Considering the Best Fanzine of 2008

I realise that up to now I have said very little about fanzines here. I adore fanzines; old fanzines that crumble in my hands, paper fanzines that arrive in the post, virtual fanzines that paginate nicely on my iPhone (actually, I’m still waiting for one of them). And instead of heading for Denver this weekend, I’ll be sitting in a field. So I’ll naturally take some fanzines to read.

Three of the Hugos are given for fanac rather than professional writing; the Best Fanzine, Fan Writer and Fan Artist Hugos. Why Best Fanzine, rather than best blog, or fan fiction, or costume? A little quirk of history, I think; when the Hugos were invented, most fannish activity was taking place in fanzines and their letter columns. But anyway, the fact that the Worldcon still gives out these strange and slightly anachronistic awards is a chance to write a little about fanzines and why you might want to read some of them.

The five nominated fanzines this year include Plokta, which I co-edit with Steve Davies and Mike Scott; I won’t say much about it here. The other four nominees are Steven Silver’s Argentus, Guy Lillian’s Challenger, Chris Garcia’s The Drink Tank, and Mike Glyer’s File 770. And you can go and read them all online! I’ll wait.

They’re all nicer on paper, of course.

Only two of the nominees have won Hugos before, Plokta (twice) and File 770 (five times). File 770 is a zine of fannish news and opinion, agreeably regular and interesting, but I rarely look to fanzines as a news source these days. The latest issue has, amongst other things, an article much like this one; like this one, it goes on to consider fanzines not on the ballot.

Challenger and Argentus both fall into my mental category of “big American genzines”, with a range of articles on science fiction, science, fandom and, well, anything else that the writers are interested in, including personal experience. Both publish relatively infrequently; Argentus is an annual, Challenger publishes about twice a year. With both of these fanzines, I find that some of the articles interest me more than others. Partly it’s because, although I adore reading reviews, I rarely want to read a review column. Instead, just after I read a book or watch a film, I obsessively scour the interwebs for material on that particular title. Perhaps if all fanzines were effectively indexed and searchable?

The fifth nominee, The Drink Tank, is different again. Chris Garcia produces it weekly, online; it’s typically 12 or so pages, formatted to read in landscape and large print. If the Hugo were awarded for effort Chris would surely get it; his explanation is that he has a job that he can fit into the margins around his fanac. The weekly schedule is reflected in a certain informality of structure and content, but Chris does a great job of sourcing fresh and interesting content all the time.

It would be nice to see one of the new nominees win. Challenger has a lengthy track record and multiple nominations; Argentus is perhaps the most assured publication, and The Drink Tank has the best claim to be what fanzines are all about Right Now. But the thing that is really interesting about this year’s Best Fanzine nominees is this; none of my favourite current fanzines are on the list. Some are too small, esoteric or narrowly distributed to feature on a Hugo ballot, to be sure. But three zines stand out over the last year for me.

Chunga, edited by Andy Hooper, Randy Byers and carl juarez, is in many ways kin to the genzines that have made it onto the ballot. But to my mind it’s better; the writing is sharper, the choice of subjects more engaging, and it always looks consciously and carefully designed and laid out, with thoughtful use of art commissioned for specific articles and lovely white space.

Peter Weston’s Prolapse, may be in the ‘too esoteric’ camp. It is seeking to do one thing well; to tell the stories of fandom, and in particular, the stories of the history of British fandom. ‘History’ can be as long ago or as recent as people are willing to write about; he keeps asking me for material but I find my memory is too saggy. But the reminiscences are lush; he’s coaxed articles and letters out of all sorts of people who’ve not been seen at a con for years, and decades-old arguments are reignited in the letter column and are as fresh as ever, and all the juicier because people are less cagey about dealing the ‘truth’ than they were at the time.

The third of my favourites, Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer, is not available online. But it’s been a fine fanzine for years and is absolutely smashing at the moment; appearing reliably every quarter and full of excellent writing both sercon and fannish, and a fine letter column. Copies are available on ‘editorial whim’.

And now, over to you? Which fanzines should we all be reading? What recent fan writing stands out for you?

[Gestetner photo from Phillipe Teuwen, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0, for which thanks.]


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