Introducing Volume Two of The Visual History

Volume Two of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom is a half-of-a-half-of-a-book. Strange to say, given that it’s over 480 pages.

Volume One of the series covered the emergence of organized fandom in the decade of the 1930s – broadly, and with depth in selected areas. The result was a 515-page tome weighing in at over six pounds. If you’ve held a copy in your lap, you know what this means.

The original vision for our project anticipated two volumes of The Visual History. The first, already published for the 1930s, and a second to cover the period from 1940 thru 1946. We thought it important to span the pre-war and war years, leading up to a natural stopping point at the 1946 World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles (the first Pacificon).

When we dug in on the research for the second volume, we quickly found two things:

  • The events that took place in fandom prior to the US entry into World War II were seminal. The echoes of the 1939 Worldcon were still ringing. Traditions that would become central to fan gatherings for the succeeding decades were established. Many prominent fans were making major transitions into professional careers that would shape the genre and the industry.
  • Some of the fans of this period could really write – and they did, prolifically. The volume and quality of fan-produced content both grew substantially, yielding many rich essays that convey their experiences in compelling ways.

Our initial estimate that we could cover 1940 thru 1946 in a meaningful way in one book seemed out of the question. We pivoted to focus on the pre-war years, targeting Volume Two on 1940 and 1941. We felt this represented an approximate bisection of the work, as activity in fandom subsided to a degree in the war years. This gave us license to delve more deeply into the history of each year.

After several weeks spent pulling together material available for our reduced Volume Two, we framed an outline of the story we wanted to tell and did a page count estimate. It became clear that we were at risk of creating an even more unwieldy tome. Further, our dive into 1940 surfaced many stories that needed telling. So, we split the work again. The result: a half-of-a-half-of-a-book. With this narrowed focus, Volume Two seeks to tell the story of fandom in 1940 with the depth and nuance it deserves.

The Table of Contents from The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume Two: 1940
Click the image for a full-screen view.

The richness of fan content produced in 1940 presented a further challenge. Fans waxed eloquent on their experiences attending events and traveling to meet other fans. They stumped for ideas they held passionately and railed against injustice, real and perceived. We discovered over a dozen detailed narratives we view as important. Each ran for three or more full-sized pages. Simply regurgitating these into the book wouldn’t serve our purpose: to bring the stories to life in an accessible way.

Our imperfect solution to this quandary was to yet again split Volume Two. The core book samples the narratives, presenting key extracts supported by visual artifacts and context. A separate Supplement – over 100 pages – contains full facsimiles of the extended fan articles as they originally appeared. We hope our readers appreciate the accessibility and flow of the primary book as well as the completeness offered in the Supplement.

Some aspects of the story are rooted in 1940 but refuse to be constrained by time. Extended sections cover the full careers of fan-artists John Giunta and Tom Wright. The life-long contributions of iconic fan Wilson “Bob” Tucker are documented. The colorful publishing career of William Lawrence Hamling is covered in full.

We’ve again sought to spice the soup with original narrative comics drawn from fan content. Our third collaboration with leading artist Mark Wheatley brings a stunning treatment of the harrowing tale of two fans traveling to the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago by hopping freight trains. Eric Brock returns with illustrations highlighting the activities of the Futurians. Daniel Krall and Antonio Santos make their FFE debut with graphical renditions of key events in 1940 fandom.

Our mission at FFE is to bring to life the evolution and impact of science fiction fandom. We hope this exploration of one pivotal year gives the reader a visceral sense of what life as a fan was like in 1940 – and reveals how the passion of early fans laid the foundation for the pervasive influence that science fiction and fantasy exert today. If these aims are achieved, the book is worth its weight.

Volume Two is available now.