Saturday, March 22, 2008

SPACE FANZINE YAMATO: THE UNTOLD STORY

On the birth of Space Fanzine Yamato
guest columnist Steve Harrison tells us how he published the first American fanzine dedicated to a single Japanese animated series! Take it away Steve!
The genesis of Space Fanzine Yamato has its roots in STAR BLAZERS. STAR BLAZERS took over my mind, in a way. Its early 1980s broadcast was the “catalyst anime” that got me hooked, and thru different means and avenues I started to pick up items from the Japanese “parent” show, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO. My main focus (mostly due to this being all I could find) was the vast catalog of YAMATO record albums, so those beautiful full color liner notes, those few pictures were my main, my ONLY knowledge of YAMATO. The Drama Albums (LP recordings of actual dialog and music from films and TV) helped, because even without understanding Japanese, one fairly quickly picked out character names. Not that I had any real clue about the correct spelling or anything, and yes, I was aware enough to know that “Jason Kodai” and “Shane O’Toole” (character names used in the international version of the SPACE CRUISER YAMATO movie) had nothing to do with the actual Kodai and Shima. Oh, some of the wacky, utterly mistaken ideas I had looking at those pictures!

So I was at a convention (an SF/media con, there were no such things as “anime cons” back then) near Detroit, ConFusion I believe, in Jan. ‘82... I had lugged my trusty Sylvania VCR with me in hopes of maybe nabbing some new DR. WHO episodes, maybe show off some STAR BLAZERS to some friends (trying to get more people hooked on the show), and who knows... my Detroit friends implied that at this con there were sometimes some folk who were into that “Japanimation” stuff. So, I also lugged along most of my YAMATO LPs, because I didn’t have any books on the show. I didn’t know there WERE books on the show.

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So, yeah, in freezing cold Michigan winter weather I’m lugging a 42 pound VCR, a box of tapes and cables and such, and 10 or so pounds of LP records. I was younger, stronger and clearly insane.

Well, after a day of doing con stuff, I finally get word that yes, those "Japanimation” folks made it to the con, they were from Canada, and I was introduced to Marg Baskin and her crew. They were polite enough but a tad standoffish, I assume because of my “newbie” status. Seemed STAR BLAZERS and YAMATO wasn’t too interesting to them, except for this one girl whose name I just couldn’t catch (it’s an odd problem. Some people I meet and *snap* I lock the name and the face and no problem. For other people the name just vanishes instantly, even though I WANT to remember. It’s embarrassing).

So this young woman was keenly interested in my YAMATO LPs. She was pointing to pictures, saying names, describing history and story points… holy crap, she knew stuff!

We spent most of the convention just talking to each other, to the point where we talked for just about 24 hours straight! It started mainly because it was late at night and she was locked out of the room, I had offered her some space to crash in my room (OK, not my room, the room I shared with 6 other fans... man, we were all crazy then) but she was uncomfortable with that and I couldn’t blame her… so we spent all night long wandering the hotel and talking about YAMATO and anime and stuff.

I finally locked in her name was Ardith, we had a good laugh over my wonky brain. She mentioned that she did some writing for the Star Blazers Fan Club newsletter (wait...there's a Star Blazers Fan Club?!) and so on. The end of the convention was near and I was feeling really depressed. I figured off she goes to Canada and I’d never see her again and how do I keep in contact and...

Oh what a doofus I was! She wasn’t a Canadian, she was from Michigan! Home in Battle Creek and going to school in Ann Arbor! Boggle and joy!

(Then a blizzard and ice storm hit and the convention became “Continuation” and I lost my job at the time because the State Police wouldn’t let anyone onto the highways.)

Found out that she was hoping to attend a con in Chicago in Feb. 82 called “Capricon”, she knew that the Chicago C/FO was going to be showing anime, she hoped I could go too....

So naturally, broke, jobless, I still cadged a way to get to Chicago, register for the con, pay for my share of the room, and convince my best friend (and only other person in the Star Trek Club of Grand Rapids who was hep to STAR BLAZERS) Jerry Fellows to come with me to meet Ardith and see what Chicago had to offer.

During our time together, Ardith made mention of how she was getting upset with the producer of the Star Blazers Fan Club newsletter. It seemed that the editorial habit was to take Ardith’s carefully constructed reports from Japan (she WAS going to school in Ann Arbor for Journalism, after all) and rewrite them, taking credit for her work, her knowledge. There were articles and reviews that she DID get a byline on, but all the news that the newsletter reported came from her, uncredited, and it bothered her.

Me being me, and maybe trying to show that I was “somebody” (likely because of some buried feeling of inferiority due to her knowledge of Japanese and all that), I blithely suggested “Well, why don’t you do a newsletter or fanzine of your own?” I was met with a confused expression... you couldn’t just produce such a thing! It took...

It takes a typewriter and a photocopy machine, or taking it to a printer if you want it to look really good. There was no magic, no mystery to producing a newsletter or a fanzine, I had done it (well, newsletter, but I knew people who did ‘zines), and I had done similar things in putting on Babelcon, the Grand Rapids media con. It was work, but it was easy work. She was unsure, but grew more interested as I talked. Even there I had coined the name “Space Fanzine Yamato” out of a general giddy session of “naming” stuff (Space Lunchbox Yamato, Space Ice Cream Cone Yamato, etc.). So plans were laid. Ardith would translate whatever she wanted to translate, I would write about things, Jerry would write about things, we’d package it and sell it.

Thanks to Ardith I learned about (L.A. anime retailer) Books Nippan, and started to buy Roman Albums and anime magazines. My knowledge slowly grew, the outline of what I wanted to see in Space Fanzine Yamato firmed up, and the format started to gel in my head.

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I was applying the “George Lucas” philosophy. Back in 79 when I got hooked on Star Blazers, what would I have wanted to know? What would I have wanted to buy? I decided to produce the fanzine that I would have wanted then.

One of the magical moments was when Ardith told me her friend James was making a trip to Los Angeles and could pick up “Japanimation” items while he was there. From his trip I got the BE FOREVER YAMATO blueprint book- and the final concept locked into place. I would include a translated copy of that Yamato cutaway blueprint as a “bonus item”, ala what the Japanese magazines Animage and My Anime were doing.

So the slow, grinding agony began. Ardith first produced a flood of work...then as time went on it slowed. I, being a slug, painfully ground out my text. Jerry had finished all his pieces like a week after we discussed it. Time burned on, relationships developed, blossomed, fell apart- oh, there was a hella lot of drama as time went on, much of it totally surprising to me, and I was... not the best person I try to be at times. Finally all the articles and translations were in hand. Lots of money had been spent taking Roman Albums to the copy shop for chara model sheets and other pictures. We had a long session with the 35 mm camera, photographing LP jackets. We took all our text to the typesetter and underwent the painful process of choosing fonts and size and all that stuff (Oh GOD as my WITNESS to have had a Mac and laser printer in 1982! File under “if I knew then what I know now”).

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I had done paste-up work for my high school newspaper back in ‘76 and spent years producing newsletters, flyers, and program books for the Trek club and Babelcon, so I understood the mechanics, but I clearly didn’t have professional tools. No predesigned layout sheets, so I used graph paper. No hot wax machine so I used spray fixative. No Khyron machine for headlines, so anything not done at the typesetter ended up with Letraset and typewriter. The front cover illo came from a “This is Animation” book (and the black border was HELL to dry), the picture on the back was one of Ardith’s B&W photos taken off TV. I was up 'til 1 AM doing the paste-up.

I haven’t mentioned advertising yet, or what the deadline was. I wanted SFY to come out at the next Capricon, Feb. 1983. I thought it made sense, an anniversary as it were. It was suggested I do the “reservation” thing, take money from people and use that to fund production, then ship when the book came off the presses. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to have to refund money if the project fell apart and I didn’t want to have the debt hanging over my head (moral as well as fiscal). I wanted to have a finished product ready to ship, costs finalized and known. Good thing I did that, because there were a few times it looked like the book wasn’t going to make it.

Flyers were created and put out at various conventions, the idea being that if you were interested in SFY you would send me your name and address on a SASE, and when the book was ready I would mail out notices, you’d send money and you’d get your copy. I was quickly buried under replies, over the course of a few months I had like 60 SASEs. My, there’s some interest out there.

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What were the mechanics of printing Space Fanzine Yamato? I took the paste-ups to the printer. 11 sheets of 8 1/2 x 11, folded to make 44 pages, plus card stock cover. 100 copies, cost (from memory) $130. The Yamato blueprint was 8 1/2 x 14, took that to a different shop with a photocopier that could shoot that size, got a deal of 8 cents per for 100. Typesetting was $80. I didn’t factor in the costs of the film and developing for the LP pictures, the cost of photocopying from the Roman Albums, the cost of any of the books and stuff I had bought or the materials cost for graph paper and fixative.

So, production costs: approximately $218 for 100 copies. MSRP of the ‘zine was $3.00. First printing was sold out by March 1983. Not too shabby. Did a second printing due to demand, sold THAT out just as quickly.

So, why no SFY issue 2?

The team had all fallen apart by Feb. 1983. Conflicts, personal issues, confusion, hurt, words said, words unsaid, mistakes, misunderstandings... quite a soap opera had developed and to all of us it was all so serious. Many of the events caught me totally by surprise, other issues...well, again, if I knew then what I know now…

Ultimately, without Ardith, I couldn’t do it. Not JUST because of her knowledge and translation skills (a significant factor, nonetheless), but because without her I just lost the fire, the “heart” to do it. Over the years many have tried to boot me into rebooting the concept, because clearly the idea of a Space Fanzine Yamato is still valid. Jerry even started a website, Space Webzine Yamato, to try and get me going (and he’s done such an excellent job I feel I’d just be a drag on his work at this point.) but that fire is... well… not GONE, but it’s banked, the coals glowing in the back of the bin.

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Still, for all the pain at the end, I¹m really quite proud of the finished product. Oh, I¹d do some things different now, or course. Just the advent of desktop publishing alone would have totally revamped the production process. The ability to scan in a drawing from a book, be able to scale it, clean it up, flow text around it...*sigh*.

Oh yeah, the Offical Bootleg. After the initial two press runs, I was contacted by Derek Wakefield of the Texas Earth Defense Command STAR BLAZERS fan organization. He wanted to know if they could do a print run of SFY for their members. Seems there was a great deal of upset that copies were not available. So I figured as long as it was marked as a reprint, go ahead, it was for a good cause. One of the reasons I agreed was I had heard that someone out there was actually duplicating a copy and selling them for something like $6 each! Good lord, what a bizarre mixed feeling THAT caused!

Then there was seeing a copy sitting in a showcase at a comic shop in Battle Creek, in mylar, with a $20 sticker on it. I nearly busted my sides laughing.

The face of anime and its fans has changed quite a bit since the '80s. The idea of a dedicated booklet explaining basic things about a series such as character names, episode titles, listings of products released all seems quite quaint, even primitive in today’s world of one click data mining. Yet nobody had really done what we did with Space Fanzine Yamato, and that's quite an accomplishment. Now in some ways the spirit of the 'zine lives on at Jerry's Space Webzine Yamato and in the growing data tapestry at the official Star Blazers website as overseen by Tim Eldred, and that's a pretty proud legacy.

I haven't seen Ardith since...oh, lordy, 1984? She finally managed to achieve her dream of living and working in Japan, and I do hear from her indirectly via a mailing list once in a blue moon. Jerry is still in town and we get together when we can. And every once in a while I do have that voice in the back of my head, saying "hey, let's get the band back together!"

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color illustrations from SPACE CRUISER YAMATO/ARRIVEDERCI YAMATO promotional booklet; black and white illustrations from SPACE FANZINE YAMATO vol. 1

6 comments:

Chris Sobieniak said...

Thanks Steve!

Tim Eldred said...

Hey! Me too! Heh. Yeah! SO true!

Steve Harrison said...

Well, thanks, guys. I did my best. I probably could have jabbered on for at least 2000 more words but that would have been getting into too much personal stuff, not to mention tales of things that had nothing to do with producing the 'zine.

Still, telling the stories of things, events, people such as 'CarpetHat' and 'the great paper napkin theft caper' and the long, long walk in Chicago in search of the 'should be just down the street here' Japanese bookstore....geeze, I'd be well on the way to doing an autobiography! Then I could die!

Anonymous said...

Steve, this is a fantastic story. To think you were doing this just a few months after Tanaka brainwashed Kubo!

I worked on a Lupin fanzine in 1986, but access to desktop publishing to create the layout (even if it was still pasted-up and printed in the traditional manner) gave us as an easier road, I'm certain. On the other hand, we cadged the use of our school district's print shop, so it was *all* profit--the anime is about a professional thief, after all ^_^

--Carl

Daryl Surat said...

I probably could have jabbered on for at least 2000 more words but that would have been getting into too much personal stuff, not to mention tales of things that had nothing to do with producing the 'zine.

Great idea! If only you had some sort of "live journal" with which to document such things! Speaking of which, why have you made no mention at all of this article on said journal?

Don't follow my example of forgetting to mention when I'm on other podcasts, go with what Dave does! Every time Let's Anime, Mister Kitty, or what have you is updated, you update that Livejournal to let everyone know about it, man!

Ardith Carlton just updated her Livejournal to make note of her recent Hi! Hey! Say! appearance (http://toki-o-koete.livejournal.com/7371.html). Those interested may also want to know that several months ago, AWO listeners who double as the Studio ADTRW / 4chan Illuminati fansubbed Ardith's appearance on TV Champion. I remember this because I provided them with some explanation as to who this Ardith Carlton individual was (they were subbing it because it was a Japanese show about gaijin otaku, not specifically because Ardith was on it).

I don't think the Hi! Hey! Say! episode's on anyone's schedule yet, but the TV Champion fansub is out there, so uh, download it! And if you don't have high-speed Internet, ask a friend who does to get it for you!

Roger Sorensen said...

Great story Steve - And to think I lived thru that. I still have the "journey" artwork that was to've been the centerspread for SFY 2