randy_byers: (shiffman)
1983 - D. West webres.jpg
Photo by his son, Mick, from 1983

Last Saturday word arrived that D. West had died of cancer on Friday. I hadn't known about the cancer, so the news was completely unexpected. It was only a few month ago, probably in May, that I received a letter from him talking about the struggles he was having with the piece we'd asked him to write for Chunga, but there was no hint of ill health. A little over a month ago I received a cryptic message from his partner, Hazel Ashworth, saying that he was "out of action at present and unable fulfill any Chunga functions anytime soon." I had no idea what that was about, but in retrospect I now realize this must have been after he'd received the cancer diagnosis.

I only met Don West once, on my TAFF trip in 2003. I'd certainly heard of him before that and had seen his artwork and cartoons in fanzines, and thanks to Victor Gonzalez, who practically worshiped the man, I had read some of his fan-writing, including the brilliant conreport "Performance," which delivers the metaphor of participation in fandom as performance at epic length. Victor introduced me to the man himself in 2003, when he joined my in Keighley, outside of Leeds, and took me to a pub to meet Don and Hazel. I spent a couple of days in the area talking to Don and Hazel and a couple of the other members of the old Leeds Group, which had mostly disintegrated by that point. I was intimidated by Don, largely because of his KTF reputation, but for the most part I found him very congenial. Still, he wasted no time telling me how much and why he hated Chunga's layout and how he couldn't understand the praise it garnered. He offered to write us a piece, but only if we dropped our standard layout for those pages. (I believe the pitch was that it would be about an old bus route he used to ride, perhaps to fannish destinations, and the title would be "Route 666".) I turned him down with a smile, and that seemed to be okay by him. He offered us a pair of covers instead, and I accepted.

D West Edward Gorey Discovers TAFF webres.jpg
Illo for my TAFF report published in Chunga 5, August 2003

It almost felt like a rite of passage of sorts, or a trial by fire. He threw some punches, I shrugged them off, and then he proceeded to give us some of his incredible artwork. I can't claim to have known the man well enough to fully understand his character, and I've certainly seen that trial by fire approach turn into an antagonistic relationship with other people. But to me it seemed like he was basically taking the piss and then judging me by how I reacted. It probably helped that I thought his criticisms of our layout were really funny, in the over the top, exaggerated way that a lot of British invective has (cf Monty Python), and I halfway suspected he was halfway pulling my leg. If he had really thought Chunga was such an awful-looking piece of shit, he wouldn't have given us any of his work at all, or at least that's how I interpreted it. I also felt that there was something of the Tall Poppy Syndrome going on. Chunga was currently all the rage in some sectors of fanzine fandom, and he wanted to bring us down a notch. Considering how easy it was for me to think we really were the hottest shit ever, it was probably a good thing for someone of stature to fire a couple of shots across my bow.

He never stopped criticizing our layout or letting us know if we had fucked something up in his eyes, but he pretty much always had a reasoned argument for his perspective. We printed those first two covers of his on dark-toned paper, and he let us have it with both barrels. The dark colors destroyed the contrast with the black ink of the artwork, he said. Looking at the printed covers (two masterworks of pointillism), I had to agree with him, and since then we've only used pastel or astrobright colors for our coverstock.

webres 25 The Black Gate.jpg
This early work is from a set of illustrations of Tolkien self-published in 1971

I didn't always agree with his stances, however, and not just when it came to Chunga's layout. When he refused the Rotsler Award in 2011, he blasted Rotsler for dashing off a lot of thoughtless, substandard work rather than putting his all into everything he did. This was similar to his take on fanzines as a whole. He felt fanzines were an art form and that if you didn't put your best work into it you were traducing the art form. He had no time for people who just do fanzines for fun or for the social and communal aspect of it. He was very painstaking in his own contributions to the field, and he seemed to have no respect for anyone who was less painstaking than himself. This is too harsh an approach, in my view, and I think he was completely wrong about Rotsler in particular. Rotsler represents a kind of open, fecund, spontaneous approach that I think was simply alien or antithetical to Don's mindset.

He told me a fair amount about his life in our conversations in Keighley and Skipton. I remember he said that his parents moved to Yorkshire when he was a baby, and since he hadn't been born there the locals considered him an outsider. The perfect fannish origin story, I thought: we're all outsiders of some stripe or another. He also told me that he came to science fiction fandom relatively late in life, and I'm guessing he meant convention and fanzine fandom, because from what I'm reading on Facebook (there's a public group called 'Don West Memorial - artist & fanzine cartoonist') he discovered the British Science Fiction Association sometime in the '60s. It appears he got into fanzine fandom around 1975, when he would have been 30 and where he immediately connected with Ratfandom and began writing his infamous KTF (Kill the Fuckers) fanzine reviews for Roy Kettle's True Rat. I actually only know those KTF reviews by reputation. For the most part the only things I've read by him are in the giant collection Deliverance (he gave me Mal Ashworth's old copy on my visit) and what I was able to read of the other giant collection, Fanzines in Theory and Practice, one afternoon sitting in Hazel's living room on my visit. By the time I got into fanzines in the late-'90s he wasn't really writing anymore, but he was still drawing and cartooning, just as brilliantly as ever.

Attitude 12 cover by D. West webres.jpg
Cover for Attitude 12 from 1997

Because I was the one of the Chunga triumvirate who had met him, I was the one who communicated with him to solicit contributions. As with so much else, he was too old-fashioned to do email, so our correspondence was letters sent by post. He gave me little tidbits of his life with Hazel (they got together after Hazel's husband, Mal, died -- the three of them were long time friends) and the action movies he was watching, but he didn't get much into his personal life. I vaguely knew he had at least one child from his own past marriage, but I had no idea until this week that he had four children and six grandchildren, or indeed that his children were known to the fans who first met him in the '70s, and vice versa. A year or two ago I was looking at a book about Romantic painting that was focused on Casper David Friedrich and immediately wondered if Don been influenced by the Romantics. So I wrote to ask, and he seemed charmed by the question. He wrote an enormous letter about his artistic influences and the knotty question of influence in general. It was completely fascinating, and I asked if we could print it as an article in Chunga. He counter-proposed that he would write something fresh about art -- he wasn't quite sure what -- but only if we agreed that 1) we wouldn't run any of our linos (which he had always detested) on those pages, and 2) we would only illustrate it with his own artwork (he also detested unrelated artwork or cartoons being used in an article). At least he wasn't asking us to drop our layout entirely this time! We readily agreed, and that was what he wrote to me to say he was struggling with back in May. He said that writing had become difficult for him, and art was always easier. Would we like any more covers? He had done three pairs of back and front covers for us by then, all of them amongst the best covers we've published.

Now we will never get any more covers, or anything else. It's difficult to express the sense of loss I feel at his death. It isn't that we were personally close, although we were colleagues and friends of a sort. I always hoped to get the chance to see him again sometime, and I certainly do mourn the loss of that possibility. But above all it is the loss of his creativity and peculiar genius that leaves me feeling unexpectedly forlorn. He was one of the true giants of the fanzine field, to my mind. There are other fan artists that I admire as much as him, but there are none I admire more. When you add the quality and nature of what I've read of his fan-writing, well, he was simply unique and irreplaceable. He was a tall poppy in his own right, and I'm sure he was perfectly aware of the irony of his discomfort with other tall poppies. His own fanzine was called DAISNAID, after all. I always thought it was a Welsh word or something like that, but in fact it stood for Do As I Say Not As I Do. As his son Graham said on Facebook last week, "He was an angry young man, an angry middle-aged man, and a grumpy old man, but always with a twinkle in his eye."

Lagoon 7 cover by D. West webres.jpg
Cover for Lagoon 7, which would have been in the mid-'90s sometime


Jan. 9th, 2015 08:20 pm
randy_byers: (cap)
It was a serious constructive fanzine that was notable mostly for Walter Breen's bicycling column, "The Pedal File," and Harlan Ellison's fan advice column, "No, Fuck You!" (Dan Steffan, "The Truth Behind the Cover: Who Are Those Guys, Dammit?" in Trap Door 31)
randy_byers: (shiffman)
chunga-22-cvr-lgThe PDF of the latest issue of Chunga is now available at efanzines.com. We've got glorious full colour Mars & Venus covers by D. West, Graham Charnock going deep into Moby Dick, yours truly losing it at Wagner's Ring Cycle, Rob Hansen keeping it weird in Portlandia, Taral Wayne on pinheads, Andrew Hooper on the latest in cinematic fantastika, and interior illustrations and cartoons by a regular murderer's row of artists: Jay Kinney, Dan Steffan, Sue Mason, Steve Stiles, Marc Schirmeister, Brad W. Foster, Bruce Townley, Harry Bell, and Ray "Inventor of the Propeller Beanie" Nelson, almost in that order, with further artwork, design, and glamorous mystique provided by carl juarez. Did I mention the scintillating lettercol, all aflutter with opinions about Fanzines 2.0? I mean, day-amn. This sucker is chockablock with tasty fannish goodness. Download it today!
randy_byers: (cap)
It appears that I've agreed to run the fanzine lounge at the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane. My goal is to be the scapegoat figurehead in front of a crack team of experts in the running of fanzine lounges. Will you join the fun?
randy_byers: (shiffman)
We've already started working on issue 23, as well as issue 22, so it's hard to remember which number is actually the one we just turned in, but yes, it's #21. Chunga is now old enough to drink in the US (in fanzine years), but quite honestly it's had fake ID since it was 16.
randy_byers: (shiffman)
So can anyone here lay their hands on their old stash of C/RAPAs? Perhaps you, [livejournal.com profile] calimac? I'm looking for the second issue of the zine that carl juarez and I contributed, which seems to have gone missing from the folder that has the other two issues. It was called Cities 2, and it would have been in a 1980 distribution. If anyone could locate a copy, please let me know. I'm working on a sekrit projekt.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
When [livejournal.com profile] peteyoung was in town on a stopover last year, he mentioned to me that he had started indexing fanzines on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Perhaps he was trying to encourage me to take up that work myself, but if so the clue failed to take. Nonetheless I was very pleasantly surprised a couple of days ago when the formerly-long-haired [livejournal.com profile] fishlifter pointed out that I'm now in the ISFDB. You might want to poke around to see if you are too. And maybe take up this work yourself.
randy_byers: (cap)
I've just written letters of comments to two fanzines. I feel very pleased with myself. (Stop looking so smug, Lloyd!) It could be months or years before they see publication. This gives me a peaceful, cosmic feeling, like contemplating eternity. I blame the internet.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
The PDF of Alternative Pants is now available at eFanzines.com. This is a travelogue and two con reports, covering, well, "Croydon, Brussels, Antwerp, Nottingham, back to Croydon, Boston, Troy, Toronto, and then a brief stop back in Seattle before heading to Central Oregon for a family Thanksgiving." And that's not counting the day-trip to Brighton. Or the night in Wales, for that matter. No, not that Wales, although I did meet people from that one. Anyway, after you've read about my strange and pointless adventures you'll never leave home without a spare pair of pants again. Or else.


Sep. 7th, 2011 08:55 am
randy_byers: (cap)
'Interesting to hear about Tobes, that tidbit had passed me by.'

--LOC on Alternative Pants, thus proving that even in the Facebook era paper fanzines can still deliver the news on relationship status changes
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)

death like ill-prepared
exam was now on top of
her, grunt, hump, and thrust

(Pablo Lennis, US)

Does anybody want to take a stab at explaining Pablo Lennis to me? Is it some kind of not-very-clever hoax? The above is from a Steve Sneyd mini-zine called Three Star Chamber that's full of baffling haiku from various sources. Here's another one:


We drop like flies, like
Jerry Lee Lewis wives - they
swear death-dance meant well

(Sci Fright)
randy_byers: (shiffman)
We have received word from the [livejournal.com profile] fishlifters that the British copies of Chunga 17 have finally arrived in Croydon after an 18-day journey across the sea. So where's your LOC then, eh?
randy_byers: (santa)
Specifically, issue 17 is back from the printers and thus is real at last. In a bit I'll be heading to the house of the Wicked Cool Co-Editor of the North, where a mailing party will ensue. A PDF will go up on efanzines in a month or so.
randy_byers: (cap)
I feel I've been saying this every three months for the past year, but I think we really are close to printing this time. We met yesterday to go over a last few things. I've done a last typo hunt. I need to tweak my editorial a bit. We're aiming to send it to the printer at the end of the week. Fingers crossed! It's a strong issue, at least, so I hope it's worth the wait.

Nice crowd at the pubmeet yesterday too. Good energy, man.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)

This is a shot of me and the [livejournal.com profile] fishlifters at Novacon with a copy of our labo(u)r of love, Slow Train to Immortality, which was an anthology of British fanwriting from the years 1995-2009 that we produced for Corflu Cobalt earlier this year. Photo is by Corflu Cobalt chairman Rob Jackson.
randy_byers: (Default)

One of the greatest fanzine covers I've ever seen, although I'll grant you I haven't seen that many compared to some. This is Richard Bergeron's cover for Warhoon 26. I'm not sure what year it's from, but perhaps somebody can tell me. Sometime in the '60s, I'm thinking. Three unevenly-spaced staples, you'll notice.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
On the flight back from California, I read Claire Brialey's piece in the latest Banana Wings about feminism and (amongst other things) fandom. Claire was polite enough not to finger me as the unnamed fan who, in worrying about the lack of LOCs from women to his fanzine, attributed Claire's article about the same issue in an earlier Banana Wings to her male co-editor, Mark Plummer. Hoist on my own petard, as I said to Claire when she called me on it here on LJ at the time.

As I was thinking about the issue of female participation in fanzines after reading Claire's piece, I got to wondering about whether the percentages are any better in online communities. I still haven't done a gender count of the Chunga mailing list, but I've just gone through my LJ Friends list. Ignoring communities, people who have died, and people I don't know (and thus don't know their gender), and counting people with multiple accounts only once, I came up with 77 male Friends and 48 female Friends. That's 62% male, 38% female. Well, it's better than the percentages for people who write LOCs to Chunga! (Although I suppose the proper comparison there would be people who comment on my LJ.) I wonder how this compares to other peoples' counts. Anybody willing to do the work on their own Friends lists?

Okay, this is kind of weird: On Facebook I have 115 male Friends and 74 female. That's 61% male, 39% female. Those percentages are scarily close to the LJ percentages.

(And don't worry, Claire (and Mark), I *am* going to try to turn this into a LoC.)
randy_byers: (shiffman)
BTW, I met with my co-editors on Sunday, and we seem to be heaving laboriously back into motion on the next issue of Chunga. We think we finally have all text in hand, and now we need to scare up some artwork. It doesn't smell like victory yet, but it does smell faintly of progress. Abstruse apologies for our lethargy.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
So I spent the three-day weekend with my family in Central Oregon. Felt sort of overwhelmed when I got home yesterday. I don't know what all it is; maybe just a confluence of powerful emotions. My niece and her husband were there with another couple from Portland. Friday night my niece asked about Sharee, and we had a pretty emotional conversation about her. My sister is on her way to Chile for a six month stint teaching ESL in Santiago. My younger nephew flew to Paris for two weeks on Saturday. My older nephew is still on the yacht off the coast of Honduras and going on a rollercoaster about whether he wants to stick with the gig. (It's boring, the owner is an arrogant prick, welcome to the real world.) My sister-in-law is freaking out about the empty nest. We had a number of pretty intense conversations about it. My brother was sailing in a regatta in Klamath Falls but came up on Sunday. We talked about the boys and argued about politics. My parents are doing fine, but they are beginning to investigate moving into a retirement center of some sort. Lots of talk about the past, intense stories about my mom's older brother, Lester, who drowned when he was eleven, and my dad's younger brother, Russ, who died of kidney failure in his 20s, just before dialysis became available. Lots of gossip about various cousins and aunts and uncles. Lots of stories, lots of lives, the human condition.

I spent the weekend fighting a rearguard battle against feelings of inadequacy. Probably a sign that I'm not sure what I should be doing right now. Family roles are shifting. What is mine? I'm still learning.

I read Shakespeare's As You Like It for the first time, thanks to a recommendation from [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond. Shakespeare's comedies are tougher for me than the tragedies, because I often don't understand the jokes without explanations. I hope to see Shakespeare in the Park's production of this in the next couple of weeks, which will help. I want to see Rosalind in the flesh. I also finished my little fanzine article about Lemuria, which is for Rich Coad's Sense of Wonder Stories. Nice to write about something other than my usual fannish gossip. Read the latest Banana Wings on the plane down and back. A bastion of the community; I always feel that I belong.

And yet, and yet. What would I be without my uncertainty? How can you be found if you're not lost?
randy_byers: (shiffman)
Well, the completion of my article has opened the floodgates, and suddenly it feels as though we have a live fanzine on our hands. Ha! Typical self-centered narrative. It was actually the arrival of the covers that conjured the contents. I love the way that the identity of a fanzine takes shape as the material trickles in, like the assembly of separate body parts gradually producing the sensitive soul of Frankenstein's monster.

Also, every time I type the tag "chunga" here, auto-complete offers "chuang tzu" as a possibility along the way, and I am reminded of that obscure Taoist master of fandom, Chunga Zut, whom I must write about at some point. I've got a false start somewhere called "Egobooboo". Possibly it's one of those things that's best left as a title and byline referred to in passing in an article about something else entirely.


randy_byers: (Default)

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