Happy New Year to all. To ring in 2014 we’ve decided to give you reviews of some archaic formats: books and cassettes! It’s not all MP3s and e-books and blogs just yet. You can jump into to the cassette section after you read the book reviews below. I’d just like to make the additional commentary that I feel that Xerox Ferox should be on every bookshelf and if you didn’t get it for Christmas you should go spend that $20 Aunt Ruth gave you on it now. And I apologize that this tapes/demos section was so long in the making, as I tend to dread tackling the mountain of cassettes that builds up next to the desk after a few months. But I have to admit that there are more than a few quality tape releases out there these days making the format seem more and more viable and the affordability is becoming appealing as record prices continue to rise. Maybe the resurgence of cassettes doesn’t seem so ridiculous anymore…We’ll be back soon with record reviews and Best of 2013 lists.
XEROX FEROX: THE WILD WORLD OF THE HORROR FILM FANZINE (John Szpunar – Headpress)
John Szpunar’s Xerox Ferox was a long-awaited tome here at Termbo HQ. For as much as the world of music fandom (and fanzines) has been a time-consuming obsession of mine since adolescence, the world of horror fandom has been an almost equal passion and might have been my first true love. Subtitled “The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine”, Szpunar covers four decade’s worth of ground in a whopping 800 pages, allowing a story to spin itself over the course of forty-plus interviews with the men (and women) who created the self-published fanzines that built the foundation of horror fandom as we know it today. I was fully expecting Xerox Ferox to be a great read, filled with minutiae about magazines I’d never heard of and anecdotes about tracking down and interviewing obscure films and filmmakers, and there’s plenty of that. But as this thing unfolded I realized what Szpunar also created was something far more than just a collection of interviews. There’s a story told within that touches not just on the horror film genre, but talks to the wider subject of fandom in general, and what being a part of that community means to the individual. Every person interviewed in this book, no matter how obscure their zine, aspired to be a part of a larger whole and followed through on such aspirations in whatever way they could. Be that handwriting zines and running them off on the photocopier (or mimeograph in some ancient cases…) at work, contributing to mags that other people published or even writing for nationally distributed magazines with actual budgets and professional printing, these people did it not for money, not for acclaim, they did it to be a part of something they felt passionate about, something that they loved. I think every one of you reading this “review” knows that feeling – be it through releasing records, making music the music on those records, writing your own zine, taking photos, organizing shows, whatever it may be, all of us know this passion and have tried to do our own part to contribute to making our section of fandom prosper. Whatever thing it is that you’ve done, it might not seem like much, but the entire reason we’re all here right now is FANDOM. Reading this book I couldn’t help but think about the bigger picture we’re all a part of.
We need to talk about this book first, before I start going too wildly off topic. So, the premise of Xerox Ferox is that Szpunar tracked down just about everyone who printed or wrote for a horror fanzine that was read by more than 50 people over about the past forty years. The list is immense, packed with names and titles that I’d heard of and just as many that I’ve never even heard mentioned, and I like to think I’m somewhat immersed in this sort of thing. He talks nuts and bolts with all of the editors, which is fascinating in itself – how they laid out their zine, how they got it printed, how it was distributed. As someone who has labored over my own pages, hearing the old school tales of guys typing around images, typesetting by hand and stapling zines together in their bedrooms are always enjoyable. Every interview somehow connects with the next few via various degrees of separation – this guy wrote for that guy who traded with this guy who found about his zine via this other zine. The type of bloodline we’re all familiar with – you put on a show for a band, who give you a demo tape from their friend’s band who is on a label that this other guy runs where you find about another record he put out that this other guy you know did the artwork for, etc…it’s hard to not relate these stories to music fandom. It’s also fascinating to see where the horror crowd overlapped with punk rock. A lot of these zines would cover music as well as films, like Nick Cato’s Hardgore and Stink which covered the NYHC scene and sleaze/horror at the same time. Or guys like Nick Burrell, who started with the legendary punk zine Into the Void before moving on to horror. Or tidbits like the fact that Bill Landis was Patti Pallidin’s cousin. Musicians themselves were in on the act: Cecil Doyle of KBD legends Toxin III also did an amazing photocopied zine called Subhuman which counted none other than Rob Zombie as a subscriber. Stefan Jaworzyn is a name you should recognize from playing in Skullflower and Whitehouse and from starting the Shock Records label, but he was also the editor of one of the best European horror mags in Shock Xpress. And it wouldn’t be a book touching on the NYC underground without a Johan Kugelburg reference – yes, the Kuge himself gets some credit here for getting Mike McPadden distribution for his Happyland zine through Matador back in the Nineties. It all connects, man.
There are recurring threads/questions that run through the interviews, aside from the standard “How did you get into horror…” track of questioning. Szupnar and his subjects have an appreciation for the history of the horror zine and make sure to acknowledge it. Just about every conversation touches on the influence of the giants of horror zinedom: Forrest Ackerman and Famous Monsters (the godfather of horror fandom, who essentially sets the story of this book in motion), Chas Balun and Deep Red (who changed the game in the Eighties with his personal writing style and attitude), Bill Landis and Sleazoid Express (one of the greatest zines of any genre, a printed documentary of the glory days of Times Square/42nd Street and a zine not just about sleaze films but about sleaze as a lifestyle) and Rick Sullivan’s Gore Gazzette (the “other” NYC grindhouse zine, which seemingly made it a point to talk shit about everything and everyone, other zines/writers included). These four monsters of horror were an immense influence on their peers both as writers and as enablers for others to get printed. Their work was as much about their own voices as it was propagating and growing the zine community and voices of others as well. Sadly, Ackerman, Balun and Landis have all passed on, and Rick Sullivan basically dropped off the face of the earth after ending Gore Gazzette’s run, but their unique visions are what kept the horror fanzine afloat and their impact is still felt today.
With over 40 interviews, you’d think things would get redundant, but these individuals have distinct enough voices to give different spins to the same topics. The concerns of zine writers in the UK during the Video Nasties era were far different than their US compatriots for example. Writers from different eras dealt with available technologies in different ways and the VHS boom of course changed everything. The most impressive segments are an interview with Balun before his untimely death, artist/writer Steve Bissette spilling his guts on his decades of work, getting to hear the story of Tom Skulan of Fantaco, the Albany comic shop that printed and distributed many of these zines and organized one of the first horror conventions (and whose ads in Fangoria allowed me to mailorder hard-to-find stuff like Deep Red, Slimetime and more), talks with Jim Morton who authored the Incredibly Strange Films Re/Search book, Uncle Bob Martin (the man whose efforts made Fangoria’s glory days worth reading), the heavily opinionated Stefan Jaworzyn of the essential Shock Xpress, Jimmy McDonough (author of the Andy Milligan book The Ghastly One which is one of the best bios ever – and he’s also the author of Shakey and the best Russ Meyer bio), and Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog, perhaps the longest running and most academic of all the zines here. Some of the more fascinating segments also come from obscurities like Michael Helms (of Australia’s Fatal Visions) or Tim Mayer’s Fear of Darkness – super small print zines, often done by teenagers or isolated fans in an attempt to connect with the rest of the world.
The only drawbacks: no Rick Sullivan or Michael Weldon (Psychotronic) interviews, which Szpunar admits, as both refused to be interviewed. And the Landis chapter is an interview with that is reprinted from Creeping Flesh (also a Headpress title at least), but still bears inclusion here for anyone who hasn’t read it before. Any shortcomings are quickly forgotten within the massive international scope covered, anecdotes about everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Gene Simmons and a great layout that pays tribute to the photocopied layouts of the zines discussed. There are plenty of great pictures and the reproductions of the amateur zine covers are amazing. There’s also a bonus section that prints lost interviews with three of my favorite underground directors: Jim van Bebber (Deadbeat at Dawn), Roy Frumkes (Street Trash) and Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock), which would be worth the price of admission alone.
The state of modern horror fandom is brought up often, particularly the change from print to online publishing. Many of these authors now have their own blogs, but many simply stopped writing when print ceased to be an option. I can appreciate both perspectives. The online vs. print debate is something I’ve considered quite a bit, and like many, I think there is room for both. The real question becomes the quality of the writing/content and passion of the people behind them. A shit print zine is just as useless as a shit blog and vice versa. The horror magazine itself seems to be in good shape for now, and even if much of it is still crap, you can find a lot out there – Shock Cinema, Screem and Video Watchdog can still be found on the shelves at Barnes & Noble and are all still worthwhile. Fangoria has been garbage for ten years or more now (the Entertainment Weekly of horror), and their attempt to re-launch Gorzeone as subscription-only seems good natured but ill advised – hopefully their constant Chas Balun namedropping will actually make for some writing befitting his legend. Famous Monsters has been re-booted once again, in a slick-as-shit and expensive style regrettably. Rue Morgue seems to be written by the “cool nerd” crowd that thinks post-Danzig Misfits are cool, yet still has some good columns even if you know these guys wear costumes on days that aren’t Halloween. Only Horrorhound offers a mainstream zine you can count on for some actual fanzine-style passion, and although it also suffers from some amateurish pitfalls, it’s that semi-pro attitude that lends it some real charm. There are smaller zines still out there like Lunchmeat and Weng’s Chop that offer up treats for serious fans as well. As always, the deeper you dig, the better your returns will be. It raises the possibility that now, with the over saturation of information on the internet making everything turn to white noise, is getting smaller the way to go again?
Xerox Ferox is obviously essential for the true horror fanatic who probably owns actual copies of some of the zines involved here, but I think even those not that familiar with much of the subject matter will be able to appreciate the story it tells. Those interested in zines and self-publishing in general will enjoy the journey. Even casual horror fans will appreciate the recollections of years spent growing up watching midnight movies, reading old horror comics and renting VHS tapes. Fandom is all around us these days and much like the mainstream has watered down and corrupted much of what the horror community was built upon, we can see parallels in music fandom as well. This story could have easily been told with a collection of music zine writers: Greg Shaw isn’t far off from Uncle Forry, Balun could be a Lester Bangs substitute, with folks like Byron Coley or Gerard Cosloy acting as the Landis & Sullivan. Shit, that would make a pretty good book. But I think the real message of Xerox Ferox, and something that we should all think about, is that fandom is what you choose to make of it. You get as much passion out of it as you put into it. All of the people Szpunar spoke with here made a difference, made fandom a better place or at the very least kept the blood flowing and the community alive for the next generation. It’s something to both admire and aspire to in our own lives.(RK)
(You can order directly from Headpress, who offer both a hardbound special edition and the regular softcover,alongside dozens of other recommended books and journals. You can also follow John Szpunar via the Xerox Ferox page here.)
IF YOU LIKE THE RAMONES…(Peter Aaron – Backbeat Books)
For those unaware, aside from fronting one of the finer of the Nineties NYC outfits in the Chrome Cranks, Peter Aaron is also an award winning journalist, writing for numerous Upstate NY newspapers and magazines alongside work for the Boston Herald, Village Voice, allmusic.com and more. He also did a zine called Suburban Muckraker back in his Ohio days. The guy’s credentials speak for themselves, have no doubt. I was unaware that there is a series under this premise, that “If You Like…” say Metallica, Bob Marley or even The Sopranos(?!), one of these books will show you “over 200 bands, CDs, films and other oddities that you will love” as well. In The Ramones case this will of course guide you to girl groups, bubblegum, garage rock, cartoons, heavy metal, comic books, the rest of the punk rock canon and various B-Movies and TV shows. I respect the work Mr. Aaron has done here, but let’s just admit that this book is of little use to anyone except maybe a eighth grader who just got his first Green Day record. This is introductory level pop culture for anyone with even a fleeting interest in anything remotely “rock’n’roll”. Said eighth grader might need a little help finding out about The Pagans or Death Race 2000 and could use the overview of US and UK punk and hardcore. He should probably already know about South Park and The Beatles, I imagine. Perhaps the listing of Fifities/Sixties television shows and films is something that I grew up with that the kids of today are missing out on. I can understand that inclusion. There is some pretty obscure stuff here for the uninitiated and plenty of obvious entries as well. When I was a kid I remember getting Gene Sculatti’s Catalog of Cool and tracked down stuff like Lord Buckley, Esquerita and Terry Southern after reading it. While If You Like The Ramones is a far more mainstream effort than Sculatti’s somewhat subversive book, I hope it will be of some use to youngsters out there trying to find their way. If you’re reading this website, I can guarantee you already know everything this book has to offer. But, your 12 year old nephew might need some help…