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A boy and his fanzine

Long, long ago in a lifestyle far, far, away I published a SF fanzine called Personal Notes. I suppose most of my readers have no idea what a fanzine might be. For that matter a respectable percentage weren't alive in those days. Recently I had occasion to dig into my files and look up something in an old issue. While I was looking I read the editorial/introductory material. It was a nice statement of what fanzines were/are all about. I thought it was worth reprinting. Some one of these days I will write that article about Samizdat, Fanzines, and the Internet. In the mean time return to those thrilling days of yesterday, and read about how it once was before the internet and blogs.


This is PERSONAL NOTES #7, a personalzine oriented magazine of distinction (make that prize-worthy magazine of distinction) brought to you by Richard Harter from 5 Chauncy St., #2, Cambridge MA 02138.

Copyright © 1976 by Richard Harter. All rights reserved to the contributors and artists. Any material submitted, including letters of comment, may be edited before printing. Permission to reprint in part or in whole from this magazine in amateur publications is granted provided that it is correctly attributed. (But remember that to print material from here that is not by me you should ask permission from the person who created it.)

This magazine is available at the discretion of the editor only. Subscriptions are no longer accepted. No action of yours can obligate me to send you a copy. In the ordinary course of things however, you can on my mailing list by (a) sending me copies of your zine [also known as "You show me yours, I'll show you mine."], writing a letter of comment, requesting to be on my mailing list, being put on my mailing list because I want to keep in touch with you and this helps, because I want you to have it, or from habit.

So much for the formalities. Nominally PERSONAL NOTES is a personalzine, whatever that is. Supposedly a personalzine is a fanzine in which most or all of the material (except for the letters of comment) is by the editor and which is oriented towards the personal interests of the editor.

Ultimately all fanzines are published because the editor wants to publish them - because they fulfill some need within him. Now it happens that publishing a fanzine involves a considerable amount of work. There is the effort associated with the creation of the physical magazine and there is the, ah, intellectual effort of creating material and editing it. It is not insignificant. It can be, although it need not be, a reasonably demanding hobby as far as time and effort go. It is worth asking why. It is a question I ask myself.

It is probably not worthwhile seeking an ultimate motivation for publishing fanzines. Recent archaeological evidence indicates that in one form or another they are as old as written language itself. Indeed certain evidence I have seen recently indicates that fanzines came before literacy. It is true, however, that the fanzine did not become popular until the invention of paper - there are certain technical difficulties involved in stapling stone tablets.

It is true that one can construct coherent rationalizations for publishing fanzines. One can point out, for example, that one should exercise one's freedom of press. There is much to be said for venting one's creative impulses. There may even be something to these noises.

Regardless of the reasons why one publishes, the fact remains that a certain number of people do publish amateur magazines. It is not enough, however, to make the decision to publish; having done so, there is a magazine to construct. The freedom one has in choosing what sort of magazine one is going to publish is terribly broad. Fanzines are a form of vanity press.

The ordinary publishing house is constrained by economics. It cannot and does not publish a book unless it has reason to believe that it will make money by doing so. There are many things that it cannot publish for that reason. A vanity press can and has much more freedom in its publishing for that reason. One might suppose that vanity press publications have the prospect of special merit - they are, after all, freed from commercial constraint. In practice vanity press publication is synonymous with trash, the refuge of those who cannot write and crave to see themselves in print. This is the reputation of the vanity press; there is much to it, but it is not entirely just. Sometimes the vanity press does redeem its promise and provides an outlet for material that is worthy but not commercial.

One might suspect that since vanity press books are mostly pretty dreadful and since fanzines are a form of vanity press, that most fanzines are pretty dreadful. One would be right, but for the wrong reasons. Vanity press books are dreadful because no one except their deluded authors will pay money to print them. The market is there but they aren't good enough for it. The situation is otherwise with fanzines which offer a home for a large variety of material for which there is no place at all to publish it. Fanzines need not be dreadful.

Now those are words for our time - FANZINES NEED NOT BE DREADFUL. Pass it on.

Brave words for our time, indeed. Unfortunately the freedom to do as one pleases includes the freedom to the second rate, the not-worth-doing, and the freedom to babble endlessly. These freedoms are exercised with great energy.

For example, PERSONAL NOTES is dreadful. It is shoddy, both in its production and in its content. Reading it will not make you wiser or more thoughtful; it will not cure warts. Creating it has not made me richer - either intellectually or financially. (There are those who claim that it could not impoverish me intellectually, but it does cost money.) Here and there may be found a nugget of something intelligent, a worthwhile point concealed among the sludge and babble. On the whole it is raw ore rather than process metal - and low grade ore at that.

In short, it is no better than it should be. There is a distinct limit to how "good" something like PN should be. Now I do not mean to say that one should do things deliberately badly, but I do agree with the old saying that "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." This is not true for all things, but it is true for things like PN.

So much for the philosophy of fanzines - never a really enthralling topic. Actually PN does exactly what it is supposed to do - it amuses me and keeps me in tough with my friends and relatives. It satisfies a primeval urge within me. For its purposes it is excellent and not too demanding. What more could I ask?


In 1976 the internet was not on the horizon. Non-commercial journalism was a relatively obscure phenomenon, restricted to special interest groups such as political and religious advocacy, and assorted literary interest groups. The internet has changed that - every one can have a blog and a presence on internet social groups. Even yours truly has been affected. In a sense Richard Harter's World is a fanzine, a continuation of Personal Notes. In the 70's producing nine issues of a fanzine over a period of a few years was a burden. Richard Harter's World has seen twelve years of more or less continuous monthly publication, something only possible with the aid of computers and internet publication. This might not be a good thing.


This page was last updated February 1, 2008.
Reprinted from Personal Notes #7
Copyright © 1976, 2008 by Richard Harter

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