The Origins of Fanzines

Every so often some hard core fanzine fan will proudly declaim that science fiction fandom invented fanzines. My reaction to this is to remind them that the idea of the APA dates all the way back to the 19th Century. H.P. Lovecraft was a keen APA contributor in his day. Mostly when I point this out I get ignored, so I am delighted to see the same point being made by Patrick Nielsen Hayden over at as part of their Cthulhu Month celebrations (yes, Cthulhumas is coming, you can all have your sanity back in the new year, provided you have been good and don’t get your brains eaten by Ssantha). What is more, Patrick actually suggests a causative link through HPL’s friendship with Donald A. Wollheim, the founder of FAPA. If only Lovecraft had lived a few more years, he might actually have attended the first Worldcon. There’s an alternate history idea for you.

Those of you who have no idea what an APA is, click through to Patrick’s article where he explains all.

9 thoughts on “The Origins of Fanzines

  1. IIRC it was Holmes fandom that really ignited fanzines and fanfic (although they called it “pastiche”).

    It is probably accurate to say that fanzines created science fiction fandom. Of course, all it took was a few fanzine fans and club members getting together in person to spark most of the fannish traditions we have now (much to the dismay of many of those fanzine fans who don’t like growth or change).

  2. Maybe your experience is otherwise, but in the “hard-core fanzine fandom” that I (and PNH, for that matter) have been attached to for over 30 years, it is well-known that APAs had a long and honorable history long before SF fandom picked up the idea.

    What I see meant by the type of comments you’re reading as “SF fandom invented fanzines” is that other fanzine traditions, particularly comics fanzines and rock music fanzines, were founded by SF fans who imported the idea of fanzines as they knew them established in SF fandom and transferred it to their other fields of interest. SF fanzines themselves, however, were not as far as I know invented in that manner. (The date is traditionally set at 1930.) Sure, small magazines printed by ditto or mimeo had previously existed, many of them in the “mundane” APAs, but the fanzine ethos which was imported full-grown into comics and rock fandoms (and then subsequently evolved there into their own species) had to be created de novo in SF fandom.

    It was not until several years after SF fanzines had gotten under way that the first SF-fannish APA was created (FAPA, 1937). Unlike fanzines themselves, the APA idea was imported by fans who were aware of and participants in the older APA tradition.

  3. What David said.

    Any fanzine fan unfamiliar with the history of apas would be a fan very ignorant of their history, and someone who couldn’t have been interacting too long with too many other fans, or their ignorance would have been made clear to them.

    Also, while “apazines” and “fanzines” can describe entirely the same thing, they can also refer to entirely different things.

    A mailing comment orientated apazine is hardly the same thing as a genzine which is usually distinguishable from a personalzine, after all.

    “Apazine” and “fanzine” may accurately describe a fanzine that is an apazine and vice versa, but most apazines are very clearly apazines and not general distribution fanzines, and most general distribution fanzines aren’t apazines. Using the two words as synonyms is apt to lead to pretty confused conversation, as well as confused conclusions if one is seriously unclear about the distinctions, the internally distinct but overlapping traditions, etc.

  4. “It is probably accurate to say that fanzines created science fiction fandom.”

    No, science fiction prozines, and their lettercolumns, did that. Correspondence and clubs came before fanzines, though only barely.

  5. Actually, the header of this piece is extremely misleading: most certainly apas weren’t the origin of sf fanzines in any way. Fanzine fandom was quite established by the time FAPA was invented. See Speer’s Up To Now, the first work of fanhistory, as an example.

    By Speer’s seminal numbered fandom theory, later famously amplified by Bob Silverberg, Eofandom, First Fandom, and First Interregnum all took place before FAPA was started. Again, see Up To Now for context.

  6. DB: You can certainly trace the SF influence in many areas – for example into postal gaming and thence into role-playing. However, given how simple a concept an amateur magazine is, it would not surprise me to find that there were, say, sports fans who came up with the idea entirely independently. They may not share the same social ethos as SF fanzines, but examined outside of the social context they look very similar.

    There are language usage issues here. There are machines called “Hoovers” that are made by the Hoover company, things called “Hoovers” that use the same basic design but are made by other companies, and things that get called “Hoovers” that use totally different engineering principles but are still intended to pick up dirt. Similar issues apply to the word “fanzine”.

  7. Cheryl: I don’t know about sports fanzines, but I named the rock and comics fanzine fields as founded by the inspiration of SF fanzines not because it theoretically could have been, but in those two cases it historically actually was. People like Greg Shaw and Paul Williams were SF fans who imbued rock fandom in SF fandom’s image, partly by publishing fanzines as SF fans know them, only about rock.

    There certainly are multiple definitions of fanzines, and it’s hard, for instance, to look at H.P. Lovecraft’s “Rhode Island Astronomer” (if I recall the title correctly) and not think, “science fanzine!” But “fanzine” as it’s being used by people who say “SF fandom invented fanzines” does not mean “all tiny amateur magazines printed (at least until later years) on ditto or mimeo” but a particular ethos, a style and set of customs, that were developed in SF fandom in the 1930s and 40s and did not come from earlier publications, but were later exported to other fandoms.

    One small indication of this is that the word “fanzine” was invented in SF fandom and later borrowed by other groups. Earlier amateur magazines were called “amateur journalism” or “ayjay.”

    SF APAs, on the other hand, did borrow their general concept from previously-existing apas, though they quickly evolved. Mailing comments, for instance, were an SF fannish invention, though I believe that the SF fans who used them first did so in “mundane” apas to which they belonged.

  8. @Andrew: I’m puzzled by your parenthetical remark in relation to the sentence which precedes it.

    (And I should point out that the sub-faction of “fanzine fans who don’t like growth or change”, though at times noisy, is numerically really, *really* small.)

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