One of the few creative constants of the past few years has been the podcast that I co-host at Kasterborous.co.uk. A recent chat with Philip Bates – a chap I have worked with regularly over the past 10 years – for the podcast reminded me of my forgotten history of self-producing magazines as a schoolboy.
It transpired that Philip had produced a Doctor Who fanzine while at school. My secondary years coincided with Doctor Who being cancelled by the BBC and the series being largely considered “uncool,” much as it is today. It certainly went off my radar for a few years, supplanted by shape shifting robots from Cybertron and heavy metal (arguably the same thing).
So, what was my magazine about?
The Blob was one of several self-produced magazines that predated the era of affordable DTP. In short, if software and printers had been more affordable, this would have been more widely available than it was. In actuality, The Blob (produced with schoolfriends who would almost certainly prefer to disassociate themselves from the magazine in these more mature years) was basically written by hand and photocopied by my dad. Despite a 10p price, we only ever sold about half of the issues printed.
Get a lawyer
A mixture of original works and law-breaking plagiarism from the Radio Times (just check the cut and pasting in the photo), The Blob was cleverly produced on a single piece of A3 paper to make photocopying simpler (or so I thought). Some highlights of the magazine that we can’t be sued for include some computer game tips, contemporary bird spotting, and a comic strip about an Inspector Monty Python (I really should find legal representation).
Sadly, the creation of The Blob lead to the completely inexplicable yet 100% true in-class powerplay between our magazine and one produced by some of our female fellow pupils (as we were called in those days).
One public dispute played out like a hilariously down market, northern, shoulder pad-free episode of Dynasty. You had to be there.
Back in 1988 making a magazine by hand seemed a cool idea. No one in their right mind would do that now. They would at least use Microsoft Word or some dedicated DTP software, if not just launch a website.
I came across the three master issues in a box in my parents’ garage a couple of years ago. The one thing that stood out wasn’t the primitive production, the garish but striking design, or the figurative “booty shaking” at the BBC’s lawyers. It was the fact that I’m 90% certain there is another, later, more polished magazine, which wasn’t in the box.
Self producing nonsense
The reason I’ve spent so long talking about The Blob (aside from the fact I almost once launched an online version) is simple. I’m in the process of another self-produced publication.
The Barry Meat book, mentioned in my last post, is difficult in many ways, but so much fun to write. Thanks to modern software, I have everything I need to write, edit, and layout the book. As I said to Philip Bates in the podcast (I seem to recall the pertinent part of the conversation has been held back for a future show), if I’d had modern – or even contemporary – software at my disposal in the late 1980s, I probably wouldn’t have stopped. No one would have known what hit them.
It’s strange in some ways to be retreading old ground in this way. Self-publishing has at least become less of a shorthand for “he can’t get a book deal” and more of an appreciation of endeavour. But I can’t help thinking “what if?” – especially about what I might have done with affordable and usable DTP software when I rediscovered Doctor Who in the mid-1990s…
I think we all got off lightly there.