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Robert A. Madle in 1930s Fandom

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

Robert A. Madle celebrates his 100th birthday today (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.


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 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 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

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.

The Earliest Bradbury

In honor of the upcoming centenary of Ray Bradbury’s birth (August 22, 2020), we’re digging through our archive of 1930s fan material to find the earliest appearances of Ray’s writings — in any form. We hope to publish a compendium of these in the next several weeks.

We’re not talking about the well-known and oft-reproduced works such as Futuria Fantasia, or even the somewhat-known and occasionally-reproduced “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma.” We’re seeking anything that appeared prior to 1940 that has rarely surfaced, especially as it was originally printed.

A primary source for Ray’s earliest articles is the Los Angeles Science Fiction League’s organ, Imagination! This zine’s first issue was published in October 1937 — the same month that Ray joined the LASFL. It ran for thirteen issues through October 1938. Through years of ardent questing, we’re fortunate to have assembled a complete run.

There are several items in Imagination! that are explicitly ascribed to Bradbury. We’ll be reproducing all of these. Some are satirical essays, the first of which was printed in v1n7, April 1938.
[Click any of the images to see a more readable full-page rendering.]

All well and good for the work he signed. However, we’re in a quandary over four pieces that we believe could be Bradbury’s, but were published under a variety of pseudonyms or are confusingly attributed.

For example, this page from v1n2, November 1937:

This is the first time Bradbury’s name appears in Imagination! However, we weren’t confident that the signature applied to the entire piece. Based on information from Donn Albright — kindly passed on by Jonathan R. Eller at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (which is perhaps the coolest thing in the world) — it appears that Bradbury is the author of the article.

This is especially important to sort out because a similar attempt-at-humor appears in v1n1, October 1937.

Scan from the University of California Riverside Special Collections

And in v1n3, December 1937, we find this little unpolished gem.

(Our copy of this issue was originally mailed to Litterio B. (‘Larry’) Farsaci, so the comment in pencil is likely his.)

If one of these spoofy bits was penned by Bradbury, it’s likely that they all were. The seems at least somewhat consistent with other contributions. In considering this, don’t be too distracted by the clipping of words as Ackerman made famous — Bradbury is known to have emulated this elsewhere; e.g. in the verse below from v1n9, June 1938.

One further candidate for Bradbury attribution is this charming ditty from v1n11, August 1938.

The bottom of the page is signed by Bradbury, but “Dead Reckoning” and the associated art at the top are not attributed.

We’d be most appreciative if any Bradbury or LASFL scholars could offer additional insight on these mysteries.

Palmer’s Ascension: A True Story From Early Fandom

Raymond A. Palmer began his pioneering work in science fiction fandom in 1928 at age 18. In 1938, his amateur accomplishments as a club organizer, fanzine publisher, author, editor and promoter of science fiction launched his professional career when he became editor of the iconic pulp magazine Amazing Stories. This is his story, an excerpt from The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume One: The 1930s.

Art by Mark Wheatley (Breathtaker, Doctor Cthulittle, Song of Giants).
Click the crossed-arrows for a full-screen view!

You can read more about Palmer’s early adventures as a leading fan at The Cosmos Project. His full life story is told in engaging fashion in “The Man From Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey” by Fred Nadis (Tarcher-Perigee, 2013).

Our sources for this narrative comic include Harry Warner’s “All Our Yesterdays,” which recounts the timeline of Palmer’s first day at Amazing Stories. Also informing the text is an article Palmer penned that appeared in Stardust, v2n2, November 1940. From here we get Ray’s triumphant quote at achieving his position as editor:

“You can imagine how I felt. Here at last I had it in my power to do to my old hobby what I had always had the driving desire to do to it. I had in my hands the power to change, to destroy, to create, to remake, at my own discretion.”

In his autobiography “Man of Two Worlds,” Julius Schwartz related how he came to use Palmer’s name as the real-life moniker of DC Comic’s The Atom:

“An accident had damaged [Palmer’s] spine when he was a youngster, so Ray never was able to grow to full adult height… So I called up Ray and asked his permission to appropriate his name for the civilian identity of the new Atom, and he graciously assented. (An added bonus of the call was that it inspired me to come up with one of the Atom’s unique powers, where he could travel from place to place along the phone lines as if he was one of the transmitted sound particles.)”

Are Young People Interested in Early Fan History?

Boskone 57 took place over Valentine’s Day weekend, and as Boston locals we had the great opportunity to attend and participate. This was my first Boskone and David’s first return visit in several years. Team member Sam McDonald made the trip up and joined us for the weekend.

The convention was a blast and I want to congratulate and thank the organizers for an amazing experience. We set up a two-bay exhibit of early fan art, participated in two programs (Activism in Fandom and Fan History for Beginners), and spent a lot of time at our dealer table talking to anyone who would give us their ear about our project. 

Over the course of the convention we had the chance to meet an incredible group of fans. Some we knew already from past conventions or through previous collaborations; some were fans we had only interacted with online through email or discussion groups; and some were entirely new to us. 

Particularly interesting to us, we got to meet and speak with a few younger fans who stopped by the table to talk about the project. Young fans are interesting to us because the audience of people who have been most interested in our work so far is relatively small and skews to an older demographic. We cherish this community of long-time fans with some existing connection to the history we study, but we are also interested in reaching a younger audience who have little to no connection to early fan history.

This begs the question… 

Are Young People Interested in Early Fan History?

This is a question we ask ourselves often..

Although almost none of the First Fans of the 1930s are still with us, we fortunately can learn something of their stories through the people that knew them. This is the core community of collaborators and readers that we have interacted with through the course of this project so far, and is one primary audience for our work. 

But what about, for lack of a better phrase, young people? Do Millennials and Gen Z, born into the chaotic fullness of modern fandom, have any interest in the origin story of the SFF fan community?

For some context, I am a millennial. I was born in 1989, the same year that Hyperion was published and Cyteen won the Hugo for best novel. Cyberpunk was in fashion. The Berlin Wall came down. I read science fiction voraciously growing up and made a lot of friends who were in the same boat, but I think I can speak honestly for us all when I say that we were almost wholly ignorant of science fiction literature before the Golden Age and completely unaware of the history of fandom.

My study of the history of science fiction fandom began when I started to work on First Fandom Experience with David. I knew almost nothing about the genre or its fandom beforehand, save for a few exceptions — Bradbury, “Doc” Smith, Asimov, Pohl, and a few other names stand out. In retrospect I am somewhat embarrassed to have not known anything about Ackerman, Kornbluth, Palmer, Weisinger, and so many others whose work helped build a genre I love and feel very close to.

When talking with the few younger fans who stopped by our table, I learned that their experiences are similar to mine. They are fans and avid readers of the genre, but because they are young they are mostly familiar with the more modern history of the genre and fandom. The same general cast of authors whose work has remained popular over the years stands out as a point of connection, but overall the early history of science fiction and fandom was a mystery.

Two of our interactions at Boskone illustrate this gap.

First, we met a young man (about my age) who was primarily a comic fan. He meandered by the table, something caught his attention, we started talking, and inevitably comics came up. We had our touch point. He was aware of people like Mort Weisinger, but unaware of his involvement in early fandom. He was vaguely aware of the origins of Superman, and we were able to show him the original “Reign of the Superman” story and to talk about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s early fanzine. He had heard of Ackerman, but didn’t know much about him besides his work from later decades.

We were able to add some color to the history of a genre that he is clearly close to, largely by unpacking the stories of the individuals involved and how they helped shape the industry. 

Second, a young woman who is a student at Harvard stopped by and spoke with us for about an hour on the last day of the convention. She did not seem like an out-and-out science fiction reader, but was interested in the historical nature of our work. She spent some time flipping through the book and connecting things she did not know about to things she did know about, or had at least heard of. She commented on the Great Depression, the history of women in fandom, printing technology, and (of special interest to us) political activism.

Although she had no prior experience with the esoteric history of science fiction fandom in the 1930s, she was still able to connect to it through her general knowledge of history and her interest in topics that are timeless.

So… are young people interested in the history of science fiction fandom?

I believe (or hope?) that most everyone is (or should be) interested in history writ large, To garner interest in a particular facet of history, it’s necessary to make that history accessible and to find the right touch points — the places where people with no prior knowledge can connect with it. 

I find the history of early fandom to be compelling and interesting in its own right.  Anyone, regardless of age, could become interested if the ‘barriers to entry’ are lowered. This history is valuable because it enables readers to contextualize and more fully appreciate their relationship to the genre. Fans of science fiction ought to at least be familiar with the origins of fandom. 

We hope to help revitalize and preserve the early history of science fiction fandom, and we believe we can reach an audience of younger fans who can become interested in and engage with the rich, fascinating stories therein.

A Very Mysterious Photograph

Among the surviving papers of John V. Baltadonis, prominent First Fan of the Philadelphia persuasion, is this odd little photograph.

From the collection of Steve Baltadonis

I say “little” because the print is perhaps 1″ x 2″.

We’d love to uncover the what, why, when and where of this image. Recent spelunking revealed an appearance in the Program Book for the Fifth World Science Fiction Convention, held from August 30 through September 1, 1947, in Philadelphia (“The PhilCon”).

The photo was found next to other snapshots that appear to date from 1939 or 1940. An additional clue on the date is that the robot appears to be astride the cover of an issue of Charles D. Hornig’s Science Fiction, which ran from March 1939 through September 1941.

Please let us know if you have an insight that can further identify this peculiar piece of fan ephemera.

Also, just for fun, here’s an early William Rotsler cartoon from the same PhilCon Program Book, which found its way to us via Dave Kurzman and John L. Coker III.

In 1939, Lithography Came To Fanzines — But Why?

Print quality mattered in early science fiction fanzines. The credibility of the editors and authors was projected by the appearance of their publications — and this sometimes translated into professional opportunities. Access to a printing press in the 1930s was a luxury most couldn’t afford.

Beginning in 1932, Conrad H. Ruppert reshaped the world of fan publications with the printing press he bought with money saved by working in his father’s bakery. He printed issues of the most prominent fanzines of the period, including The Time Traveller, Science Fiction Digest, and Charles D. Hornig’s The Fantasy Fan. It’s not unreasonable to assert that the professional appearance of Hornig’s leaflet-sized ‘zine contributed to his ascension to the editorship of Wonder Stories at the age of 17. (You can read much more about Conrad H. Ruppert here.)

Without a friend like Ruppert, fans were limited to the only only affordable means of duplication at the time — the hectograph and the mimeograph. Both were limited in the quality and detail of reproduction. Many fanzine experimented with both, as seen in the evolution of Walter E. Marconette’s Scienti-Snaps.

But in early 1939, a new printing technology — lithography — began to radically transform the look and feel of fanzines. I say ‘new,’ because we haven’t seen any examples of this technique used in fan publications prior to 1939.

Lithography was invented in the late 1700s, when slabs of limestone were inscribed with grease pencil and rolled with ink. Rotary offset lithography using metal plates was developed in 1875. Technology for Photostats, an early version of photographic reproduction, was developed in the early 1900s.

In 1939, Larry Farsaci was an active fan and a founding member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA). In the March FAPA mailing that year (#7), he included a single-sheet lithographed image. This is the earliest example we’ve seen in fan-produced material.

Lithographed image by Larry Farsaci, March 1939, FAPA mailing #7

The difference in clarity and resolution between this litho image and previous hecto or mimeo reproductions is immediately evident. Later in 1939, Fantasy News published a lithographed image on its cover. Ad Astra followed suit in its January 1940 issue with an image described as a “planograph.”

In 1940 and 1941, the first fully-lithographed fanzines appeared. A notable example is the successor to Scienti-Snaps, Marconette’s Bizarre.

Another ambitious example, the “semi-professional” magazine Stardust, edited by William Lawrence Hamling.

Stardust, v1n1, March 1940

Fanzines using lithography gave the publications a step-function upgrade in attractiveness and readability. Great! But it’s not like lithography was new to the world. The question we’re working to answer is: What changed that made it possible for fanzines to utilize this method of printing?

  • Did the cost of lithography (aka offset printing) significantly decline, perhaps due to some technical innovation?
  • Did fans have more money to spend? Possible, since the Great Depression had largely abated.
  • Was there a “Conrad H. Ruppert of lithography?” Marconette gives credit to the staff of Stardust for assistance in the production of Bizarre.

After substantial digging and help from a number of printing historians, we’ve been able to stitch together a strong hypothesis for this transition. The primary factor appears to be the growing availability of low-cost, easy-to-operate offset lithography equipment through the mid-1930s and early 1940s. Other developments also likely contributed, including new “photo-resist” (light-sensitive) coatings for creating lithograph plates via photography.

A major clue was provided by Walter J. Daugherty’s fanzine Fan, number 7, March 1946. The issue was dedicated to a single article titled “How to Print an Amateur Paper.” We sourced our copy from two collectors: John L. Coker III provided a partial copy that led us to the material, and Sam McDonald was able to supply the critical pages that refer specifically to offset lithography.

Fan, n7, March 1946, edited by Walter J. Daugherty

From this we know that by 1946 offset photo-lithography was available in “all large cities” at reasonable rates — $3 in 1946 translates to about $42 today. Most fanzines had circulations well below 300.

One word in this article led us to a key insight: “Multilith.” This isn’t a generic term for a printing technology. It’s a brand name, and refers to a line of offset printing presses manufactured by the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio (hereinafter AM).

This company is a fascinating case study of a firm that prospered during the Great Depression, at least in part by continuing to invest in research and development. From their annual reports, we can see their introduction of a series of offset presses that were central to the more general and affordable availability of lithography.

In 1933, AM patented and introduced the Multilith Model 1227, likely the first office-sized, electrically-powered offset printhead.

Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation’s Multilith Model 1227
From the 1933 Annual Report of the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation

In 1938, AM reported that the Multilith had become a substantial part of their business — an indication that this equipment was reaching a wider audience.

From the 1938 Annual Report of the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation

In 1941, AM advanced this product line with the introduction of the Multilith Model 1250. This press and its namesake successors appear to have dominated small-shop and office lithography for the next few decades. Some of these machines are still in use today.

From the 1941 Annual Report of the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation
Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation’s Multilith Model 1250

This is almost certainly the model of offset press referred to in the 1946 article.

By 1939, the First Fans were mostly young adults. Some had jobs (though many did not) and so were in a position to take advantage of this superior and now-accessible printing technology. The ability to easily replicate finely-detailed originals through photography enabled new levels of artistic expression. It seems apparent that these factors came together in the late 1930s to spur a dramatic advance in fan publishing.