Richard A Lupoff
In which our esteemed publisher explains just how things were in the Sixties when John Stockman began writing his tales of torment.
The Iceman Cometh
Ya makin’ me feel like one of them Neanderthal apes that they thaw out o’ glaciers ever so often. Ya see stuff about it on the TV between wars and murders and politicians shouting at each other.
So what was it like in the early ’60s, ya wanna know. Did we really travel by horse and buggy and cross the ocean in sailing ships? No, not quite. We even had cars and radios and a few TVs. They had one at the corner saloon near my house. Thirteen inches across and fuzzy black-and-white pitchers. Got two or three channels, depending on where Maria the bartender pointed the coat-hanger coming out of the top
John F. Kennedy and Mao Tse-tung and Nikita Khrushchev played musical chairs to see who was top dog on the planet, ganging up two-on-one, shifting sides every couple of years.
Baseball teams kept moving around. Whatever happened to the Boston Braves, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Washington Senators, the St. Louis Browns? Danged if I know.
What the hell was happening to the world I’d been borneded into?
We had computers, that we did. They were the size of barns and cost millions of simoleons.
A bunch of malcontents dared to challenge the mighty National Football League and started the rival American Football League. The Super Bowl wasn’t even a gleam in Broadway Joe Namath’s eye.
Comics fandom got its start in 1960 and ’61 with the appearance of three fanzines. The first of these was Xero. Originally planned as a science fiction fanzine, Xero carried a series of essays collectively titled All in Color for a Dime from its first issue. The editors were one of the few female fans of the era, Pat Lupoff, and her husband.
The others followed in short order. Alter-Ego was edited and published by Roy Thomas and Jerry Bails, and concentrated on superheroes. Comic Art, produced by Don and Maggie Thompson, took a broader view of the world of cartooning.
Fanzines in that era were typically produced by one of two systems. Mimeographs worked by forcing a thick, petroleum-based gunk through holes in a sheet coated with wax. Dittos were a development from the older hectograph system of jelly-based dye transfers.
You could tell which system a fan publisher used. Mimeographers walked around with a black ink residue under their fingernails. Ditto-users had purple hands.
High-end circulation for fanzines in that era was around 300. For most, the number was much smaller.
The first comic convention that I know of took place in a stuffy, rented meeting room in lower Manhattan. I don’t know how many fans were present — at a guess, sixty. I entered the room quietly on a break from my day job, quietly stayed for about three quarters of an hour, then quietly exited and went back to my office.
My favorite source of older comics in that era was a store on New York’s lower east side called The Memory Shop. It was run by a pleasant character named Mark Ricci. His pricing system for back issue comics was a dime a year. A five-year-old comic would set you back fifty cents. A twenty-year-old comic would cost you two bucks.
Not everybody wanted to take comics (or comics fandom) seriously. Pat and I received a postcard from a reader named Art Castillo. “All around you is a society seething, begging not only for a critical evaluation of its fundamentals but for a re-construction of those very fundamentals, and you people sit on your ass and discuss comic books. What’s wrong with you, anyway?”
He also accused us of Relativistic Dadaism, a phrase so charming that we made it the slogan of Xero for the rest of its run.
In fact there was a sort of proto-comics-fandom before that key year of 1960. As early as the 1940s there were the Captain Marvel Club, the Mary Marvel Club, the Junior Justice Society of America, the Supermen of America, the Buck Rogers Club, and certainly others. These “captive fan clubs” were created and operated by comic book publishers as a marketing device. The last and best of them was the EC Fan-Addicts Club.
What made the new comics fandom in 1960 and thereafter was the fact that it was created and operated (I won’t say controlled!) by the fans themselves. Not by the publishers.
We’ve come a long way since then. I wonder how Art Castillo would react if he were plunged into the San Diego Convention Center in the midst of some 300,000 rabid comic book fans. I’m afraid his head would explode.
Burroughs fandom was another thing altogether. Edgar Rice Burroughs had been an immensely popular pulp author, and fans were collecting his books, magazines, and comics almost from the outset in 1912. Not long before Burroughs’s death in 1950, a devoted fan named Vernell Coriell traveled from his home in the Midwest to California to meet the Great Man. Coriell wanted to start a fan club devoted to Burroughs and his works, and to publish a club journal.
Burroughs placed his blessing on Coriell’s enterprise, and Coriell created the Burroughs Bibliophiles and their official magazine, The Burroughs Bulletin, and their newsletter, The Gridley Wave. Other fans followed suit: Camille “Caz” Cazedessus, with ERB-dom magazine and James V. Taurasi with Barsoomian Times newsletter.
Coriell was furious, insisting that his publications were the only legitimate, authentic, authorized Burroughs-related periodicals and that all others were poaching on his exclusive territory.
Enter John E. Stockman. In this man were united the three streams of fandom: Burroughs collecting, comics collecting, and fanzine publishing. Turn this man loose with a typewriter, a quire of mimeograph stencils, a couple of reams of paper, and a battered old mimeo machine, and the result was little less than thermonuclear.
I never knew Stockman, alas, but the literary legacy he has left us, stories populated by fanatical collectors of comic books and Burroughsiana, are classic. I will leave it to others to try to understand “Mule” Stockman, to evaluate his unique contributions to the field, to place him in the history of memorable madmen.