The upcoming Volume Two of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom will focus entirely on 1940. It was an intense and pivotal year for science fiction and for fandom. We currently project the book to come in at about 400 pages.
In our research, we’ve naturally focused a great deal on the 1940 Chicago World Science Fiction Convention — hereinafter “ChiCon.” (There have been other ChiCons, but this one is ours, for now.)
We’ve had the privilege of several discussions with one of the organizers of ChiCon, Erle M. Korshak. Erle served as the auctioneer at the first fifteen WorldCons. He pitched in at the 1939 New York event, took up the gavel full time in Chicago and thence became the go-to huckster. We’re delighted to have access to an iconic photo from this early period. It appeared in the 2009 volume From the Pen of Paul: Fantastic Images of Frank R. Paul, published by Erle via his company (Shasta-Phoenix Publishers) and edited by his son, Stephen D. Korshak. The photo as it appeared in that book with accompanying caption is shown below.
In this photo, Erle holds an iconic painting by Frank R. Paul titled “Glass City of Europa,” one a series of works depicting “life on other worlds.” Paul rendered these for Raymond A. Palmer, who used them on the back covers of issues of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures from 1939 through 1942. Palmer and other editors routinely donated original art from their magazines to support auctions at fan conventions.
In the background behind Korshak is an even more significant artwork — Hubert Rogers’ original illustration for E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “Gray Lensman.” It appeared on the cover of the October 1939 issue of Astounding Stories, and was given to Smith by Rogers as a gift.
We intended to include a scan of the original photo in our coverage of ChiCon, along with the notable fact that the Korshak family later re-acquired the Paul painting — at a much higher price than it realized when originally auctioned.
When we dug a little deeper, we were faced with a conundrum. “Glass City of Europa” was published as the back cover of Amazing Stories in January 1942 — fully sixteen months after ChiCon. This seemed possible — perhaps Palmer had photos taken of the entire series from Paul and therefore didn’t need the originals anymore.
Far be it from us to question the origins of the auction photo, given the family’s very clear attribution to Chicago in 1940. That said, we couldn’t just leave it alone.
We’re fortunate to have other photos from the period that allow us to stitch together the record. Below we see E.E. Smith, E. Everett Evans and Erle Korshak. This photo was originally also placed at ChiCon. A third photo shows Bob Tucker and Al Ashley and was included in a batch of photos from the 1941 WorldCon in Denver — and so was assumed to be from that event.
As we looked more closely, we came to the conclusion that all three of these photos must be from the same fan event. Note the exact match of the chair back style between the auction photo and the Tucker-Ashley photo. Now pick out the tie and badge worn by the person sitting behind Korshak in the auction photo. Compare that to the tie and badge worn by E.E. Evans in the group photo. Seemingly identical.
If all of these pictures are from the same event, are they from ChiCon? It didn’t add up.
The aforementioned time lag between ChiCon and the publication of “Glass City of Europa” — possible, but puzzling.
More notably, the corner of the fanzine visible on the far left of the auction photo, standing up on the table. The airbrush art is distinctive. It’s Nova (IV), v1n1 by Al Ashley, dated November-December 1941.
Perhaps most notably, the badge worn by E.E. Evans reads “Galactic Roamers.” We know for certain that the Roamers were formed and chose the name of the club on January 10, 1941.
At this point it became clear that the photos weren’t from ChiCon. The next logical guess was the 1941 WorldCon in Denver — but we know quite certainly that E.E. Smith wasn’t there.
Major head-scratching ensued. What hadn’t occurred to us was that there were other fan gatherings at that time where an auction might have occurred. FFE Principle Historian Sam McDonald thought of this, and thereafter quickly nailed the clear answer: all three photos are from the first-ever Michicon, held on November 16 1941.
Additional photos from that event bear this out. The chairs… the badge… the tie… Korshak clowning…
Bob Tucker’s account of the gathering tells us that “Glass City of Europa” sold for not more than $5.
We’ll tell this story as part of Volume Three of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom. That book will cover 1941 in depth, including the original Boskone, the Denvention and the first Michicon. Stay tuned!
P.S. Where are the movies of the costume ball at Denvention? Where are the hundreds of photos taken at 1940 fan events? Sadly, it seems that a very small sampling of these artifacts have survived.)
For collectors of early fan material, discovering that a recovered treasure is incomplete is more than disappointing. It leaves a gap in the record that spurs a quest to fill the void.
In at least two surviving copies of The MSA Bulletin from January 1940, there’s a conspicuous hole. Why would someone clip out a section of the generally mundane column “Items of General Interest?” These publications did not include coupons.
The MSA Bulletin, v2n1, January 1940
The origin of this mystery dates to June 1938 and an interaction between a young fan from Skowhegan, Maine and the powerful editor of a professional pulp.
James S. Avery appeared to be a rising star in early fandom. He was all of 17 when he excoriated John W. Campbell, Jr. and his publication in a letter to Astounding Science-Fiction. In November 1938, he assisted Harry Warner, Jr. with the launch of Spaceways, a prominent fanzine that ran for 30 issues through 1942. By September 1939 he was a founding member of the Maine Scientifiction Association (MSA) and editor of its club organ, The MSA Bulletin.
Astounding Science-Fiction, v21n4, June 1938
Meanwhile, on July 5 1939 the New York Daily News saw fit to print this brief item in the “Hollywood” gossip column by Danton Walker:
Street & Smith was the publisher behind Campbell’s Astounding. The company noticed – and took exception. But some science fiction fans also found time to read the newspaper. Donald A. Wollheim amplified the rumor in an article in Fantascience Digest penned in August 1939.
Wollheim may have missed the terse, marginal retraction that appeared on July 7 in the Daily News.
Campbell also kept an eye on leading fanzines. Fantascience Digest received a threatening letter from Street & Smith and promptly printed a polite retraction.
Fantascience Digest, v3n2, January-February 1940
Campbell also contacted James V. Taurasi, editor of the weekly Fantasy News. Taurasi seized on the opportunity to attack his “notorious” enemy, Wollheim.
The response from Wollheim was inevitable and predictable.
Science Fiction Weekly, v1n2, February 25 1940
Taurasi had inserted a personal diatribe in the middle of a quote from Campbell, potentially confusing the reader. Campbell objected; Taurasi demurred.
Fantasy News, v4n10, February 25 1940
In their hysterical article, Fantasy News also revealed the explanation for The Hole:
“…in the January 1940 Maine Science Fiction Association Bulletin [sic], this same libellous [sic] statement appeared in exaggerated form, over the name of James S. Avery…”
Campbell’s revenge for Avery’s acerbic 1938 letter to Astounding, served cold? We suspect the ever-attentive editor hadn’t forgotten.
It appears that the MSA was in the midst of mailing issues of the January 1940 issue of the Bulletin when they became aware of the transgression. What to do with the fanzines they’d already printed? With an impoverished treasury, we believe the club elected to salvage the run by clipping out the offending article.
Fortunately for the obsessive historian, at least one intact copy escaped.
The MSA Bulletin, v2n1, January 1940. From the collection of Sam McDonald
Unfortunately for Jim Avery, the consequences of his error were not limited to paper cuts.
Under threat of legal action, Avery’s parents intervened, barring their son from all fannish activity.
“To them I must bow down…”
Science Fiction Weekly, v1n1, March 3 1940
But fortunately for Jim Avery, parents usually forgive. In short order he rejoined the MSA and retained his post as Associate Editor of Spaceways.
The MSA Bulletin, v2n3, April 1940
In 1940, fans and professional editors enjoyed and distained a love-hate relationship. Editors depended on fans to drive subscriptions. To varying degrees, the pros listened to fans and supported their efforts. Following the trail blazed by Charles D. Hornig, Mort Weisinger and Raymond A. Palmer in the 1930s, more prominent fans were joining the professional ranks — including Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim and Robert W. Lowndes. These later crossovers often promoted fans quite directly by publishing their stories, covering their conferences and printing reviews of their fanzines. None of this stopped fans from raking the editors over the coals for the quality of the stories in their magazines — or spreading rumors regarding their commercial standing. “The Hole Story” represents this fraught co-dependency in microcosm.
This post is a preview of material in development for The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume Two: 1940. Stay tuned for more!
I’m listening to replays of the radio talk show “Car Talk” this morning. Beloved by many, annoying to some, this iconic series aired on National Public Radio in original form from 1977 to 2012. Hosted by two brothers who ran a car repair shop in Cambridge (“our fair city”) Massachusetts, the show featured callers with a variety of problems — some automotive, some marital. Tom and Ray Magliozzi found humor in everything and often filled half of an episode with their infectious and/or infuriating laughter. The brothers didn’t often speak of their actually impressive credentials — both were graduates of MIT, and Tom had an MBA. The show won a Peabody Award in 1992, and the hosts were the MIT commencement speakers in 1999.
Anyway — one regular feature of the program was “the Puzzler,” a logic or math problem to be solved by the listeners. Some were related to cars, but many were “non-automotive” or “quasi-automotive.”
In this spirit, we present the first of what might become several FFE Puzzlers. This one is quasi-science-fictional and decidedly historical-poetical. It is simply this:
When was the (very timely, we think) poem below written, and by whom? For extra credit, where was it first published? Extra EXTRA credit for answers achieved without the use of Google. Please send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — February 1, 2021 — Cambridge, Massachusetts
First Fandom Experience, a collaborative publishing project based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is pleased to acknowledge the selection of two of its titles to the 2020 Locus Recommended Reading List.
According to Locus: “Published in Locus magazine’s February 2021 issue, the list is a consensus by the Locus editors, columnists, outside reviewers, and other professionals and critics of genre fiction and non-fiction… The final list comprises our best recommendations for your consideration.”
“The definitive history of fandom’s earliest days. A remarkable book!“ — Robert Silverberg
“…a sumptuous scrapbook of photographs, magazine covers, artwork and hundreds of articles, letters and typescripts, everything beautifully held together by the Ritters’ concise but enthralling text.” — Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“This is a wonderful paean to a wonderful person, an educational, informative, exciting, visually stimulating and page-turning adventure that will bring you far closer to its subject than most have ever been.“ — Steve Davidson, Publisher, Amazing Stories
Both books were written and edited by David Ritter and Daniel Ritter, and supported by the essential work of Principle Historians John L. Coker III and Sam McDonald.
Olon F. Wiggins was at the center of early science fiction fandom in Denver. By August 1940, his seminal amateur publication The Science Fiction Fan (TSFF) had sustained an amazing run of 49 consecutive monthly issues since its founding in July 1936.
Born in 1911, Wiggins was a First Fan of the old guard — but at the turn of the decade, science fiction was also spawning a next-generation of new fans. Lew Martin was thirteen years Wiggins’ junior, and was a high school senior when the second World Science Fiction Convention convened in Chicago.
For Wiggins and Martin, attendance at the Chicago gathering was essential, for they had already hatched a plan to propose that the following WorldCon in 1941 be held in Denver. So — how to get to Chicago?
According to Martin:
“It all began one meeting of the Denver Science Fictioneers when I asked Chairman Wiggins if he planned to attend the Chicago 1940 World’s Science-Fiction Convention. He replied that he was and I told him of my desire and determination to go. He planned to go via bus and I had planned to hitch-hike, picking up Al McKeel at Jefferson City, Missouri. Several meetings elapsed before we had compromised on accompanying each other via freight train.”
From “Via Freight Train” by Lew Martin, TSFF, v5n7, April 1941
Martin provided no further explanation of this odd ‘compromise,’ only adding, “After all, we could have paid our way if we wanted, we chose romance and adventure, and despite the hardships we would gladly do it again.” (Emphasis his.)
This ‘romance and adventure’ is well-known in fan history. In our research for Volume Two of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, we came across a contemporaneous reference.
Harry Warner also mentions this trip in All Our Yesterdays:
“Among the first to arrive were Olon Wiggins and Lew Martin, who made the trip from Denver in thirty hours by courtesy of several boxcars. A fellow traveler failed to complete his journey in a bloody manner, but he wasn’t a fan.”
Ted Dikty provided the most graphic anecdote of the fatal mishap:
Naturally we assumed that one or both of the bold sojourners must have documented this extraordinary expedition. But finding a full, detailed account has been something of an adventure as well — one that’s sadly incomplete.
Indeed, Martin captured the journey in depth. His essay, “Via Freight Train,” began appearing as a serial in TSFF beginning with v5n7, dated February 1941. Additional installments were published in v5n8 (March 1941), v5n9 (April 1941), and v5n10 (April 15 1941).
Martin’s account is rich and engaging, It captures a remarkable experience and paints a picture of life at that time that we found unique and compelling. Though a bit repetitive and uneven, the narrative represents some of the best writing we’ve encountered in early fanzines.
However, as 1941 progressed, the attention of the leading Denver fans was increasingly dominated by preparations for the 1941 WorldCon — the first “Denvention.” The issues of TSFF dated from the Spring of that year weren’t actually published on their cover dates. Material was accumulated, but the issues were produced after the July convention and back-dated. Ardent historians will note that v5n7 is the last issue cited in the Pavlat-Evans Fanzine Index.
Tracking down the trailing issues of TSFF required significant archeology. The February issue was excavated from the Ackerman archives held by Jim Halperin. It wasn’t clear that the March issue existed at all until John L. Coker III was able to surface a copy. The April issue is on file with the Hevelin collection at the University of Iowa, but Alistair Durie was able to provide us with an excellent scan of this very scarce artifact. We were fortunate to acquire the April 15 issue from another collector.
This gave us four installments of Martin’s epic. But on inspection, we were distraught to discover this at the end of Installment Four:
We have no evidence to suggest that a “Next Issue” was ever produced. Nor have we seen any trace of this essay anywhere else, in part or in whole. Equally frustrating, none of the four installments we’ve found contain the account of “one of those horrible accidents so common to boxcar transportation.” Lacking the conclusion, we also don’t have the happy ending of the pair’s arrival in Chicago.
We’re pleased to present Martin’s narrative in its incomplete fullness, likely the first opportunity for contemporary fans to share the ride.
Further, we appeal to any interested parties: Does the missing conclusion exist somewhere? Did Martin ever publish the essay separately? Does anyone who knew Wiggins or Martin recall conversations where they related additional details?
And and all insight will be greatly appreciated!
Click the crossed-arrows icon for a full-screen view.
In our never-ending quest to capture and preserve the history of fandom, we encounter mysteries that stick in our brains like splinters from old barn wood. We can’t stop picking at them. Unless dug out, they fester. Herein lies the tale of Three Vs that got under our skin until the precision tweezers of research extracted the root of the inflammation. (I pronounce this metaphor bled dry.)
V is for Vincent
Below is one of early fandom’s most iconic images. On Independence Day, 1939, this carload of irascible youth from states far and wide ventured forth from the World Science Fiction Convention in New York to Coney Island. It’s a who’s-who of prominent First Fans: Madle and Agnew from Philadelphia, Korshak and Reinsberg from Chicago, Rocklynne from Ohio, and one very tanned Ray Bradbury from Los Angeles.
But among the who’s-who, there’s a “who’s that?” V. Kidwell. Upper left, looking awkward and perhaps slightly embarrassed — though warmly embraced by the adjacent Robert A. Madle.
What do we know about V. Kidwell? An exploration of contemporaneous accounts of the WorldCon yields but one tidbit — Kidwell manned center field for the PSFS Panthers, the Philadelphia team in the fan-v-fan softball game of July 4.
Fortunately, the person who could shed the brightest light on the obscure V. Kidwell is still with us. In a conversation with John L. Coker III, Bob Madle provided the answer:
“V. Kidwell is Vincent Kidwell — my uncle, even though he was three months younger than me. He was not an sf fan. Jack Agnew and I stayed at my grandmother’s house (Vincent lived there too) in New York. Vincent played in the softball game and then went to Coney Island with us and was included in the photograph.”
As the only non-fan, it’s understandable that Vincent felt somewhat out-of-place.
V is for Vernon
FFE’s current project is a retrospective of fan-artist Roy V. Hunt. An introduction to Hunt and his work can be read here. We expect to publish a richly-illustrated ~160-page volume in January 2021.
Like many early fans who engaged in publishing, Hunt’s citations often included his middle initial. But in all of our reading, we never saw his full middle name. Shame on us if we hoped to provide a definitive look at a personage we couldn’t fully identify.
In this case, Ancestry.com came to the rescue. Among other artifacts, Hunt’s definitive identity can be found on his draft card from 1940.
V is for Vytautas
Among early fans, John V. Baltadonis stood tall. Literally, as he towered well over six feet — and figuratively, as one of the most prolific editors, authors and artists among his peers.
Although “JVB” almost always included his middle initial when stating his name or signing his work, his middle name has remained a mystery. He’s known to have stated that — for reasons he refused to provide — he would never reveal his mysterious V.
Again we’re fortunate to have a primary source for the answer. According to JVB’s son Steve:
“So, the middle name. I was told it had to do with an ancestor. Great grandparents and previous family maintained inherited land — maybe from black plague days, 13th century — through 1910 or 1915. When the Bolsheviks took over? Anyway, my dad said an ancestor’s ‘giant sword’ was over the fireplace mantle, and that he used it to fight off invaders in the 13th, 14th century. Lithuania was apparently much larger then. So, thus the name Vytautas. In some records on the internet it is spelled Vytold.”
From Wikipedia, it seems Vytautas was a pretty big deal:
Vytautas (c. 1350 – October 27, 1430), also known as Vytautas the Great, was a ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which chiefly encompassed the Lithuanians and Ruthenians. He was also the Prince of Grodno (1370–1382), Prince of Lutsk (1387–1389), and the postulated king of the Hussites.
In modern Lithuania, Vytautas is revered as a national hero and was an important figure in the national rebirth in the 19th century. Vytautas is a popular male given name in Lithuania. In commemoration of the 500-year anniversary of his death, Vytautas Magnus University was named after him. Monuments in his honour were built in many towns in the independent Lithuania during the interwar period from 1918 to 1939.
For our part, we’d be bragging about such an august ancestor.
Our work on early fan history has often focused on “crossovers” — fans who first published in amateur journals but later achieved success as professional authors, editors and publishers. The Earliest Bradbury is a deep exploration of one notable example. We’ve now begun to turn our attention to artists who rose from the ranks of fandom in the 1930s and 1940s. Our first subject: Roy V. Hunt.
The Cthulhu Mythos wrought by H.P. Lovecraft coalesced from earlier hints into his seminal story, “The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, February 1928). Unlike traditional monsters, Lovecraft’s terror manifests through beings fully other. Vampires and werewolves are people, transformed. Ghosts, mummies and zombies — dead people reanimated. Frankenstein’s monster — assembled from parts of people. But Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep — even the names make clear that these trespassers from other dimensions have little to do with Homo Sapiens.
It’s not surprising that tales evoking these unthinkable, uncaring bringers of chaos would unlock new avenues in the imaginations of readers and artists, some of whom found inspiration to capture Lovecraft’s vision on canvas.
Lovecraft himself made attempts to sketch his horrors.
Shortly following Lovecraft’s untimely death on March 15 1937, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei organized the publication of the first anthology of his writing. After its appearance in 1939, The Outsider and Others struggled to find buyers willing to pay its $5 cover price. In the first issue of the fanzine The Alchemist, February 1940, Derleth issued an appeal in support of the book.
But The Outsider was embraced enthusiastically by the fantasy fan community. An early review was penned by one R.V. Hunt, also in the premier issue of The Alchemist.
Hunt describes being “swept completely into the outer realms by Lovecraft’s vivid word pictures.” Hunt, already a long-time fan and an aspiring artist, had drawn the front cover for this very fanzine.
[An image of Hunt’s cover for The Alchemist v1n1 should appear here. However, the editors of this zine (by their own admission) were not experienced with hectography and all copies we’ve seen to date have a cover which appears utterly blank. This is especially saddening, since fellow fan-artist Tom Wright wrote to the magazine describing the cover as “one of the best s-f drawings (fan or pro) that I have ever seen.” If anyone has a legible copy, we’d be more than keen to see it.]
Hunt also effuses over the “beautifully drawn jacket by Virgil Finlay.” This iconic imagery is well known to Lovecraft fans, and recently made its television debut in the HBO series “Lovecraft Country.”
When viewing the bestial cacophony of this illustration, I can’t escape the term “psychedelic.” It’s not clear that either the author or artist were under the influence of anything but unfettered imagination, but still.
From early writings, we know that Finlay and Lovecraft influenced each other. In 1937, Lovecraft wrote an ode to the artist that appeared in Weird Tales (February 1937). The poem was inspired by another outre image from Finlay — his illustration for Robert Bloch’s “The Faceless God,” published in the May 1936 issue of Weird Tales.
Roy Hunt’s fascination with Lovecraft’s book and Finlay’s cover didn’t stop with his review. Following Hunt’s work over the following months brings us to several stunning examples of the impression made on the young artist.
Hunt’s work is both derivative and original, taking us even further down the path of psychedelia. Fortunately for Hunt (and for us), fanzines of this period had just begun to reproduce images using lithography. The detail and clarity seen in “Star Spawn” wouldn’t have been possible without this technology.
We believe the web of influence and inspiration among early fans and fan artists warrants further exploration. Roy Hunt’s artistic career continued for several decades but never fully blossomed. FFE is considering the development of a robust retrospective to give this talented illustrator his due consideration. Other artists on our radar for similar treatment include Morris Scott Dollens, John V. Baltadonis, Nils Frome and John Giunta. Stay tuned!
The latest video from First Fandom Experience brings to life a three-page screed by a young Ray Bradbury addressing the issue of the incongruous and annoying ads in pulp magazines.
The piece appeared in the Spring 1940 issue of Sweetness and Light, an edgy, satirical fanzine from a faction of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. A full reading of the piece is presented along with historical context and a selection of the offending advertisements. Enjoy!
The Earliest Bradbury is the result of a year-long effort to celebrate the centennial of Bradbury’s birth with a deep exploration of his earliest writings as a science fiction fan. We sought to bring these stories and articles to life by presenting them in full facsimile form, as they originally appeared in amateur publications from 1937 through 1941. The book owes its existence to the dedicated work of the core FFE team — and to the contributions of a remarkable group of writers, scholars and Bradbury associates whose support has been invaluable.
Two threads of research came together to inform the book’s content:
Understanding Bradbury’s introduction to early fandom and how these associations laid the foundation for his later career
Sourcing the 1930s and 1940s fanzines in which Bradbury’s first stories and articles appeared, and in which his fellows fans wrote about him
For the story of Bradbury’s life as a teenager in Los Angeles, we leaned heavily on three core biographies:
Sam Weller’s authorized Bradbury biography,The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury (Harper Perennial, 2005). In addition to illuminating the vital stories and details of Bradbury’s early life, this book demonstrates how to make a biographical narrative flow.
Also essential were interviews and photos with Bradbury and his associates captured by John L. Coker III. John collaborated with Bradbury and others to produce Surround Yourself With Your Loves and Live Forever (Days of Wonder, 2008), a collection of Bradbury’s memories, stories and appreciations from prominent contemporaries. John’s curation of the First Fandom community has played a vital role in preserving and honoring the people who founded organized fandom and launched the science fiction and fantasy industry we know today.
Ray Bradbury selling newspapers at the corner of Olympic and Norton, Los Angeles, c1940.
From the collection of John L. Coker III
Additional details describing Bradbury and his activities were drawn from amateur publications of the period. In particular, Bradbury’s friend and fellow fan T. Bruce Yerke’s 1944 essay “Memoirs of a Superfluous Fan – Volume One, The Old L.A.S.F.S.” provided valuable insight.
Uncovering the original artifacts containing Bradbury’s early work is a quest that’s spanned almost twenty years. The background research for The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom – Volume One: The 1930s established a base archive from which many of the items could be reproduced. However, developing a comprehensive list of Bradbury’s fanzine contributions required intensive effort by the FFE team and others.
Fortunately, there was a clear starting point: the first and most numerous of Bradbury’s fanzine appearances are found in the club organ of the Los Angeles Science Fiction League (LASFL), Imagination! This title ran for thirteen issues from October 1937 — the same month that Bradbury joined the group — to October 1938. The FFE archive includes a full set of these rare issues, and we read them exhaustively to find anything written by or referring to Bradbury.
This seemingly straightforward task soon revealed a key challenge: Bradbury and other members of the LASFL frequently published under a variety of pseudonyms. We puzzled over a number of articles that might have been penned by Bradbury, but sported whimsical bylines like “D. Lerium Tremaine” and “Kno Knuth Ing.” (A previous blog post discusses our early attempts to sort this out.)
To the rescue came Jonathan R. Eller, leading Bradbury scholar and Director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University. The Center curates and preserves Bradbury’s legacy, and has access to a comprehensive collection of his papers. Jon worked extensively with Ray during his life, and his 2010 volume (with William F. Touponce) The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury, A Critical Edition, Volume I: 1938 – 1943 provides a remarkable tour of Bradbury’s early work — including a partial bibliography of fanzine appearances. The Center’s archive includes photocopies of the extensive Bradbury-related fanzine publications collected by Bradbury’s long-time friend Donn Albright.
Drawing on Donn’s knowledge and his own, Jon gave us clear direction on Bradbury’s known pseudonyms and suggested a rule we observed throughout the project: if it’s not certain that something was written by Bradbury, don’t speculate. This prompted us to keep a separate file of material whose authorship was unclear. The most interesting of these items were included in Appendix Three of The Earliest Bradbury.
In parallel, FFE core team historian Sam McDonald embarked on an extensive search of other period fan material for anything related to Bradbury. Sam has developed a research process that taps his own extensive collection and a wide range of online resources related to early fandom. His exploration of these repositories — and others — supplied vital insight into the full range of Bradbury’s early work:
The team’s work generated an initial list of about 60 Bradbury stories, articles and items written by others that referred to Ray. These spanned most of the publications of LASFL members (Mikros, The Damn Thing, Sweetness and Light, Voice of the Imagi-Nation, Shangri-LA) and other fanzines to which Bradbury contributed (Le Zombie, D’Journal, Spaceways…).
We thought we’d done a pretty through canvas of likely sources. Again, Jon Eller set us straight. “You missed some things,” he noted in response to our inventory. With his help, we filled a number of gaps and redoubled our own digging. In the end, the combined search yielded over 150 relevant pieces and an additional 20 candidate items.
Building the list was one thing; actually securing these elusive artifacts from 1937 – 1941 was another matter. Fanzines of this period were already scarce when they were originally issued — most had print runs of 50 copies or less. Quality of reproduction varied from decent to illegible. Fortunately, many early fans were also fanatical collectors. We owe the survival of these fragile pages to the hording instincts of their first owners and the dedication of the next generation of obsessive archivists.
Some early fans later achieved success as professionals and eventually donated their papers to universities. For example, Syracuse University holds the manuscripts of both Frederik Pohl and Damon Knight. Some institutions have undertaken the daunting and generally thankless task of cataloging or digitizing the fanzines in these collections. In other cases, the donated material appears to have been crated and wheeled into some dark corner of the warehouse seen in the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The FFE archive includes copies of many of the Bradbury-related fanzines, but others hadn’t been seen in the wild for decades. Beginning in February, we began to reach out to the curators of both public and private collections that might be able to help.
Key contributors in this “last mile” of research were:
Alistair Durie, holder of one of the most extensive fanzine collections, many of which were acquired from the estate of Sam Moskowitz
Doug Ellis, whose exhaustive collection of early pulps provided access to Bradbury’s letters to professional magazines
This work was complicated by the onset of the corona virus pandemic, which closed all of the university libraries. Our sincere thanks to the members of the collection staffs for their vital assistance.
Not all of the fanzine issues we procured were of sufficient quality for high-resolution reproduction. To address this, we turned to the gig economy — specifically Upwork.com — to find folks who could digitally retouch the least-presentable artifacts. We kept the changes light to preserve the original appearance as much as possible. Each restored image is tagged in the book with a small icon.
To further bring Bradbury’s early work to life, we enlisted award-winning illustrator Mark Wheatley. His striking cover art was extrapolated from Bradbury’s own 1938 illustrations for covers of Imagination! A narrative comic rendering of Bradbury’s roller skating adventures in Hollywood and a professional pulp-style interior illustration for Bradbury’s 1940 tale “Luana the Living” are highlights of the book’s visual impact.
Our research on fan history has also led us to dig up early work of artists who contributed to amateur science fiction publications. Prominent among these was Bradbury’s close friend, Hannes Bok. During the development of the book, we acquired a copy of Emil Petaja’s illustrated 1968 Bok biography, and flights of angels: The Life and Legend of Hannes Bok. This volume is rife with small accent drawings by Bok that we felt would be perfect additions to The Earliest Bradbury. With the kind permission of the Petaja estate we were able to thread Bok images throughout.
With the artifacts assembled, we just had to write the book. Without proper context, we’d simply have a scrapbook, a paste-up of pictures of fanzine pages. Perhaps interesting to some, but not accessible to most modern readers. We drafted the supporting narrative and iterated intensively within the FFE team and collaborating Bradbury scholars through March, April and May. Essential guidance and corrections were contributed by all reviewers.
In parallel, our outstanding design team took our crude Powerpoint prototype pages and transformed them into compelling visual form, extending and adapting the text in the process. Jeff DiPerna and Wendy Gonick of tabula rasa graphic design are ideal collaborators who have informed and shaped our work profoundly.
To round out the book, FFE core team historian Sam McDonald compiled the comprehensive index that enables the content to be discovered and navigated.
But… is it okay?
As we completed work on The Earliest Bradbury,we were anxious to understand how the book would be viewed by the people who were closest to Ray during his life. Would they deem it a worthwhile contribution to the author’s legacy? Were we unearthing youthful scribblings that Bradbury would have preferred remain buried in the musty archives of the past?
Much of the work included in the book can properly be described as juvenilia—literally, and in the sense that it’s not representative of Bradbury’s later prowess as a writer. Still, in the arc of his material from ages 17 through 20, we saw insight into his future development. We chose to present the material in chronological order of its appearance in various publications to allow the reader to sample Bradbury’s experiences and evolution over this period—capturing “four years in the life of the author.”
Why did we feel we were on solid ground in exposing the origins of Bradbury’s life in science fiction? In his biographies and interviews, Bradbury reflected fondly on his experience as a science fiction fan in 1930s Los Angeles — but he also expressed a dim view of his earliest work in fanzines, saying at one time: “I did some terrible covers for [Imagination!] and I wrote some awful articles.” One prominent author and Bradbury contemporary suggested to us that Ray wouldn’t have wanted this early work re-issued.
Still, Bradbury re-published his most visible amateur work from his LASFL days: the fanzine he personally edited. Futuria Fantasia (FuFa) spanned four issues from Summer 1939 through Spring 1940 and included Bradbury material not unlike his contributions to other publications at the time. The 2007 facsimile edition of Futuria Fantasia issued by Bradbury (with Michael and Craig Graham) demonstrates the author’s willingness to share his teenage musing with his modern readers. The existence of this lovely volume led us to focus The Earliest Bradbury on works that were not included in FuFa.
When we posed the question to John Coker, he shared his thoughts:
“The material that Ray wrote / illustrated / published during 1937-1941 was specifically created by him for publication and for circulation. He was proud of it when he wrote it and proud when it appeared in publication. “These were not just snippets or first drafts. And, many of the stories built upon each other in succession. He (and his collaborators) took them all seriously (with a wry smile) and defended them. “There is purpose in collecting and publishing this rare material for the first time. Many fans (and collectors) have not seen all of these stories before, and it can be especially appealing to be able to comparatively read an entire thread of stories in one sitting. The contents of ‘The Earliest Bradbury’ are presented in such a way as to show the evolution of Ray as an author, artist, humorist and playwright. The editor’s underlying narrative ties everything together, revealing themes among different stories that were passionately important to Ray, both at that time and throughout his life.“
Other feedback emphasized the importance of the contextual and historical narrative that’s integral to the book. From Robert Silverberg:
“I thought [The Earliest Bradbury] was going to be simply a collection of his fanzine writings, which were mostly pretty naive and juvenile. But now the book is here and I see that what you have really done is create an important historical document portraying an entire era in Los Angeles fandom, with the young Bradbury as the focal point. It’s a beautiful job and I’m very glad you sent it to me.”
We’re also very grateful for the support expressed by some of Bradbury’s closest associates:
“The Earliest Bradbury is a wonderful volume. Beautiful reproduction and complete coverage of Ray’s early years! An almost impossible feat. Congratulations.” — Donn Albright, principal Ray Bradbury bibliographer and special edition editor
“The Earliest Bradbury represents the first comprehensive effort to bring together the full visual spectrum of Ray Bradbury’s interactions with the many fanzine editors who constituted the First Fandom universe across America in the late 1930s and early 1940s. These archival images from original publications breathe life into the elusive record of the young Ray Bradbury satirizing, imitating, and experimenting with the craft of writing on the eve of beginning his seven-decade professional career.” — Jonathan Eller, Chancellor’s Professor and director of The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University
Finally and importantly, we sought and received permission from the Bradbury family to publish the specific material that makes up The Earliest Bradbury. Although we believe that the fanzine sources are not formally restricted by copyright, we would not have proceeded had the heirs of Bradbury’s legacy expressed objections.
We hope that today’s readers enjoy exploring Bradbury’s origin and emergence as a science fiction master as much as we enjoyed bringing the story to life.