Dave Kyle returns now with another autobiographical remembrance from the earliest days of science fiction fandom. Back then, when there were relatively few fans, the written word (in letters and fanzines) was probably the primary way they kept in touch with each other. It was a time when there was really only one fandom; subfandoms, such as comics fandom, did not yet exist. When you trace the beginnings of comics fandom, to find first known amateur magazine devoted to comics, it turns out you're inexorably led to Dave himself, who can claim to be a...
'Phamous Phantasy Phan' by Dave Kyle; 
  title illo by Dave Kyle
Purple flesh! The colorful stains on my fingers (the 'branding mark' of the hectograph) inspired me to sign my letter as 'The Purple Bat'. My 'Bat' letter was a juvenile, presumptuous one of comment to Charlie Hornig, the editor of Wonder Stories in 1935. He printed it, all unknowingly, in the same issue as another letter over my own name. Thus did I continue my early playful days in fandom. I wasn't the only fan in fandom then who had the badge of the purple ink on his skin. Or the black smudge of duplicator ink, either.

Machines, usually trademarked 'Mimeograph', abounded then in all sizes and shapes and in all conditions. The lucky fan was the one who had the top of the line with automatic feed and self-inking, better than 'Speed-O-Print'. The almost impoverished fan, not an unusual condition during the depths of the Great Depression, had a simple h and-cranked drum. I had less than that.

My first fanzine, in black ink before my hectograph days, was the result of a peculiar instrument of reproduction called a 'Multi-Print' that I found in my father's law offices. It was a weird, curved stamping implement, with an inking pad and a reservoir inside. Slide the metal cover off by its large, wooden knob handle and brush in the ink. A half of standard sheet could be printed with a sweep of arm and hand.

Imagine hand-stamping a single fanzine page. Cut the stencil. Wrap it around a half-drum. Lay down the paper, line up the stamper, push down, pressing from left to right. Fifty copies. Not a chance for many more than that, as the fragile wax stencil would soon tear apart. And this was just for one page. Take off the stencil, re-ink the interior pad and begin again for the second page, printing the flip side of the sheet. Sheet by sheet, your amateur magazine takes shape. Work and turn, work and turn.

That was the way I produced fanzines in the 1930s. My first fanzine, Fantasy World, was published in February 1936. It consisted of eight single pages, printed on both sides, roughly half of a legal size sheet, plus an illustrated front cover. The cheap pulp paper I had used had been cut by me from newspaper stock. The issue's contents page, subtitled "Cartoons of the Imagination," listed two serial comic strips and two illustrated humorous departments. The second issue had a name change to Phantasy World, following the spelling lead of BNF Donald A. Wollheim. It's initial distribution was at the Second Eastern science fiction convention on February 21, 1937, when the fanzine featured my 'Phantasy Legion' national fan club and attributed its publication to 'Phantasy Legion Guild'.

Those were the days of the truly hard-working, dedicated fan. For many, fanzine production was tedious work and only the enthusiast could more-or-less successfully manufacture his product. Stencil and ink on a decent machine could produce copies in the hundreds (rarely needed), but hectograph was limited to a half a hundred. With hectograph, however, fanzines could be a colorful art form.

Forry Ackerman describes very well the mysteries of hectograph: "You took a pan like you were going to bake a cake, poured in a solution which, when it jelled, you then typed out your text and drew your pictures on a sheet of paper, using a special typing ribbon and ink. Then you laid this paper on top of this gelatinous material, took it off and now you could lay sheets of paper on this and pull them off. You got about 50 legible reproductions this way. And you'd get purple fingers!"

In the spring of 1999 an amazing, not to say personally dumbfounding, event took place. I received, unannounced, a package containing a large publication with an eye-popping colorful cover, The Golden Age of Comics Fandom by Bill Schelly (Hamster Press, Seattle 1999). In it I found, leading off the first chapter, numerous illustrations from Fantasy World and Phantasy World. What a hard to believe but pleasant shock!

Then I read the following:

"As early as February 1936, a mimeographed fanzine devoted entirely to comics was published by prominent sf fan, artist and photographer David A. Kyle. Fantasy World featured original sf-themed comic strips by Kyle, whose early art was crude yet gave evidence of nascent talent. With subsequent issues the title was modified to Phantasy World. By the third issue (dated April 1937), the contents included not only the nicely-drawn "One Mercutian Night" strip, but a story by Eando Binder titled "The Sign of the Scarlet Cross" with illustrations by Kyle. Phantasy World did not contain articles about comics, or super-heroes -- which, in any case, hadn't made it into the new comic book medium yet. (Superman's first appearance in Action Comics was a year way.) Still, there is no doubt that Kyle's humble publication qualifies as the first known amateur magazine devoted to comics."

Comics fandom, ubiquitous as it is today, was totally non-existent in the mid 1930s. It always seemed to me that Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster would have had the honor of doing "the first known amateur magazine devoted to comics" with their 1932 mimeo-ed Science Fiction. However, the five issues had only a few illustrations. Interestingly, the second-ever fanzine, The Time Traveller (the very first was The Comet in 1930), was the effort of Julius Schwartz with his best friend Mort Weisinger (among others) in 1932 -- and Julie's legendary fame grew as the result of his years with DC Comics as Superman's editor. By fortunate circumstances, Siegel, Shuster, and Schwartz came together to enormously shape the comics world of the comics hero. Even Weisinger, who steered Julie into the comics business, became part of the comics scene as editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories by featuring a comics strip in his magazine.

And how did it come about that I did this pioneering comics fanzine?

Blame it on Alex Raymond, creator of Flash Gordon. As I previously mentioned in my "Science Fiction League" article {{ed. note: in Mimosa 14 }}, his work enthralled me. Buck Rogers had been around for four years, but I wasn't exposed to the strip regularly, it not being in our newspaper. Raymond and Flash nudged me into experimenting with my father's hand-operated machine and doing Fantasy World. My interest led directly into art school after high school (1936-37) and professional illustrating in the 1940s.

illo by Julia Morgan-Scott All this fascination with fantastic comics, however I must confess, was before my conversion into a science fiction fan. Before my teen-age years, exotic (for the time) books about Tarzan and John Carter and Tom Swift had been at work on me. There had also been The American Boy magazine with stories by Carl H. Claudy and Thomson Burtis. And most significantly, I had become an aviation enthusiast. The Great War was barely a dozen years earlier and Charles A. Lindbergh had captured the imagination of not just me but the entire world by his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. I lived and breathed airplanes, built models of Fokkers and Spads, and flew the flimsy lightweight balsa stick-and-rubberband planes.

Suddenly my horizons widened, and I found a whole new, exciting dimension of life. It was the siren call of the pulps and the enchanting world of the magazine stand. Ah! Those wonderful pulps -- Argosy and The Shadow -- and most particularly Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer and Wings and a host of World War One aerial war stories. My enthusiasm was unbounded for those dashing war planes and the hair-raising dogfights. And about this time, in 1930, most excitingly, the adventures of Buck Rogers in the newspaper comics section began, followed by a radio dramatic show. Soon thereafter, of much greater impact on me, was Alex Raymond's daring and sensual adventures of Flash and Dale. For a number of years I considered myself an expert in the flashy world of the Sunday comics. I still have dozens of full-page tear sheets saved from those intriguing days of the 1930s, including the first ones of Flash and Terry and the Pirates.

illo by Julia Morgan-Scott This germination process leading me into the world of sf was underway as my teen-age years began. Before that exhilarating moment when I first read a Gernsback publication, the first issue of Science Wonder Stories, the insidious lure of fantasy fiction had been at work within me for years. Now airplanes, everything to me up to then, were about to give way to rocket ships as my primary passion.

We've come to accept the pioneering Gernsback as 'The Father of Modern Science Fiction'. What we have not recognized is another incredible aspect of his innovative entrepreneurship -- perhaps he should be considered the seminal start of the comic book industry and comics fandom, which is now as pervasive, widespread and popular as sf fandom.

Many people are not aware that Hugo Gernsback's Amazing produced Tony Rogers, "Buck" to us all and the world. The so-called "Buck Rogers" cover for Amazing Stories of August 1928 isn't what it appears to be. The Frank R. Paul magazine cover for that issue was actually painted to illustrate the first part of Doc Smith's Skylark of Space -- the fellow in the anti-gravity belt is the hero Richard Seaton. So how did this confusion come about? When the John F. Dille syndicate chose Dick Calkins to be the artist for the new Buck Rogers strip, they gave him a copy of Philip Francis Nowlan's story, "Armageddon, 2419 A.D." which was the story that actually introduced Buck. That inspirational yarn was in the copy of Amazing with Paul's Seaton cover. "Perfect!" Calkins must have thought. "That's what Buck ought to look like!" And so, on January 7, 1929, the same day as the famous Tarzan strip drawn by Hal Foster began its life, Buck Rogers the comic strip appeared for the first time.

The fascinating background on the creation of Buck Rogers might also explain the genesis of science fiction in the comics. Could it be? Could it really be? Did Hugo Gernsback remarkably light the spark that blazed into our pervasive comics scene of science fiction and fantasy?

illo by Dave Kyle I've previously mentioned {{ed. note: in Mimosa 20 }} having gone to art school in New York after high school and making a very close friend of John R. Forte Jr. of Long Island who, like me, was an Alex Raymond admirer. We were irrepressibly young, discovering new experiences, such as cigarette smoking and stark nude life classes on Wednesday mornings. (We were amused to observe that the outside window cleaners always came on Wednesday mornings.) My year there was forever marked by the tragedy on May 6, 1937. That afternoon on the open-air balcony of the Flatiron Building we watched the zeppelin Hindenburg sail majestically over Manhattan. It seemed remarkably near to us. It was, to me, like an illustration out of science fiction, a futuristic liner of the air. That evening in my little room in the McBurney YMCA, I heard the horrifying radio report of the explosion and blazing destruction of that magnificent machine as it was landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey. It was the last of its kind -- another dinosaur for our memories.

 John came to share my apartment on the Manhattan West Side after the war in 1948. By a remarkable but understandable coincidence he also became an artist for DC Comics. I introduced him to Doc Lowndes, sf editor, for whom he did illustrations and covers for Science Fiction and Future Fiction. John's specialty at DC was as a pencil man. He would bring work back to the apartment many evenings and I found the temptation to fiddle with his drawings irresistible.

illo by Dave Kyle On one occasion he had a particularly dramatic scene for Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Her jungle hero, definitely related to Tarzan but whose name I can't recall, was manacled to two savages, stereotypically bad guys. To free himself, he knocked their heads together, stretching them out senseless. He was, however, still attached to them by the steel chains. What to do? Simple. He lopped off their hands. The gruesome panel that John had drawn was much too tempting for me to ignore and not hoke up. When the machete blow was struck, I visualized blood splattering in great gobs, so I penciled in plenty of drops flying through the air. Then I altered the next panel. He had a severed hand or two lying in pools of blood. In close up, the viewer saw the dead, still clawing fingers thrusting toward him, We can do better than that, I told John. I erase the hands, reversed their direction, and had the bloody meat and bone now pointing at the reader. This emphasis of the carnage represented my dislike of the brutal violence of the contemporaneous adventure comic strips. John, quite naturally, laughed at my exaggerations -- and re-drew them much less graphically. I am sure, however, that those flying blobs of blood were more numerous in the actual publication than John had originally drawn. It's more than a coincidence that this was the time that fierce protests began to rain down on the comics industry for all its excessive, explicit violence, and it brought about the self-censorship and self-imposed Comics Code Authority in 1954 for the industry. Perhaps, my few extra pencil marks contributed to the shake-up in the comics world.

 I made a half-hearted stab at doing some comic scripts, but my heart wasn't in it. Although I thought I had actually done a script for Green Lantern, Julie Schwartz tells me I never did. At a convention, many years after I fell out of touch with John Forte, I asked Julie how John was. "Oh, he's dead," Julie told me. When my face registered my shock, Julie was immediately sorry he'd given me the news so bluntly. I remember John as a gentle, non-muscular, overgrown kid who was, unbelievably, an infantryman wounded in the war. His humor was ever present, his laugh was loud and raucous, bags hung under his eyes, and because of his slightly sallow skin he loved my sun lamp under which he on one occasion almost cooked his face. Back in our art school days, just out of high school, unfettered at last and poking around the real world, John and I were thoroughly comics oriented and drew fantastic cartoons on our wooden drawing boards. I still have my original board with such drawings.

A few copies of my Fantasy/Phantasy World still exist. One is partially hand-colored, something I did for special friends. 'Zacton of the Red Planet', my featured cartoon character, a combination of John Carter and Tarzan, still lives in my memory. And my imitation of Buck Rogers, 'Barry Band in the Future' shares my nostalgia of the past. Barry Band later was drawn as a cartoon strip but I didn't do a sufficient number and he was never marketed. Then, too, there's my imaginary world of Tramlus Tum -- but that's another story.

Let Bill Schelly from the last paragraph of his book sum up for me my reminiscences of the dual worlds of science fiction and comics: "The particular innocence of the ...Golden Age of ... fandom is gone forever, as our own. There's no passage back to the simpler time. Except, perhaps, through the pages of the classic fanzines."

"Airplanes" and "newsstand" illustrations by Julia Morgan-Scott
All other illustrations by Dave Kyle

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