Lovecraft, Finlay, Hunt: An Eldritch Cosmic Braid

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 was wrought by 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.

From a letter from H.P. Lovecraft to R.H. Barlow, May 11 1934. The cited sculpture was never produced or has since been lost. Image from the Lovecraft archive at Brown University.
Lovecraft’s notes for “At the Mountains of Madness.” Image from the Lovecraft archive at Brown University.

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.

The Alchemist, v1n1, February 1940

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.

The Alchemist, v1n1, February 1940

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.”

Virgil Finlay’s rendering for the jacket of “The Outsider and Others.”
“The Outsider and Others” as it appears in Episode 1 of HBO’s 2020 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.

“Necropolis,” poem and illustration by Roy V. Hunt, “The Alchemist,” v1n1, December 1940 (digitally restored from original)
“Star Spawn” by Roy V. Hunt, from “The Alchemist,” v1n4, December 1940

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.

Hunt’s illustration for “The Abyss” by Robert W. Lowndes (another fan crossover), Stirring Science Stories, February 1941
Roy Hunt’s rendering of Cthulhu in “Starlight,” v1n1, Spring 1941. This zine was published by Hunt’s “first fan,” Tom Wright.
Hunt’s cover illustration for “Voice of the Imagi-Nation,” n32, May 1944

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!

In 1940, Ray Bradbury Asked, “Are You Ad Conditioned?”

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 Making of “The Earliest Bradbury”

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
The History

For the story of Bradbury’s life as a teenager in Los Angeles, we leaned heavily on three core biographies:

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.

The Artifacts

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.

Albright began corresponding with Ray Bradbury in 1952 at the age of 15, and became Bradbury’s friend, bibliographer, curator and editor of many special editions of the author’s work. Bradbury would later prompt Jon Eller, “If you want to learn about my life and work, you must learn from Donn Albright. He knows me better than I know myself.”

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
  • Peter Balestrieri at the University of Iowa
  • The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, hosts of the Coslet-Sapienza Fantasy and Science Fiction Fanzine Collection
  • Joe Siclari and Edie Stern of Fanac
  • Doug Ellis, whose exhaustive collection of early pulps provided access to Bradbury’s letters to professional magazines
Bradbury self-parody in STF-ETTE, Number 1, August 1940. Image courtesy of Hevelin Fanzines, Special Collections, The University of Iowa Libraries (restored)

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.

The Art

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.

Mark Wheatley’s pulp-style masthead for Bradbury’s 1940 story “Luana the Living”

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.

The Production

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.

Ray Harryhausen Released the Kraken in 1938

Click the images in this post to see full-sized renderings.

June 29 2020 marks the centennial of the birth of Ray Harryhausen (June 29 1920 – May 7 2013), iconic pioneer (though not inventor) of stop-motion animation. Most science fiction fans are familiar with his filmography, which spans four decades (1942 – 1981).

As with many of the genre writers, artists, editors and publishers who became prominent in the 1940s and 1950s, Harryhausen’s first involvement with science fiction was fostered by organized fandom in the 1930s. He connected with the active fan community in Los Angeles and became an early member of the local chapter of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Fiction League.

In Harryhausen’s own words, from a 1998 conversation with David A. Kyle, recorded and transcribed by John L. Coker III:

“When I was young my mother bought for me a series of books called Wonder Books. They had wonderful illustrations and photographs of strange things such as Egyptian temples, and charts on how long it would take to go to the Moon and to Mars and all the different planets. That started to stimulate my interest in science fiction.”

The Wonder Books: The Earth Before Man (Janssen and Cole, University of Knowledge, Inc., 1940

“Then, I saw Metropolis and Just Imagine and The Golem, all when I was very young. They had a real influence on me. We teethed on Frankenstein and Dracula.

“The Golem,” 1920

“I didn’t know much about stop motion at the time when I saw The Lost World. King Kong was the one that did it. It sent me spinning out of Grummen’s Chinese in a tailspin. I haven’t been the same since. This big gorilla was responsible for introducing me to Fay Wray, Willis O’Brien and Forrest Ackerman. I owe a big debt to this gorilla, who was fifty feet high, sometimes forty feet, sometimes thirty feet. He was a big inspiration to me.”

King Kong Movie Herald, 1933

I was more interested in the visuals than the science fiction literature, such as the covers of Imagination that Forry [Ackerman] used to publish. The magazine covers for Wonder [Stories] and the artwork of Frank R. Paul were a stimulus.”

Imagination! (LASFL fanzine), v1n8, May 1938. Art by Hannes Bok

I became interested in Gustav Doré, and he was my mentor. He was a wonderful Victorian artist who was noted for his engravings, although he was a sculptor, an oil painter and many other things. I learned about Gustav Doré from Willis O’Brien.

Untitled, by Gustav Doré (1832 – 1883)

The Kraken debuts

More from Harryhausen’s conversation with David Kyle:

“In the mid-1930s when I was still in high school, Forry told me about the little brown room in Clifton’s Cafeteria where the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League would meet every Thursday. Members included Russ Hodgkins, Morojo, and T. Bruce Yerke. Robert Heinlein used to come around, and a guy named Bradbury. We were a group who liked the unusual. There was a fellow named Walt Daugherty, who was an anthropologist by trade, and a photographer. He would make presentations about Egyptology. Another young fellow named Ray Bradbury would arrive wearing roller skates. After selling newspapers on the street corner he would skate to meetings because he had no money. He used to go meet the stars at the Hollywood Theater where they did weekly radio broadcasts. Ray was writing for Forry’s magazine called Imagination. I did one of the covers for an issue, which was mimeographed.”

Ray Harryhausen’s cover illustration for Imagination!, v1n12, September 1938

You may be thinking: The Kraken, you say? But, The Kraken didn’t appear until Harryhausen’s 1981 classic “Clash of the Titans.” We submit that the evolution of The Kraken occurred in clear steps beginning with Harryhausen’s 1938 cover for Imagination! For example, in October 1942, Harryhausen rendered this cover for the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society’s fanzine Voice of the Imagi-Nation.

Voice of the Imagi-Nation, n25, October 1942. From Fanac.org.

Perhaps imprisoned by the creative gods, The Kraken railed at the bars of its watery cage for fifteen years. But in Harryhausen’s 1957 film 20 Million Miles to Earth, this charming Kraken progenitor (or spawn) emerged:

The “Ymir” from “20 Million Miles to Earth,” 1957

And again, in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad from 1958, another Kraken ancestor (or descendant):

The Cyclops from “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” 1958

The creature Harryhausen originally conjured from his imagination in 1938 evolved over the decades, until at the height of his powers in 1981, the ultimate Kraken was released.

Harryhausen and his model for The Kraken from “Clash of the Titans,” 1980

How many times did Harryhausen see King Kong?

Fans had many opportunities to see the seminal 1933 icon of Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion animation, King Kong. After its original release, RKO distributed the film again in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952 and 1956. Harryhausen was known to pursue these opportunities relentlessly.

In the Forward to Ray Harryhausen: An Illustrated Life (Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton, Aurum Press, 2003), Ray Bradbury wrote:

“My happiest memories are of Ray calling me during the years just out of high school and telling me that King Kong was playing somewhere, in some obscure theater in L.A., so we had to rush over and buy 15-cent seats to watch that glorious animal perform again…”

The count of Harryhausen’s viewings of King Kong became something of a legend within the Los Angeles fan community. Expanding reports appeared in fanzines of the period.

Imagination!, v1n9, June 1938. Twenty viewings!
Imagination!, v1n10, July 1938. Two more in just a month.
Ad Astra, v1n4, November 1939. Now up to 32 viewings.
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, n12, March 1941. At least one more viewing.
See below for the Popular Mechanics article.

Inspired by King Kong, Harryhausen began to experiment with animating his own models. Between 1938 and 1940, he filmed the ambitious short “Evolution,” featuring a dramatic Brontosaurus-versus-T-rex-versus-Triceratops battle. From his interview with David Kyle:

“I met [Willis O’Brien] when I was still in high school. He was my mentor. I noticed his name on King Kong, Son of Kong, and The Last Days of Pompeii. So, I called him up once at MGM when he was making War Eagles. He kindly invited me over to the studio.
“I brought over a suitcase full of my dinosaurs. I was particularly proud of a stegosaurus I had, for which I had won an award in an amateur contest at a local museum. I had made a diorama that I think won second prize. I was rather proud of it. He looked at it and said ‘Those legs look like sausages. You must learn to develop muscles. Every animal and every person has muscles to make the shape of the leg.’ I should have known this, but it was a shortcut. He said that I had to go to art school, so I went to high school during the day and went to art school three nights a week. USC started a course on film editing, photography and art direction and I signed up for it.”

A dinosaur diorama by Ray Harryhausen. From the collection of John L. Coker III
Popular Mechanics Magazine, April 1941

Harryhausen as mask-maker

FAN, n3, August 1945. The photo credit reads: “Rubberoid masque macabre fashioned by stf-reader & artist of LA, Sgt Ray Harryhausen,” who had by then enlisted to serve.

Harryhausen’s talent for model-making extended to masks. He contributed to the prankster culture in LA fandom by outfitting his fellow club members.

Futuria Fantasia, v1n2, Fall 1939
Forrest J Ackerman in Voice of the Imagi-Nation, n25, October 1942

Ackerman later recounted the tale of his award-winning Harryhausen mask in Space Cadet n12:

“Ray Harryhausen chaneyed me into ‘The HunchbAckerman of Notre Dame’ in 1941 and his effective mask won me a prize at the 3rdWorld Science Fiction Convention that year in Denver. He started out to make me an ‘Odd John’ mask – albino hair, bulging frontal lobes, and all, as described by Olaf Stapledon in his superman novel of the same name – but the mask somehow came to grief (after quite a bit of grief of my own, lying on my back in his backyard, breathing through my mouth, my face baking in a plaster mold he was making of it, while his great dog Kong padded around occasionally sniffing me or licking my feet); the odd john mask was not completed to Ray’s satisfaction by the time of my departure for Denver and so a substitution was made of the Hunchback mask which he had previously created. I could only hope that my teenage years were going to turn out as cool as his. (They didn’t.)”

Harryhausen’s early art

Harryhausen’s occasional illustrations for fanzines reflected his passions for dinosaurs and macabre creatures.

Voice of the Imagi-Nation, n20, January 1942. Collection of Sam McDonald
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, n16, July 1941. From Fanac.org

Happy birthday, Ray!

Ray Harryhausen and fellow-First Fan David A. Kyle, 1998. Photo by John L. Coker III

Ray Bradbury’s Clubhouse

FANS OF SCIENCE FICTION first flocked together in the 1930s. They connected through letters written to the magazines they cherished—Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories. They exchanged correspondence, formed groups and began to issue their own amateur publications. Prominent among the early clubs were chapters of the Science Fiction League (SFL), an association founded in 1934 by pioneering publisher Hugo Gernsback. Los Angeles became home for chapter #4 of the SFL (LASFL) in November 1934.

Shep’s Shop — a bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard — drew young fans hungry for science fiction. Used bookstores played a vital role in fueling young fans’ passion. They offered access to current and back issues of pulps, both the core genre organs and others such as Argosy, that periodically carried science fiction yarns. Pre-owned copies could often be acquired for as little as a nickel.

Imagination! v1n7, April 1938

Mikros, v1n2, October 1938

In 1937, among the eager young patrons of Shep’s was 17-year-old
Ray Bradbury. There he met members of the LASFL, was invited to join and first attended the club’s regular Thursday meeting on October 7. About this period, longtime Bradbury friend and fellow member T. Bruce Yerke wrote:

T. Bruce Yerke in “Memoirs of a Superfluous Fan,” May 1944

LASFL meetings convened at Clifton’s “Brookdale” Cafeteria, 648 South Broadway in Los Angeles. This establishment wasn’t what one might imagine from its name. Founded in 1931, Clifton’s has endured (with interruptions) as a Los Angeles landmark to modern times. Images from the 1930s portray something like a Disneyland of cafeterias. It was a venue with a purpose, openly promoting Christian faith and a generous philosophy that included the “Multi-Purpose Meal (MPM)”—priced at a nickel, but free to those who couldn’t pay.

Above: Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria, c1940
Below: “Views of Clifton’s,” a promotional brochure, c1940. Click the cross-arrows to expand.

By the late 1930s, Clifton’s was already a notable institution. At its peak, the restaurant could seat 15,000 people. Hunter Oatman-Stanford describes the venue’s unique, progressive model in a marvelous article in Collector’s Weekly:

“In the thick of the Depression, Clifford Clinton built his restaurant as a place of refuge for those unable to afford a hot meal (one of the neon signs out front read ‘PAY WHAT YOU WISH’). Soon after the first Clifton’s opened, customers began referring to it as the ‘Cafeteria of the Golden Rule.
Long before the Civil Rights movement allowed black Americans to freely patronize white-run establishments, Clifton’s restaurants were integrated. In response to a complaint about his progressive policy, Clinton wrote in his weekly newsletter, ‘If colored skin is a passport to death for our liberties, then it is a passport to Clifton’s.’ Regardless of income or skin color, Clinton wanted everyone who ate at his restaurants to be completely satisfied, so the phrase ‘Dine free unless delighted’ was printed on every check. Though many patrons ate for free, enough customers gave significantly more than they were asked to keep the business afloat.”

In contrast to the overall grandiosity of Clifton’s, the “little brown room” on the third floor, which hosted the LASFL’s Thursday meetings, was decidedly nondescript. In a wonderful 2009 interview with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Bradbury described the LASFL meeting room:

There was nothing in there … When we met there on Thursdays, they’d put a double row of tables in the middle of the room, and twelvechairs on one side, twelve chairs on the other side. We sat facing each other. It was very social.”

In those days, Bradbury earned his living — about nine dollars a week — selling newspapers at the corner of Olympic and Norton in Los Angeles. In Surround Yourself With Your Loves and Live Forever, edited by John L. Coker III, Bradbury’s friend Ray Harryhausen later recalled:

“In the mid-1930s when I was still in high school, Forry told me about the little brown room in Clifton’s Cafeteria, where the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League would meet every Thursday. Robert Heinlein used to come around, and a guy named Ray Bradbury. We were a group who liked the unusual.
“Ray would arrive wearing roller skates. After selling newspapers on the street corner he would skate to the meetings because he had no money. He used to go meet the stars at the Hollywood Theater where they did weekly radio broadcasts.”

In later years, Bradbury recalled his involvement with the SFL in Tales of the Time Travelers: Adventures of Forrest J Ackerman and Julius Schwatrz, edited by John L. Coker III:

“I was in high school when I joined the Science Fiction League in October, 1937. I remember poking my head into the little brown room in Clifton’s Cafeteria. Forry invited me in and immediately gave me a job writing for his hectographed fan magazine Imagination. I did some terrible covers for it and I wrote some awful articles.”

Bradbury’s cover illustration for the March 1938 issue of Imagination! (v1n6)

Over the years, Bradbury and other LASFL alumni would periodically reunite at Clifton’s.

Forrest J Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Walter J. Daugherty at Clifton’s, c1990.
Collection of John L. Coker III

Bradbury was inspired and mentored by fellow fans he met in the Little Brown Room — Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, Hannes Bok and others. Bradbury’s first science fiction writings appeared in the LASFL’s fanzines, including Imagination!, The Damn Thing, Sweetness and Light, and his self-published Futuria Fantasia. Many of these rare works can be found in The Earliest Bradbury, coming in July from First Fandom Experience

Robert A. Madle in 1930s Fandom

[Click the images in this post for improved readability.]

Robert A. Madle celebrated his 100th birthday on June 2, 2020. His life as an active fan began in 1935 and continues to the present. As one privileged to have visited with Bob and spelunked his legendary basement, on behalf of the FFE team I’m honored to present highlights from his first contributions to fandom.

(Photo c1938 from the collection of Robert A. Madle, courtesy of John L. Coker III)

Ted Ditky’s concise biography from 1940 only scratches the surface of Madle’s prominent role in early fandom. His consistent presence contributed to the stable and collegial atmosphere in the Philadelphia fan scene — a sharp contrast to the rancor rampant among fans in the New York area.

From Ted Ditky’s “Who’s Who in Fandom,” 1940

Madle’s first foray in fan publishing was the single issue of The Science Fiction Fan (February 1935), developed with his fellow-Philly friend and frequent collaborator John V. Baltadonis.

This title is not to be confused with the fanzine of the same name launched in 1936 by Olon F. Wiggins.

(From Fanac.org)

Philadelphia fans (left to right) Jack Agnew, John V. Baltadonis, Robert A. Madle, c1935.
From the collection of Robert A. Madle, courtesy of John L. Coker III

Like many of his contemporaries, Madle was an active correspondent and regularly offered his views to the professional pulp magazines that he read religiously. Below are some of his earliest, from Pirate Stories (July 1935), Amazing Stories (August 1935), Weird Tales (December 1935) and Astounding Stories (February 1936). In a 2006 conversation with John L. Coker III, Madle recalled:

“My very first letter appeared in the July 1935 Pirate Stories.  I was a Gernsback fan, and anything he published I picked up.  I read his editorial in the first issue.  He said that they will publish pirate stories of the past, the present, and yes, even of the future.  So, I wrote a letter saying that they ought to publish a novel about a space pirate and they should get Edmond Hamilton to write it.  They printed the letter and I won a year’s subscription to Wonder Stories.  I was fourteen years old and I thought that this was one of the greatest things that ever happened.”

Madle’s second-ever letter to a magazine at age 15 demonstrates that he had already begun his nine-decade career as a dealer in science fiction.

Madle and Baltadonis made their next fanzine attempt with Imaginative Fiction in October 1935. According to the Pavlat & Evans fanzine index, there were only two copies of the two issues created by the duo.

On the back cover of the second issue of Imaginative Fiction, we find the first glimmers of the most-indelibly-famous perennial listing of Bob’s collection and want list — The Amazing Madle Catalogue.

As early as October 1936, Madle was offering advice to other aspiring collectors of science fiction.

Madle’s short story “Devolution,” originally published in Imaginative Fiction v1n2, was reprinted in C. Hamilton Bloomer’s Tesseract, v1n5, November 1936.

After a pause, Imaginative Fiction was rebooted in June 1937 with v1n3, which included a short article by Madle. The run totaled five issues, the last appearing in July 1938.

On October 22 1936, Madle joined fellow fans from Philadelphia and New York in an impromptu gathering that Donald Wollheim declared to be the “First Science Fiction Convention.”

Attendees at the October 1936 First Eastern Science Fiction Convention.
Left to right: Oswald Train, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, Frederik Pohl, John B. Michel, William S. Sykora, David A. Kyle, Robert A. Madle.
Photo by Herbert E. Goudket, from the collection of John L. Coker III.

Also in October 1936, Madle led a cadre of Philadelphia fans in publishing Fantasy Fiction Telegram. This digest-sized zine featured content from contributors beyond the Philly sphere, including Donald Wollheim of New York and Duane Rimel of Washington State. The fifth and last issue was published in June 1938.

In the final issue of Fantasy Fiction Telegram, Madle offered his defense of science fiction and fandom.

Fantasy Fiction Telegram, v1n5, June 1938

In July 1937, Madle began contributing a regular news and gossip column, “Fantaglimmerings,” to John Baltadonis’ prominent fanzine, The Science Fiction Collector.

Madle’s role as Director of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society (PSFS) was honored in the first issue of PSFS News in November 1937. The PSFS has survived through the decades and remains active today.

The biography continued in the next issue of PSFS News (v1n2, December 11 1937).

Madle’s next publishing venture, Fantascience Digest, first saw print in December 1937. The fifteen-issue run continued until December 1941.

Ad for Fantascience Digest, distributed to the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), March 1939

In the first issue of Mark Reinsberg’s Ad Astra, Madle celebrated science fiction’s emergence into the mainstream in 1938.

Madle was an active attendee at the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York in July 1939, meeting prominent professional authors…

Robert A. Madle and Manly Wade Wellman, July 1939 at the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York.
Photo by Conrad H. Ruppert, from the collection of John L. Coker III

…adventuring with fellow fans from across the country…

SF Fans at Coney Island, NY (July 4, 1939), on a side expedition from the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention.
Rear – V. Kidwell, Robert A. Madle, Erle M. Korshak, Ray Bradbury. Front – Mark Reinsberg, Jack Agnew, Ross Rocklynne.
Collection of Robert A. Madle, courtesy of John L. Coker III

…and manning first base for the PSFS Panthers at the first ever fan convention softball game, July 4 1939.

New Fandom, v1n6, January 1940

In Ad Astra v1n3, September 1939, Madle shared his some highlights from his experience at the WorldCon.

In November 1939, Madle penned an impassioned endorsement of Philadelphia fandom and its gatherings. This set the stage for the Fourth Annual Philadelphia Conference.

Later that same month, Madle welcomed his fellow fans to the 1939 Philadelphia Conference, extending the yearly tradition that continues today.

PSFS News, v2n3, November 1939. This issue served as the program for the conference.

A sizable book would be required to give full justice to Bob’s 1930s legacy. He wrote extensively for his own fanzines and others’. We’ll add additional artifacts and observations as we dig them up and sort out the gems. Perhaps said book will emerge spontaneously from this thread.

Thanks to John L. Coker III, Sam McDonald, Doug Ellis and Fanac.org for their vital contributions to this post.

Happy 100th birthday, Bob!

A Rarity: Tellus News

This issue of Tellus News, a “newspaper of the future,” was discovered among a collection of fanzines from the 1940s.  It was mis-categorized because of the cover date: “Sol 23, 1947”

But this hand-drawn fanzine was created in 1932 by Howard Lowe as a vision of what news might look like 15 years hence.  It’s not a copy — it’s an original set of drawings. Rendered in colored pencil, it was likely never reproduced, and as such is a one-of-a-kind artwork.

The Pavlat-Evans Fanzine Index cites Forrest J Ackerman’s claim that Lowe produced “About 15 issues, ‘32 – ’33.”

We’ve found no further information on Lowe or his work, and would appreciate any insight anyone can offer.

Use the crossed-arrow icon to view the pages in full-screen.

Coming Soon: The Earliest Bradbury & More

Ray Bradbury is remembered today as a Grand Master of science fiction. His work is widely popular, cherished by fans, taught in schools, and studied by academics. He is revered as one of the most compelling genre authors of the 20th century, a virtuoso composer who sang the bodies electric and human. And, perhaps unknown to some, he began his life as a science fiction fan and author in those formative years of the late 1930s.

This year (2020) marks the centenary of Bradbury’s birth, and we at First Fandom Experience hope to honor him by contributing to the extensive body of literature that surrounds him. Building on our work for The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume One: The 1930s, we are on schedule to publish a volume titled The Earliest Bradbury, an exploration and celebration of his earliest writings as a science fiction fan, ahead of his centennial in August.

Like The Visual History, The Earliest Bradbury explores history by wrapping an archive in a story. We use original artifacts from the past, such as fanzines, letters, and photographs, to tell the story of Bradbury’s journey as a young fan and author. Although we discuss his more well-known works, such as Futuria Fantasia and Hollerbochen’s Dilemma, we pay special attention to the often overlooked articles, letters, and stories Bradbury published as a teenager and young adult, and tease out the relationships that influenced the young Bradbury and launch his career as a professional author. As with The Visual History, many of the artifacts reproduced in The Earliest Bradbury are rare and difficult to find as originals or reproductions.

We’re incredibly excited to be preparing this work for Bradbury’s centennial. We are currently planning to publish a deluxe, hard-bound edition of The Earliest Bradbury in July, which will be available through the FFE website. A subsequent soft-cover and e-book edition will also be available.


The Visual History Returns

In addition to our work on The Earliest Bradbury, we are also publishing a second print run of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume One: The 1930s. This limited run of 100 will be hardbound.


The Cosmos Prize

We’re incredibly excited to announce the conclusion of the first annual Cosmos Prize. Winners for the 2020 Cosmos Prize have been announced, and you can read the winning submissions by clicking here.

Stay tuned for details on the 2021 Cosmos Prize

We’ll soon be announcing the theme and rules for the second annual Cosmos Prize. What we know so far:

  • The contest will run until April 2021
  • The theme will be based on the twin round-robin novels “The Challenge From Beyond,” which were published in the September 1935 issue of Fantasy Magazine. Click here to see the novels as they originally appeared.
  • This iteration of the prize will target artists and illustrators.

Upcoming Conventions

Like everyone else, our best laid plans to attend conventions this spring and summer went awry in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of our favorite conventions, where we were looking forward to connecting with old friends and new fans, have been cancelled or postponed. But, with characteristic creativity and determination, many conventions have made the into the virtual world and we’re happy to announce that we’ll be able to (remotely) participate in them. Fandom finds a way.

Balticon 54 will take place virtually from May 22 to 25. We’ll be in attendance with a dealer presence.

AmazingCon will take place virtually from June 12 to June 14. We’ll be participating in two panels, and doing a reading from our work.

You can keep up with our event plans here.

“The Friendly Magazine”

The fanzine Sweetness and Light was launched in Spring 1939 by the “Moonrakers,” a clique within the Los Angeles Science Fiction League. The Editorial Board consisted of Russ Hodgkins, Fred Shroyer, Henry Kuttner, Jim Mooney and Art Barnes. The subtitle proclaimed the publication to be “The Friendly Magazine.” Like all of its contents over its five-issue run, the masthead was ironic.

Sweetness and Light, v1n1, Spring 1939

Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language notes: Moon′-rak′er, a silly person
Moon′-rak′ing, the following of crazy fancies

And so they were, and so they did.

Each issue prominently featured outlandish cartoons by Jim Mooney, the cutting wit of Henry Kuttner and morose and / or sarcastic offerings from Fred Shroyer.

The editors collaborated on a series of caricatures that today’s fans deserve to see. Shroyer provided most of the prose, with Kuttner taking at least one turn. Some appear to target specific prominent fans of the day, while others seem more archetypal.

Our question: Are things really that different these days?

Some fans of the 1930s developed a fascination with Communism, some active in the Communist Party until Stalin made it less fashionable.
Sweetness and Light, v1n1, Spring 1939
Sweetness and Light, v1n1, Spring 1939
Sweetness and Light, v1n2, Summer 1939
Russ Hodgkins or T. Bruce Yerke, perhaps.
Sweetness and Light, v1n2, Summer 1939
A reference to Forrest J Ackerman, no doubt — and the others who emulated his abuse of language.
Sweetness and Light, v1n2, Summer 1939
Oklahoma fan Jack Speer was suspected of harboring Fascist sympathies, which he outgrew.
Sweetness and Light, v1n3, Fall 1939
Hannes Bok, perhaps — or the artist Mooney himself?
Sweetness and Light, v1n3, Fall 1939
West Coast fans generally had equal disdain for the various warring fan factions of New York.
Sweetness and Light, v1n3, Fall 1939
Sweetness and Light, v1n3, Fall 1939
Seems to be a mashup of Donald A. Wollheim and John B. Michel.
Sweetness and Light, v1n4, Winter 1940
Sweetness and Light, v1n4, Winter 1940
Most likely alludes to Harry Warner, Jr., editor of Horizons.
Sweetness and Light, v1n4, Winter 1940
Sweetness and Light, v2n1, Spring 1940
Images from this issue are from the Coslet-Sapienza Fantasy and Science Fiction Fanzine Collection, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Sweetness and Light, v2n1, Spring 1940
Sweetness and Light, v2n1, Spring 1940

‘Nuff said.

A Visit To Science Fiction House

From the papers of Donald A. Wollheim

This is the first in a series of posts that will surface unpublished articles and fiction by Donald Wollheim. These come from a set of papers recently acquired from Lloyd Currey, who sourced them from the Wollheim estate. The provenance appears clear and the content consistent with his other writings of the period.

The notion of a “Science Fiction House” emerged in New York fandom in the late 1930s, and first became real with the establishment of a residence in Brooklyn known as Futurian House. The story of that fabled abode is told in detail in the October 1939 and January 1940 issues of the Jim Avery’s M.S.A. Bulletin, the club organ of the Maine Scientifiction Association. (Full reproductions of that account are found in The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom.) Given the ages and largely unemployed status of its residents, it’s not too surprising that the story reads a bit like an early draft script for Animal House.

Frederik Pohl in Science Fiction News Letter, v2n14, September 1 1938

But Wollheim had already formed a vision of an idyllic communal living space for fans. This fictional history, sadly incomplete, is dated December 3 1937. (Click the images for full-screen renderings.)

Neil Young comes to mind:

“Oh to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons…”

We can all wish for such a place, these days.