Last weekend my daughter Jessie and I had the pleasure of interviewing George R.R. Martin at the Jean Cocteau Cinema, a charming theater/café/bookshop he operates in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had a great conversation for our podcast, Maltin on Movies, which you can find HERE. In doing homework for that chat I discovered that Mr. Martin and I have at least one thing in common, other than growing up in New Jersey: we both got our start writing for fanzines.
If that archaic term has no meaning to you, it’s probably because the internet has taken the place of those amateur publications that proliferated decades ago. Fanzines were labors of love for all concerned, and a way for devotees of everything from science-fiction to silent movies to reach out to like-minded people, long before social media came along. As we promised on the podcast, I am posting this background piece with illustrations of my work from years gone by.
I edited and published my first fanzine with my friend Barry Ahrendt when we were in the fifth grade. It was called The Bergen Bulletin, because we lived in Bergen County, New Jersey. Our first issue had a press run of three: one original and two carbon copies. (Anybody here remember carbon paper?) We passed those three copies around to classmates and got the kind of first-hand response that inspired us to continue. That’s when we invested $2.98 in something called a hectograph, a term I hadn’t encountered in fifty years until I read George R.R. Martin’s autobiographical essay about his beginnings. A hectograph was merely a 9×12 vat of hardened gelatin. We wrote and drew on a ditto stencil, intended for ditto machines (which were widely utilized in schools). After gently applying a damp sponge to the gelatin we laid the stencil face down and rubbed it diligently. This left an impression which would then yield about fifty purple-inked copies on coated paper stock. It was labor-intensive but it was cheap and it worked. Barry and I had fun being our own editors and publishers, but we retired The Bulletin (as it was later called) when we headed for junior high school. Surely we would be able to join the staff of the school newspaper.
It turned out that the school paper had no use for cocky freshmen, so another friend, Barry Gottlieb, and I launched a more ambitious publication we called Profile. It reflected my growing interest in film history and Barry’s love of magic and magicians. Profile was reproduced on a used mimeograph machine, which was given to me by my father’s cousin, who was in the printing business. It lacked an automatic paper feed, so it was truly labor-intensive—and messy, to boot. I still feel like I have black ink under my fingernails from that experience. Barry had artistic skills and graced our covers with lineoleum-block prints. When we felt flush we sprang for wraparound covers featuring photos and posters from a local job-printer. That spruced up our little magazine, which was starting to build a following outside of our schoolmates.
I was 13 years old when Forrest J. Ackerman’s popular newsstand magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland printed a survey of fanzines. That’s how I learned of The 8mm Collector, published by Samuel K. Rubin in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Film Fan Monthly, published by Daryl Davy in Vancouver, B.C. I submitted articles to them both and they were accepted. That’s when I saw my byline in print for the first time in a publication other than my own. Believe me, that was a heady experience. Only after they published my pieces did I tell them that I was 13. Sam Rubin said he didn’t care and Daryl Davy said the same, adding that he was 19 at the time. I became a regular contributor to both magazines.
After two years Daryl told me he was now holding down a full-time job and couldn’t continue producing a monthly journal. He asked if I would like to “purchase” Film Fan Monthly. The magazine had 400 readers, mostly in the U.S. and Canada but also around the world. What’s more, he was professionally printed. No more mimeograph machine to battle with! We agreed on a price which he deducted from his treasury and sent me a check for the balance. I took over the magazine in May of 1967 and continued to edit and publish it for the next nine years. (I also licked stamps, stuffed envelopes and schlepped to the post office.) Yet another friend, Warren Dressler, agreed to handle the business end of things until he went off to college, at which point my father took over those responsibilities. The magazine never really made money but always paid for itself, thank goodness.
What’s more, it led directly to my being hired at age 17 to edit a book called TV Movies, which was later known as Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. It changed my life, much as I imagine Game of Thrones has changed George R.R. Martin’s. But we both look back on our early years with great fondness and a certain wistfulness for the utter simplicity of our first endeavors. It was a great time to be a fan and a budding writer.