We had the honor of speaking with Erle M. Korshak, one of the original First Fans of science fiction, at the 2019 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. Korshak was a significant player in the fan community, having helped organize the second World Science Fiction Convention (“Chicon”) in 1940.
See a short video of our talk with Korshak below.
Serendipity! Whilst digging through a box of old fanzines at the Curious Book Shop booth (thanks, Ray Walsh), we found a nice copy of the 1940 Chicon Program Booklet. Erle was gracious enough to add his autograph.
On April 10 and 11 Daniel, Kate and I are spending time with Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton at their home outside of Chicago. The Windy City convention starts tomorrow, but Doug has graciously agreed to let us spelunk his archive of correspondence and other material from the estate of Jack Darrow (nee Clifford Kornoelje). Darrow was one of the most active early fans and central to activity in Chicago in the late 1920s and 1930s. The letters he exchanged with Otto Binder, William Dellenback and others gives a great sense of what it was like to be a leading fan during those seminal years.
On this post we’ll highlight just a few of the unique items we found in these files. Much, much more to come as we have a chance to process and post.
First Fandom Experience is a collaborative effort. It’s my privilege to introduce the people who make it possible.
My name is David Ritter and I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. FFE is my second adventure in publishing related to science fiction in the 1930s. The first was The Cosmos Project. You can read more about my background there.
I encountered the somewhat legendary and quite peculiar round-robin novel Cosmos in my quest to find all of the original material written by E.E. “Doc” Smith. I blame Smith’s Lensman series as a primary instigator of my own fandom when I discovered it at (of course) age 12. Cosmos was orchestrated and published by a small cadre of science fiction fans who convinced an impressive set of professional writers to contribute. Smith wrote a chapter of the serial that was later re-published as a stand-alone story.
As my interest in fan history grew, I was fortunate to meet Dave Kurzman. Dave is a leading collector and dealer in science fiction ephemera. I’ll always thank him for many things, including his willingness to part with his copy of Weird Tales #2. I think he regrets it to this day. Through Dave I came into possession of a complete run of Science Fiction Digest and Fantasy Magazine, including all of the chapters of Cosmos.
The way Cosmos came together in the early 1930s is a microcosm of the overall phenomenon of organized fandom during that decade. The ambitious youngsters behind this grab-bag of a novel went on to found and largely dominate the science fiction genre for the next several decades. Their energy and optimism was infectious even as it reached across the intervening ninety years. My exploration of this era has been something of an obsession ever since. I submit re-typing all seventeen chapters of Cosmos as evidence.
Once The Cosmos Project was largely complete, I continued to explore the broader arc of fan history. This led me to what’s considered the canonical narrative of early fandom: The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz. Moskowitz captured the stories of many of the key people and events of the early years from his own first-person experience and with his own distinctive perspective.
It was all well and good to read about all of the clubs, publications and gatherings that bootstrapped the science fiction industry. But it was also unsatisfying. I felt like I was reading a biography of Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who discovered the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. I wanted to dig in the dirt myself, touch the very walls, walk the very sands where Achilles spilt the blood of Hector. Hence I started to seek out more of the original material created by folks who have come to be known as the “First Fans.”
Among many other places, this quest led me to the basement of Robert A. Madle in Rockville, Maryland. Bob was a prominent fan in the Philadelphia area beginning in the early 1930s and has since become a legendary collector and dealer in the field. I’m honored that he entrusted me to give a good home to his original copies of The Planet and The Time Traveller, seminal early fan publications without which any coverage of this era would be sorely incomplete.
Part of my commitment to Bob was the idea that I’d find ways to preserve and make these rare artifacts more widely available. At the time, there were only vague notions of how this might come about.
I’d been toying with the idea of creating a facsimile edition of Cosmos, patterned after the chapter inserts from its original publication. At the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in 2017, I kicked this idea around with Doug Ellis, the founder and organizer of the show. Doug is a prominent collector and publisher of several volumes of science fiction and pulp art. I also spoke with John L. Coker III, President and Archivist of the First Fandom organization. John has done more to preserve and honor the memories of the First Fans than anyone through his various writing and publishing projects. He had been a contributor to The Cosmos Project, educating me and providing great material highlighting the key role of Conrad H. Ruppert and his printing press. It was John who suggested that perhaps more of the original fanzines from the early days could be brought out as facsimiles. This was the inception of First Fandom Experience.
Initially, I imagined that full facsimile runs of the key fan publications from the 1930s might be produced. Thanks to Doug for convincing me that this was impractical, if not entirely insane. Over the next few months and through many discussions, the alternate concept of a “visual history” of the period gradually formed.
At about this same time, I began to understand that anything approaching a robust visual treatment of early fandom would be a pretty massive job, and that trying to do it as a part-time hobby would likely take many years. So, for better or worse I suggested to my middle son Daniel that he quit his job and join the project on a full-time basis. When we look back on this in the future, I hope he thanks me for this. Time will tell.
Nepotism aside, Daniel represents a core component of the intended audience for our work: younger science fiction fans who so far have no notion that organized fandom existed in the dark past, that many of the masters of the genre started as fans way back then, and that their generation did not, in fact, invent cosplay. Kids these days should be interested in this history, darn it!
Nepotism further aside, Daniel brings a terrific base of relevant experience to this work. After graduating from Champlain College with a degree in writing, he served for five years as a writer, editor, staff lead and operations manager for a web content company. I’m delighted that he’s embraced the role of Managing Editor.
John L. Coker III has continued to be a committed member of the FFE team. His personal knowledge and interactions with the First Fans offer our most direct connection to these remarkable — and sometimes problematic — people. I’m sad that my interest came only after most of these pioneers had passed. John knew them, chronicled their lives and captured their memories. The interviews, notes and photographs he’s contributed are the most vital part of bringing this story to life. With his kind permission, the artifacts his contributions will feature prominently in FFE material.
Through John, we reached out to the First Fandom community to let them know about FFE. One of the immediate respondents was Sam McDonald. Sam brings deep knowledge and intense enthusiasm regarding early fanzines to the project. His own massive collection fanzine will play an important role in our publications. But Sam’s most remarkable contribution to FFE is the work he’s done and continues to identify sources for fan material, perform archaeology on a wide range of library and private collections, and catalog and index the content. His first blog post here reflects the richness and detail of his work, for which we are deeply grateful. He is the most extraordinary maker of lists that I have ever encountered.
In addition to his valuable advice, Doug Ellis has made available his extensive archive of correspondence and other material related to early fandom in Chicago. The active community there spawned such prominent fans as Raymond A. Palmer, Jack Darrow, Walter Dennis and Erle M. Korshak.
Also representing the younger generation of fans on the FFE team is Kate Baxter. Kate is an accomplished technical professional whose perspective helps to connect our work to the interests of today’s attendees at Comic Con, and burns in the woods, and other gatherings where old folks like me would possibly be welcome but would always feel a little awkward. Kate drives sourcing of material from a variety of library archives, helps to manage our finances and will run our “shipping department” should such a thing become needed. We can hope!
To Daniel, John, Sam, Doug and Kate — tremendous thanks for getting this ambitious project started and underway. It would not be possible without an exceptional team and I can’t imagine a better one. To others, please let us know if you’d like to contribute as well. The FAQ provides an overview of the project. This site will hopefully grow over time to reflect the fascinating experiences of the early fans who gave first breath to the vast networks of science fiction communities that we know today.
To take this project forward, we needed to make a list of
the fanzines and other fannish publications and ephemera of the 1930s, find out
if it still exists in a library or private collection, gather it all in for
digitization, AND then read it, categorize it, etcetera.
So, Step 1, make a list.
To do this we start by using the fine work by those fan historians who
came before us. I will, at this time,
only consider indexes and resources that cover the 1930s.
Science Fiction Bibliography by the Science Fiction Syndicate (D. R. Welch and William Crawford)
SF Check-List by Robert and Frances Swisher
Fanzine Index from Bob Pavlat and Bill Evans
British Fanzine Bibliography by Rob Hansen
Various fan indexes
Library Finding aids and catalog holdings
Auction listings and ads in fanzines and other sources
I’ll take each of those above, in turn:
1) Science Fiction Bibliography by the Science Fiction Syndicate
This was published in 1935 and is generally attributed to have been done by D. R. Welch and William Crawford(1). It is 12 pages, printed, 8.5 x 5.25. Reputedly, this is the first bibliography ever published in the field of science fiction and fantasy literature. In brief, it has 3 pages on pamphlets & booklets, 5 on fan magazines (not yet called fanzines)(2) (including Marvel Tales and Unusual Stories)(3), and 1 and a bit on ‘minor publications’(4), and 2 pages of items for sale. From the tone describing these ‘minor publications’, such as ‘There is absolutely no reason why anyone should waste time collecting this item’ (RE: The Planetoid), I am not surprised that we hear little of D. R. Welch, as who would then order from him? One item that was more interesting to me, since I knew almost nothing of it, regarding the single issue of Radiagram,was this sentence ‘No stranger collection of scientific fallacies and misinformation has ever been put into print – an unbelievable revelation of callow thinking and juvenile misunderstandings.’ So, this was the first science fiction bibliography, though not very useful or interesting. Noted in the Pavlat & Evans’ Fanzine Index on p. 97.
2) SF Check-List by Robert and Frances Swisher
This SF Checklist is an 8 volume, hecto’d index of fanzines through about Fall 1942. It appears to me that although the first volume was published (to FAPA) in October 1938 and the final volume was published in November 1942, they did not catalog up the first volume, but included any-and-all information they had up to the time they typed it up. For the most part I don’t think that the index was made up issues ‘cataloged in hand’ but was made up of notes submitted or noted from fanzines. Thus, the Checklist reads more like a series of notes rather than a firm catalogue. I don’t think that this Checklist has been studied all that much because, 1) it is hecto’d and very hard to read. Some pages very nearly too faded to read. I think one might have to have at least 2-3 copies to successfully parse all pages of the 8 volumes. (though scanning at hi-res and zooming and fiddling with the contrast does help overcome these issues) 2) It seems to me to be rather rare. I’m not sure if it was distributed outside of FAPA with its 50-copy minimum. 3) We presume that Pavlat & Evans mined it, and included, from it, all notes of value. The Swisher SF Checklist is very important and useful because it formed the foundation of the next index. The SF Check-List is noted in the Pavlat & Evans Fanzine Index on p. 105.
3) Fanzine Index from Bob Pavlat and Bill Evans
The most useful index we have is the Fanzine Index from Bob Pavlat and Bill Evans (which I will now call Pavlat & Evans or P&E), for the period of the 1930’s. This is a core a resource because not only does it build upon Robert D. Swisher’s SF Checklist (acknowledged very clearly in the introduction of the P&E index) , it is also now conveniently very accessible because Peggy Rae (Pavlat) Sapienza has granted permission to Ron Brown to scan it and those scans are made available at eFanzines.com as a 13MB PDF: Pavlat & Evans Fanzine Index. This index was done in five volumes, published from December 1952-November 1959 and covers fanzines through December 1952 (generally including those marked ‘Winter 1952-53’). This index, other than now being online, was made more readily available because it was reprinted by Harold Palmer Piser. I believe the copy at eFanzines is the Piser version because it looks like his ‘a’ was bent a bit low (and Pavlat’s was not). If you compare them, except for doing typewriter forensics, they might be exactly the same excepting the different paper. (and also, I think most Piser versions were drilled or punched for putting into a 3-ring binder). These, being mimeo, are much more readable, than the hecto’d Swisher SF Check-List. The second volume notes that they were now being printed by Charles F. Derry (aka Chick). We know that this index too lacks some information (P&E note as such in the first paragraph of the introduction to the first volume) , which is understandable, since many of those 1-2 page newszines came out weekly. P&E also have notes of reference giving clues to fanzines not seen or reasonably confirmed directly by them. These notes tend to cover issues that were likely hand-copied, carbon copied, or were issued in very low numbers (<10).
4) British Fanzine Bibliography by Rob Hansen
Hansen’s, bibliography, online at http://www.fiawol.org.uk/fanstuff/biblio/, is useful to confirm and add information for early British fanzines that was not known to P&E. Also, very useful if one is interested in just UK fanzines and you don’t want to parse through all of P&E).
(To find listings you will need to see the library catalog from https://library.ucr.edu/ Hint: use advanced search and set the “Subject (is exact)” to be “Fan magazines” AND set the ‘Any field’ to be “From the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy”. You can then change the date ranges and sort by title etc.)One last one, is the Coslet-Sapienza Fantasy and Science Fiction Fanzine Collection at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (https://library.umbc.edu/speccoll/publications.php#c11). I think they have the most issues of fanzines from the 1930s of any of the University collections mentioned above. I prefer to use the PDF finding aid. I search for ‘193’ and that, barring a few false hits, lets one step through it finding all the issues from the 1930’s.
7) Auction listings and ads in fanzines and other sources
I have slowly, over about 20 years, gained
some valuable information from browsing auction listings and ads found in the various
fanzines. For auction listings they
mostly help to confirm data, but sometimes also, if they include images, let
one see the dates for a kind of catalog-in-hand. Some auction listings on ebay,
done by knowledgeable fans can even give you helpful information not found in
the fanzine on for sale, such as what other fanzines they did, maybe things
about pseudonyms, variations on a given issues etc.
Another item used to find very esoteric and low run fanzines from New Zealand is the book Timeless Sands: A History of Science Fiction Fandom in New Zealand (compiled by Nigel W. Rowe).
8) FAPA fanzines
The fanzines, and other ephemera, like FAPA business (elections, members, dues etc.), in FAPA mailings have their own special problems. The 2 issues are: there were generally only, at most, 50 copies, and 2) the mailings were bundles, and individual items could easily become lost.
Two items especially useful for noting these early FAPA fanzines are: Larry Shaw’s FAPA Index, which overs those items included in FAPA mailings through #28 (June 1944). And Bob Pavlat’s FAPA Book: The Mailings. 6 volumes, covering mailings #1-96.