By Steve Perrin
This is a spotty chronicle of how I and a select group of friends set out to become the fanzine masters of San Francisco Bay Area comics fandom. Our core group of myself, Paul Moslander, Johnny Chambers, Clint Bigglestone, and Steve Henderson, in our doomed hubris, created the inciting incident of the trail that led to Superworld, and thus to Wild Cards.
STEVE PERRIN: I got caught at a time of transition. I had just about convinced myself that it was time at my advanced age of 13 to stop reading comic books and settle in to reading science fiction (fantasy wasn’t an easy option in my residence in the hills of Santa Barbara). Then the first issue of the Brave & Bold tryout of the Justice League of America showed up on the comics rack of the local Thrifty Drug store and I had in my hands the first evidence that there was a world that had garishly costumed heroes in it.
They weren’t just individual stories of said heroes with a recognizable repeating cast, but no real continuity. Now, the membership of these heroes in a League meant they were part of a single world and they all talked to each other. And beat up on intergalactic starfish, but that was incidental.
Through High School I followed the events of this connected campaign world. It was not too long after the Silver Age really got going with the JLA that editor (and godfather of the self same Silver Age) Julius Schwartz started publishing fan letters. Other DC editors followed suit, and I came to realize there were others out there that shared my new passion and some had been doing it for years. One name stuck out: Roy Thomas seemed to have a fascination with the genre similar to mine.
Then Julie Schwartz decided to print full addresses rather than just name and city, starting in the letter column of Brave & Bold, this time during the first, unsuccessful, tryout for Hawkman. There was a full address for Roy Thomas. I wrote him a letter.
He wrote back, He assumed I was about his age, which for a High School junior was quite a compliment since he said he was just about to graduate college.
He also said he and Jerry Bails, another of those long term fans who showed up in letter columns, were about to publish a fanzine. I scraped up the 50 cents and subscribed.
The die was cast.
During my last year of High School I wrote stories for fanzines, read old comics loaned by Roy and some other fans (showing great trust in both me and the US Mails) and started accumulating a bunch of regular correspondents, including an up and coming fan writer named George R.R. Martin. I even managed to track down fan artist extraordinaire Ronn Foss who lived near where a place my parents were taking me on vacation, and persuaded them to let me stop by Ronn’s abode for a couple of hours.
Aside from Ronn, however, I had not actually met, face-to-face, another comics fan. There was one other sf fan in the area, and we had met, but he was a college guy and I didn’t impress him as I had Roy Thomas.
Another regular correspondent was Margaret Gemignani, a young woman in her 20s who suffered from acute dyslexia. At the time (early 1960s) no one had really heard of dyslexia. She certainly hadn’t, and was probably really tired of people telling her she had to concentrate when she wrote and get her spelling and syntax correct. I was one of those people, but I was fairly friendly about it.
In the course of our correspondence, she decided that I had agreed to put out a fanzine with us as co-editors, and immediately started putting out Mask & Cape, which mostly arrived as a pile of paper of more or less legibility depending on whether she or the contributor had typed the ditto masters.
I graduated from high school and after a summer spent as a summer stock company apprentice, because my ambition then was to be an actor, I embarked on my college career at San Francisco State College (later University).
Comics fandom in the San Francisco Bay Area was burgeoning. My first roommate in the dorms actually read comics, though we had been put together because we were both headed for the drama department.
During my first year I actually met a fan publisher. Rudi Franke was a graduating senior, but at least we were both at the same level of continuing education. He introduced me to his publishing partner and fellow comic book sales mogul, Barry Bauman, and to Bill Dubay and Marty Arbunich, a couple of fan publishers who eventually published the first fandom newspaper, World of Comicdom. They were high school students, so suddenly I was the college guy. At a fan gathering at Rudi’s house, I met Mike Friedrich.
Realizing that I had at least some access to publishing capability, I told Margaret Gemignani that I would take care of publishing the 4thissue of Mask and Cape. That was the first appearance of my Black Phantom character, with illustrations by Ronn Foss, who then went on to do a fully illustrated version for Bill Spicer’s Fantasy Illustrated. I am told that Black Phantom was the first black comic superhero, pre-dating the first appearance of the Black Panther by several months. Several years later, Mike Friedrich asked me what my Black friends thought of the story. I had to reply that, at the time, I had no Black friends. It was mostly informed by my reading of current events and the desire to create a “relevant” Batman-like character.
During this year and the following summer, I met Johnny Chambers, another high schooler who lived in Redding, where my parents had moved after I graduated from high school so they could be close to my brother’s family.
Johnny was, and is, a gifted cartoonist whose creation, the Little Green Dinosaur, has starred in two underground commix and appeared in many fan publications over the years. Johnny occasionally draws his continuing adventures on his Facebook page.
Like me, Johnny contributed to a lot of fanzines. He also published a lot, using whatever ditto machines he could find. He was already in sci fi fandom doing stories and art. Maggie and Don Thompson were producing Comic Art and they published his drawing of Hawkman. Later, Johnny ended up meeting and corresponding with other comic book fans and was included (along with Paul Moslander) in a Jerry Bails project of producing amateur comic books and articles about comics. They called it CAPA-Alpha. The first (Alpha) Comic Amateur Press Association, a name and concept suggested by Johnny based on an APA published by LASFS, Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.
Johnny’s mother moved to San Jose in pursuit of employment and he and I decided to meet up again and room together at the World Science Fiction Convention coming to Oakland, California, that Labor Day.
And about this time the narrative brings us to SF Bay area fans very important to the ongoing story. This from Paul Moslander, who Howard Waldrop once called the finest writer he knew at the time. Much of that writing was featured in Paul’s fanzine, Jeddak.
PAUL MOSLANDER: Oh, yeah…I have floods of memory.
Letters and fanzines allowed me to know people like Jerry Bails, who created comics fandom, Paul Gambaccini in Massachusetts, Howard Waldrop in Texas, G. B. Love in Florida, the McGeehan brothers and Fred Bronson in Southern California, and so on. Steve and Johnny and Margaret Gemignani would not have known me without fan publications and the mail.
I still think of the Internet as fanzines on television.
Jeddak came about as a result of Mike Friedrich and I meeting while he lived in Castro Valley.I met Mike as a correspondent either through a The Rocket’s Blastfanzine contact or through an address in a pro comic book. In those pre-Internet days, the mail dominated comics fandom. We shortly met in person over at his parents’ house. He was the first comics fan I saw face to face.
We planned to do a fanzine based on both comics and science-fiction (but not s-f fandom, which neither of us knew in 1962).We worked on the first issue together. As it proved harder for us to do much together on two sides of the bay, I took it over.
I had a network of comics correspondents I could ask for material, like Dennis Tenney in Colorado. However, I wound up doing most of the articles and fiction myself, so I developed the Victor Baron and Bill Gregory pseudonyms.
I could print Jeddak because my mother did volunteer work for Catholic Charities in their Burlingame office. The director there had an unused Ditto brand spirit duplicator, which she gave into my mother’s custody so that I could use it. Ditto allowed the easy use of color, unlike mimeographs. However, the process only let you print a hundred or so good copies before the master lost ink and image. You also wound up breathing a whole lot of methyl alcohol, about the dangers of which few knew. Fortunately, my father worked for Crown Zellerbach Paper Company. I got the Hammermill copy paper at employee’s price. I typed everything on our family 1923 Royal manual typewriter in elite type. I also did some hand lettering. Only later issues saw me using a letter guide. I got permission from the large comics companies to use their works in that limited context. My father, who had commercial art training, traced some material. Johnny and others did original art.
Clint Bigglestone and I went to Hillsdale High School. He was a senior and I was a sophomore in 1964 when we met in Journalism class. We found mutual interests in comics, science-fiction, mysteries.
I had been to the 1963 Westercon. So I knew of both comics fandom and science-fiction fandom. Clint had the use of his parents’ car, which took us to the 1964 Worldcon at the Leamington Hotel in Oakland. We met you, Margaret, and Johnny for the first time at the Worldcon. Later, registering for his first semester at S.F. State, Clint encountered you again, I remember you writing me.
STEVE PERRIN: I should point out that Clint’s car became the main mode of transportation for our little group for about 2 years. When our circle of ride-less fans grew, and Clint and I acquired girl friends, things got decidedly cozy in that little Nash Rambler – otherwise known as the inverted bathtub.
After Johnny and I connected with Paul and Clint at WorldCon, I entered my second year at San Francisco State and met a fellow dorm tenant named Steve Henderson, who had seen my dorm address in the letter pages of various Marvel comics, which was just getting rolling at the time.
We decided that we should be roommates and after some tussles with SFState bureaucracy managed to switch roommates. Our Resident Assistant (floor monitor) was apprehensive about how our former roommates would get along, but I recall them staying together for the next couple of years.
Steve had a much greater grasp of fantasy and sword and sorcery literature, introducing us to Conan the Barbarian and Lord of the Rings (this was just before LOTR first came out in paperback). We had heard of these at WorldCon, but Steve actually had the books. All of them.
He quickly became a major part of our group, also introducing us to war games through Avalon Hill war games. Six years later, he bought the group’s first copy of Dungeons and Dragons.
PAUL MOSLANDER:I believe I saw Steve Henderson for the first time in a bookstore jaunt to San Francisco. Probably MacDonald’s Used Books (no relation to the hamburger folks) on Turk Street was involved. We still all talked comics, books in general, and s-f in particular.
In 1964 Jerry Bails asked if I’d take over the Academy of Comic-Book Fans and Collectors. Being 16 I knew that went way beyond my skill level. So he appointed Paul Gambaccini as his successor.
Until 1965, I’d call us comics fans primarily. Our perspectives seriously widened after the Terrible Five jaunt to Felice and Joe Rolfes’ house in 1965.That immersed us into s-f fandom in a fertile time. We became part of that horde of young barbarians about to descend on the Elves, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Science Fiction Chowder and Marching Society.
I should also have mentioned the concept we worked with but never quite got going, a publishing group of Jeddak, Clint’s Cortana, perhaps your Mask & Cape, and the suspense zine I never actually put out,Magnum. Did Johnny have something in that idea? I knowHenderson decided he was readership rather than an editor-publisher.
STEVE: In theory, Johnny’sYmirwas going to be part of it, as well as a general fantasy magazine called Twilight that Bill Dubay did a striking cover for. Lamentably, there was never content to insert. I had a submission for it by the Howard brothers with a nice splash page illo by fan artist (at the time) Rich Buckler. I screwed up the typing on the ditto pages.
Our dreams of being fan publishing moguls perished on the rocks of various ditto machines breaking down or becoming unavailable, the realization that there were a lot of fanzines already being published, and our introduction into the whole milieu of science fiction fandom. For myself, this resulted in immersion in the beginning stages of the Society for Creative Anachronism, meeting my wife, and having to earn a living. The latter rock hit us all, with Clint also meeting his wife (we were married within a year of each other), Steve Henderson leaving to fulfill his obligation to the Air Force, Paul diving into the typing pool at the Veterans Administration, and Johnny getting immersed in his father’s plumbing business.
And the “Terrible Five” appellation comes out of our collision with general sf fandom. Courtesy of Ed Meskys, I believe.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Clint Bigglestone, after a long vocation of running dealer rooms at various West Coast sf conventions, a period in charge of the Heralds of the SCA, and starting DunDraCon, a gaming convention that is still going strong in the SF Bay Area, died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in 1994.
Steve Henderson became a database programmer for Kaiser Permanente, helped start the SCA, was a prominent member of the DunDraCon Committee for many years, was a co-author on both RuneQuest and the original Superworld, and continued to amass an amazing collection of fantasy and science fiction. He died of a brain aneurysm in 2006 in the arms of his wife and son.
Johnny Chambers is currently balancing his management of the family plumbing business with his longtime interest in writing and singing music and occasional forays into the adventures of the Little Green Dinosaur.
Paul Moslander retired from a long career with the Veterans Administration and enjoys his retirement. He has an extensive collection of classical music and African art.
Bill Dubay became a professional comics artist, editor, and writer and produced comics and later animation for many years until his death in 2010.
Marty Arbunich parlayed his publishing experience into publishing books and magazines serving various fandoms – most completely unconnected to comics or sf.
Rudi Franke was last seen (about 30 years ago) teaching art somewhere on the San Francisco Peninsula.
And speaking of Barry Bauman:
I have no idea what Barry did to tick off Jim Starlin. Jim was a comics fan around the same time Barry was active. There is no doubt some connection.
The following photoes were taken in the home of Johnny Chambers using Johnny’s camera, though obviously someone else was using it for some shots. Lamentably they are the only ones we have of these momentous meetings of the minds, or what Paul called “Four HTTs” (High Tension Thinkers, a reference to EE Smith’s Lensman series) “and an artist. No names.”.
Johnny Chambers, Steve Perrin, Steve Henderson, Paul Moslander. Clint, the shortest of our band, is either behind me or taking the picture.
Paul Moslander, Steve Henderson, Clint (on the bed), Steve Perrin (looming). Johnny probably took this picture. This may be the meeting that spelled our doom as isolated fanzine moguls, as we are looking through Johnny’s stash of fanzines and finding the copy of Felice Rolfe’s Niekasthat propelled us into general fandom.
Johnny, Clint, Steve Perrin, Paul. Note the copy of Mask & Cape #4 hanging on the wall. Picture apparently taken by Steve Henderson