial, history-making hide, Ring of Soshern.
The Kirk/Spock pairing was certainly not the only unusual fan theory that gained enormous popularity through fanzines. The idea has almost perished now, thanks to the prequel-that-shall-not-be-named, but once upon a time there was a small group of people really gunning for Boba Fett to be unmasked as a woman! I have a fan-published collection of Boba Fett stories that was put together in early 2002, and both the letters and the stories were full of love for Lady Boba. I can only imagine the pain and agony those poor people experienced that May. There was really no reason it couldn’t have happened; so sayeth this definitely unbiased author. Dammit, George. At least we can hold out for a retcon, right Disney?
Setting aside all the wondrous and terrifying fan creations, you actually come across quite a bit of amazing knowledge and perspective in a good fanzine. Sometimes the most innocuous tattered piece of newsprint can be hiding an interview or photo or letter that has yet to reach the internet in any form. Little facts that shed major light on our favorite movies, TV shows, and books of yesteryear, dying out because these little treasures are being thrown out or dissolving in garages somewhere without ever being scanned.
Sure, I don’t think all my old fanzines are going to end up in the Smithsonian someday, but they’re a piece of our cultural history at the rawest and most personal level, and that’s got to be worth something. Even if it’s often an embarrassing, embarrassing piece of Geekdom Past.
Relics of Geekdom Past turns a cynical yet loving eye to the pieces of geek culture that just aren’t what they used to be. Thoughts? Suggestions? Embarrassing personal admissions? Our comments section welcomes all of these things.
Featured image credit: University of Iowa