Mimeo ink, fanac, and paperbacks

There is something magical about the written word. It hooks a lot of people--- as readers, printers, writers, publishers or some combination thereof. From the time I learned to read, I had been an avid reader. My first venture into publishing came when I was around nine. It was a one-page newspaper produced by pencil in an edition of one, in large block letters. It had one-sentence items of news about WWII, swiped from the news reports I heard on radio. Later, I graduated to carbon paper and the old Underwood typewriter in our attic. The boy next door and I put out a cookbook in an edition of two. For content, we got a few recipes from our mothers. We charged ten cents a copy and sold out the whole edition, one to each of our mothers.

The first attempt I recall at creative composition was when, as a pre-schooler, instead of getting my mother to tell me a kiddy story, I told her one. All I remember about it was that it involved Popeye. In the sixth grade, inspired by Nancy Drew mysteries, I started work on a whodunit, but gave up about a half page into the tale. However, in the seventh grade I wrote any number of two or three page adventure stories inspired by the Westerns and war movies I saw regularly. (I probably looked like a conscientious student making notes about the lectures as I sat there in class scribbling away.)

In grammar school, I watched a teacher put a purple drawing of a bird face down on a pan of jelly, carefully lift it and put down a blank sheet of paper. Most amazingly, when she lifted that one there was a replica of the purple bird on it. She did one of these for each of us in the class. It wasn't til I was in high school that I found out the wonderful pan of jelly was called a hectograph. I asked for one for Christmas, and I got it.

Three high school friends, Albert Freundt, Louis Snyder and Bob Noble, and I set out to publish a class newssheet. Instead we ended up destroying the hectograph. Undeterred, we got to school early the next day and chalked our newssheet on the end panel of the blackboard. Our teacher didn't object so we did this until we tired of it.

When I was in high school my uncle, Herschel, was living in Savannah. He had a friend whose hobby was printing and had a job press in his garage. They decided to start a magazine they called Savannah All-Amusement Monthly. They paid me five dollars to write two brief articles for the first issue. There never was a second issue.

Oddly, I never got involved with the high school newspaper, or with the student publications when I was in college. Instead I got into science-fiction fandom. I'd been reading science-fiction for years. Then one day in 1950, while I was a stagehand with the college-community theater, the production manager, Walt Kessel, showed me a short poem in a little mimeographed magazine titled Cosmic Dust. The magazine intrigued me. I asked him about it. He said he'd lend me something that would explain it all if I'd absolutely promise to give it back. What he loaned me was the original Fancyclopedia . This was a mimeographed book compiled in encyclopedia form, giving the history and lore of science-fiction fandom from its inception in the 1920's til 1944, when the Fancyclopedia was published. It was fascinating.

Fandom then consisted of just a few hundred people who read science-fiction and communicated mostly by letter and by amateur publications called "fanzines". While the main focus was science-fiction, they wrote about anything and everything that interested them. That covered a lot of subjects.

I found a column of fanzine reviews by Rog Phillips in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories. Most were offered for ten cents a copy. I sent off for a bunch of them. One of the first to arrive was Spaceship, published by a teenager named Bob Silverberg. Another was Art Rapp's Spacewarp .

I got really caught up by the whole business. Within a couple of months, the desire to publish my own zine overwhelmed me. I found out where I could beg the use of a mimeograph. I got some paper and stencils, and dragged out the old typewriter in the attic. I produced a fanzine of my own. Considering the quality of the material, which I wrote myself, it was good fortune that I didn't know much about mimeography. That issue came out nearly illegible. Even so, I mailed off copies to the fans for whom I could find addresses. And some of them wrote back.

I called my fanzine Quandry. Some time earlier, I'd come across a paperback by Robert Benchley titled My Ten Years In A Quandary. I'd had to ask my mother what "quandary" meant. She explained and I liked the idea. But I mispronounced the word. When I titled my fanzine, I spelled it the way I said it. Surprisingly few people pointed out my error but I was embarrassed by the ones who did, and considered correcting the title. However I liked the look of the word "Quandry" and I thought "Quandary" rather ugly. I stuck with what I had.

Walt Kessel was astonished by my sudden publication. Before he'd done his hitch in the service, he had been an active fan and had published his own fanzine, Cosmic Dust. He had recognized that I was an incipient fan, but hadn't expected me to erupt into fan activity so quickly. If that's what I wanted to do, he was willing to help. He gave me a stack of old fanzines he'd received when he was active, some material he'd never gotten the chance to publish, and some mimeographing supplies, such as lettering guides and shading plates. He created a cover for me that became the basic design for every issue. And he taught me to operate a mimeograph properly.

There was an old A.B. Dick mimeo stored in the basement of the college administration building. We got permission to clean it up and use it. I soon got the hang of turning out reasonably legible copy and I was producing my zine monthly. Quick publication appealed to writers. Some of the best writers in fandom began sending me material. I got regular columns from Bob Silverberg and from Walt Willis.

Walt was one of "The Wheels of IF", a small group of fans in Northern Ireland. Walt's brilliant witty writing won him a wide following in fandom. In the letters I exchanged with Shelby Vick, a close fannish friend in Florida, we got to talking about how great it would be if Walt could come to a convention in the U.S. and we could meet him. But in those days transatlantic travel was expensive, and the U.K. was still suffering WWII-induced austerity. ShelVy came up with the idea of starting a fund to finance a trip over for him, and a slogan for the campaign, "WAW with the crew in '52".

This was an awesome project. It took a lot of courage to even tackle it, and a lot of work to actually pull it off. ShelVy did it, actually getting Walt to the convention. And in doing it, he initiated a fannish practice that has continued these many years. His project was the inspiration for TAFF, the Transatlantic Fan Fund, which alternately brought a U.K. fan to the U.S. or sent a U.S. fan to the U.K. for an annual convention, and for other funds for getting fans one place or another.

I was always Shirley to my parents, but when I discovered fandom, I learned that fans made a lot of fuss about the dearth of females among their ranks at the time. I wanted my zine to stand on its own, without readers being prejudiced one way or the other because the editor was female. I decided I wanted a unisex name to publish under. My mother suggested Lee.

In my fannish writings, I managed to avoid mentioning my gender. ShelVy, who came Savannah a couple of times, was in on my secret. Robert Bloch guessed from my writing style, and a couple of other fans found out when they visited Savannah, but kept quiet about it.

Then came the NolaCon1---the World Science Fiction Convention in New Orleans in 1951. I went, and fandom discovered I was a female. By then it didn't matter. My fanzine was well-established.

Fans who'd been around for years sent me old fanzines for my collection, and I read them avidly. I felt I needed a mimeograph of my own. The local A.B. Dick dealer had become interested in this project I kept buying paper and stencils for, and I'd been giving him copies of Q (but never hooked him into fandom. I guess he just wasn't the type.). I'd saved up $35 after the New Orleans convention, and I asked him if I could get a mimeo for that. He said he didn't even have a used one that cheap, but he thought maybe he could put something together for me out of parts from junked trade-ins. He did. It was a Speed-O-Print Model L, a crude, cranky, hand-cranked piece of machinery that took up residence in my attic.

My fanac peaked in the year that followed. I kept turning out Quandry monthly. Early on, I had joined FAPA-the Fantasy Amateur Press Association--a group of sixty-five fans who put out small personal zines for each other. I used a number of different titles on those.

Walt Willis and James White were putting out a small zine titled Slant. It was printed on a battered old tabletop letterpress. When they produced a rainbow-colored segment on a cover, I was impressed and intrigued. I got some colored inks and adapted Walt's technique to mimeo. Q#10 came out with a rainbow-colored cover.

Bob Tucker commented that I had not yet done anything comparable to an old zine called Pluto, which had used copious color. Although I had never seen Pluto, I decided to try meeting his challenge. For the November 1951 mailing, I did the first issue of Science-Fiction Five-Yearly2. The title was inspired by such prozines as Science Fiction Quarterly and the British Science Fiction Fortnightly. My ambitions exceeded the technology I had available. I tried to do an eight color cover with some of the colors in register. This called for running the cover through the mimeo five times. The Speedy-L just wasn't up to the accuracy I was after, but about half the covers were usable. I sprinkled the interior with colored spot illustrations which were a lot easier. Bob Tucker conceded that I'd met his challenge. Even the A.B. Dick man was surprised by the color work I managed to pull off my battered Speed-O-Print. As Sam Johnson would have said if he'd seen it, it was "like a dog walking on its hind legs. You do not expect it to be done well, the wonder is that it is done at all."

It was while working on SFFY that I learned the importance of making sure screw-on lids were snugged down before shaking containers of liquids. I did manage to clean up most of the yellow ink that spattered over the attic, but some faint stains persisted.

The WorldCon, in Chicago, was to have a masquerade, so I mimeographed myself a costume. Quandry appeared on paper in various pastel colors so I located some plain cotton fabric in similar colors, cut out pieces the size of pages and ran them through the mimeo, then stitched them together into a tunic that I wore over slacks. I accessorized it with a belt of paper clips and a mimeo stylus with a pin back glued on.

Shelby Vick's campaign to bring Walt Willis to the convention had been a success. After the convention, Walt did a tour of the U.S. visiting various fans. He came to Savannah for a while. Other fans dropped in on me. I went to the next Midwescon.

Late in the summer, I saw a help-wanted ad for someone, preferably with printing experience, to work a few days. I phoned the given number and said I didn't have printing experience, but I had plenty with a mimeograph. I was given an appointment for an interview. I suspect I was the only one who called. I got the job.

The printing department of the local Vocational School was ready to produce a batch of student record cards for the fall term, and the printer needed an assistant. The print shop was an interesting place with frames of type on one side and two big cast-iron C&P Gordon job presses on the other. It smelled of oiled machinery and printer's ink. The presses had been electrified, but had to be hand-fed. Each had a flat platen, on which the blank stock went. A roller ran up over an inked disk, then spread the ink it had picked up over the set type in the form. Platen and form clammed together and the stock was printed. My job was to remove the printed piece of card stock with my left hand, while I put a fresh piece in place with my right hand before the press could bite my fingers. Surprisingly, I succeeded.

I thought a letterpress would be a really neat thing to have, but one was far beyond my resources. I continued turning out Quandry by mimeo for 29 issues. By then I was working in the family store and had acquired a horse. My enthusiasm for Q had begun to wane. But a new young fan, Charles Wells, had appeared to take over the banner of Savannah fandom. I gave him the job of turning out the final issue. Number 30 bore a black border.

For a couple of years, instead of using my vacation time to attend science-fiction conventions, I went to ranches in Colorado. I drifted away from fanac but never gave it up completely. I continued my membership in FAPA and kept turning out small personal zines.

By 1955 I had orbited back within the gravitational field of fandom. I went to the World Science Fiction Convention in Cleveland. There I met the man I was to marry. Fannishly enthusiastic, I turned out three issues of a zine called Fanhistory.

I moved to New York and married Larry Shaw early in 1956. Larry was the editor of Infinity SF magazine and was a long-time fan as well. I'd been nominated for the 1956 TAFF trip and had won. Larry and I ended up combining a honeymoon with the trip to England. We were able to pay our own way, so it just didn't seem fair to take the donated funds. I turned the money back to TAFF and we went on our own.

I was always prone to air sickness. On the flight over, I was zonked on anti-sea sickness pills and never knew we'd had a fire in one engine til later when we were on the ground.

The visit was a mad whirl. In London we stayed with Pamela and Ken Bulmer. I remember a gang of us in London dining in the Elizabethan Room of the Gore Hotel, where I encountered someone I'd been in high school with. I remember that we took a bottle of mead back to Bulmer's and got sauced in their kitchen. I remember Hampton Court.

Of the actual convention, it's all a blur.

We visited Madeleine and Walt Willis in Belfast. I remember the men having a tea-drinking contest at Willis's. Walt and Madeleine took us to visit ancient sites, and arranged for me to enjoy a horseback ride in the hills. We went to Smithfield Market where we loaded up on old books, and an out-of-the-way antique shop where we bought odd bits of aged arms and armor.

On the return flight I was so air sick that when we set down at Gander a stewardess came and asked me to try looking as healthy as I could, lest the doctor who was coming on board to check us out quarantine the plane.

At some time or another Larry and I produced a couple or three issues of another fanzine, Excelsior, which seems to have been totally forgettable. For years, I forgot I'd done it. I barely remember it now and can't recall what was in it.

In the fall of '56 we turned out the second issue of Science-Fiction Five-Yearly. By time for the third issue, Larry and I had separated. So had the Speed-O-Print and I. It was still working, but showing its age when Bob Silverberg moved and offered me the mimeo he'd published his zine, Spaceship on. It was the same style as the Speedy, but bore a "Pilot" label. It was in better condition than my Speedy.

I'd long been a folk music buff. In New York, I became involved with the folknik crowd. In the summer of 1957, I started a folk music fanzine called Caravan. Meanwhile I continued turning out personal zines for FAPA.

It wasn't until I moved to New York that I got involved with professional publishing. For a short while, I read slush for Infinity and Science Fiction Adventures, the SF magazines my husband edited. I got credit as an assistant editor.

After Larry and I split up, I went to work for MD Magazine, but my job wasn't in the publishing end. I simply handled sending reprints of articles from the magazine to pharmaceutical houses that wanted them for advertising purposes. However a couple of jobs later, I went to work for a large letterpress printer and began to learn printing production, a job I loved. It didn't last, but I was determined that I would stay in printing. I went work to for a typographer, and finally for a lithographer.

The 1961 issue of SFFY I produced was not so fancy as the preceding ones. The new style mimeos were phasing out the old ones, and it was getting hard to find colored liquid inks. I managed to obtain the primary colors, but not the white toner I had been using. I knew that Bill Danner, an amateur printer and fan, had made himself a flatbed mimeo out of an old pair of pajamas, and was making his own ink. I don't recall his formula, but it involved pigment and corn oil. Inspired by him, I managed to fabricate some white toner for that issue from artists' titanium white oil paint, Naptha and cooking oil.

1962 was the tenth anniversary of Shelby Vick's campaign to bring Walt Willis to the WorldCon in Chicago. The WorldCon was to be in Chicago again. Larry Shaw and his new wife, Noreen, headed a campaign to bring Madeleine and Walt to it. I went to the parties to welcome Madeleine and Walt and went to the convention.

Fandom caught me back into its gravitational field. I joined the New York fan groups, Fanoclasts and FISTFA. These met on alternate Friday evenings. FISTFA was hosted by Mike MacInerny and rich brown, two very personable young fans with great senses of humor who attracted crowds that made their meetings like parties. Fanoclasts meetings were held at Ted White's in Brooklyn and were limited to members of the group. These included Mike and rich and a bunch of the other FISTFAns. The groups were not competitive but complementary.

Ted became a very good friend. He was great company, interested in just about everything. He was an excellent artist and an expert in jazz and comic books as well as any number of other subjects. He'd started writing science-fiction professionally, and shared his enthusiasm, inspiring me to try writing a book myself. A Western came most naturally to me. It was a typical horse opera very much in the tradition of the Western paperbacks I'd enjoyed for so long. Don & Jo Meisner critiqued the manuscript for me. Ted read it and encouraged me to submit it.

Another friend, Terry Carr, was assistant to the editor, Don Wollheim, at Ace books. Ace had a reputation for giving new writers a break. I submitted my manuscript to Terry. I hadn't yet gotten a response on it, when Terry phoned and asked me if I "had time" to write a comic Western. I had plenty of time, but wasn't sure I had the ability. Terry had faith that I did. I wrote some chapters and an outline. Ace bought it, and published it ahead of the action Western I'd done first. I couldn't think of titles, so Terry provided names for both of them, The Legend of Blackjack Sam for the comic one, and Gunfight at Laramie for the horse opera.

The literary agent, Henry Morrison, was a long time fan. He handled Ted White and some other friends who had become professional writers. He accepted me as a client. With two sales, and another book in the works I quit working regular hours for other people. That meant I could take the time off to join a group of fans travelling to the Westercon in San Diego in 1966, by way of the Midwescon, and then to visit various West Coast fans, promoting New York's bid for the WorldCon in 1967. There were eight of us on the Trek (Ted and Robin White, Dave Van Arnam, Cindy Heap, Mike MacInerney, Arnie Katz, Andy Porter and me) divided between a car and a van. I saw a lot of interesting places on that trip and I got to meet a lot of great people on the west coast. New York won the convention bid and I was listed as a member of the Convention Committee, though I didn't really contribute. Despite all my other activities, in 1966 I turned out another issue of SFFY on schedule.

I met Bob Toomey at the St. Louis WorldCon in 1969. He was an aspiring young writer just finishing up the final draft of his first book, and looking to move to New York. Apartments in New York were hard to find, so when the one across the hall from me became available, I told him, and he grabbed it. Bob and I collaborated on a story that we sold to damon knight for Orbit 9, and critiqued each other's book manuscripts.

My parents had retired to Port Charlotte on the west coast of Florida. In 1971, I bought a house near them, and arranged for Bob to drive a U-Haul truck loaded with my belongings down for me. He stayed in town a couple of months and together we turned out the 1971 issue of SFFY. Supplies for my mimeo were even harder to get in Port Charlotte than in NYC, so this was the first all black& white issue.

In Florida, I reached the apogee of my fannish orbit. I had a house of my own to keep up, my parents took a lot of my attention, and I was trying to make a living writing. I maintained my FAPA membership a while longer, then gave it up completely.

I still wanted to keep SFFY going but the old mimeo was wearing out and I couldn't get the replacement impression roller it needed. Without the repair parts, the other supplies, or the time to worry about it, I looked for some other way to produce SFFY.

I was still in touch with a few fans, including Terry Hughes, who was publishing the very fine fanzine Mota. I conscripted him to edit and publish the 1976 issues of SFFY for me. That proved such an easy lazy satisfying way to put out a fanzine that I roped in Dan Steffen and Ted White to do the next one. The following lustrum Patrick and Theresa Nielsen-Hayden did it. Then Geri Sullivan and Jeff Schalles took over and Geri's been in charge of it ever since. As publisher-emeritus I sat back on my laurels.

I didn't completely give up fandom. After I dropped out of FAPA, I got into a very small private group in which a member only had to send in one copy, and the Official Editor photo-copied enough for everyone. I'm still in it. And I went through a new incarnation as a convention-fan.

Until my aging eyes started complaining, I was still an avid reader. I'd been in publishing and I'd been in printing. And I'd been writing for a living. As I said, there is something magical about the written word. It hooks a lot of people as readers, printers, writers, publishers or some combination thereof.

1. NolaCon was described in Quandry #14 and in Quandry #15.
2. Lee Hoffman, Geri Sullivan, and Randy Byers won the 2007 Best Fanzine Hugo Award for Science-Fiction Five-Yearly.



© 2017 Gary Ross Hoffman

Back to home page Back to Lee's main page Back to biography page