A Tale of Two Festivals

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Two weekends in a row, we did book festivals. The two of them couldn’t be farther apart in terms of their demographics and target audience. Except they’re really not. I’ll tell you about them.

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The first one is the Olympia Zine Festival, now in its second year.

The main floor at the Oly festival

One of the Festival directors is my old friend Kelsey, with whom I worked at The Corporate Printshop some two decades ago. I was delighted to hear of this new thing she got started last year because I’d been looking for a local show in the fall semester to take my students where they could exhibit their work. There are lots of things in the spring but almost none in the fall. We’d gone to the inaugural one in 2015 and the students loved it, it was a very successful event for us. So when the application came in the summer my wife and I decided to gamble the forty dollars on a table, figuring we could probably get reimbursed when school started in the fall, and if we didn’t, well, it wouldn’t be the first time we’d blown money on the students. I even pitched a workshop about using zines in schools, which the festival committee liked a lot. So we were definitely in.

Except this year the festival was scheduled for the weekend BEFORE I started my Young Authors and Cartooning classes in the after-school program. We had plenty of books left over from our spring events, but no kids to table with them. Fortunately, I have a mailing list, and the responses from various kids and parents were very promising. So I went to my bosses in September and pleaded for the use of a minibus to take a group to Olympia for the festival. I was braced for a fight but they thought it was a great idea.

So we were on. We had about seven kids committed, which was more than enough to justify the bus. I figured we’d at least make enough at the table to cover the forty bucks for the table, and maybe pizza after.

The trouble is ‘committed’, to a teenager, can mean anything from “AWESOME!! CAN’T WAIT!!” to “I dunno, maybe if I wake up, dude…”

We had a bunch of no-shows on the day, is what I’m saying. The actual attendance was two kids. Willow from the Madison Middle School Young Authors class, who will table anywhere, any time, just let her know… and Symphony, who’d just graduated from Sealth High School Young Authors and had agreed to be my helper that day. Fortunately we had plenty of books with their work on display and they were happy to hang at the table. Here they are with the obligatory morning all-set-up! picture.

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Despite the fact that it was just me and the girls, we had a good time. We took a lot of pictures and I think I’ll just run those and talk about them. Here’s another one from the table.

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The woman just beyond Willow, and our table neighbor, is Cathy Camper, who as it happens was also my co-presenter at the workshop we were doing later that afternoon.

The “Teaching With Zines” workshop went well enough. We had a lot of interested teachers and librarians in attendance, they asked good questions, and Cathy seemed pleased as well. Here are me and Cathy taking deep breaths before people start coming in. (The board games were already there, it’s not part of the presentation.)

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I had a bunch of examples of various zines, both student projects and even a couple from my own misspent youth. The girls were delighted that I had brought along a tattered copy of my own high school attempt at a ‘zine, Visions. (Amazingly, they did not make fun of my seventies hair on display therein.)

Symphony was the designated photographer and she got this one from just behind me where you can see all the various student zines I brought in as examples.

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Willow sat in as well. Kelsey surprised them both by calling on them to say a few words about the student perspective on doing zines and, as usually happens when my students are in front of a group, the girls won the hearts of everyone in attendance. They just killed it.

Because Julie and I, not the school, had paid for the table, I felt justified in bringing a couple of my own books along, and I did a little zine trading as well. I’d brought a few copies of the Sinbad zine I’d whomped up as a handout for my Barnes and Noble signing a while back and after a brief interlude of wheeling and dealing on the floor, I ended up with a nice little haul.

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Eternal Nap is a zine documenting interesting hand-made gravestones throughout the Northwest. The one with Lieutenant Uhura I bought for Julie, who had stayed home that day (she was a little irked about it, but one of us had to be home to deal with a financial issue. Adulthood is largely a pain in the ass, as far as I’m concerned. I have no idea why so many of my students are in such an all-fired hurry to get there.) Anyway, I knew Julie would love the button it came with, and the zine itself is kind of cool… Hey Lady from Regina Schilling. You can get them online here if you are interested, though the Nichelle Nichols issue is now sold out.

I also was very impressed with Bending Spoons from Michael Sabine, a little zine about the stuff people with disabilities put up with.

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In the zine she mentions a couple I’ve been guilty of myself, and I silently vowed to cease my well-meaning gaffes from then on.

And I picked up a copy of Rat Poison #6 from Louis Whiteford. Mostly for the art. I was impressed with his linework and said so. Whiteford seemed pleased and surprised when I said it reminded me of Rodney Matthews, and then confessed he had no idea who I was talking about. (This is getting more and more common as I get older.) So I told him about Matthews and he said he’d look him up.

Here they are side by side, to save you youngsters the trouble.

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Whiteford on the left in black and white, Matthews on the right in full color. The zine itself is kind of a crazy mashup between Matthews and Gahan Wilson, which is just as weird and cool as it sounds. (Wilson you can look up. I’m not doing EVERYTHING for you.) But really, I enjoyed all of the zines I saw, and I hope those folks all enjoyed he preview of next year’s Sinbad collection in return.

We drove back to Seattle for pizza, since Symphony and Willow both wanted to include Julie so she at least got a little bit of the festival day, and HEY LADY was a hit with my bride, as I had surmised it would be. We’d only made twenty-four dollars and so I decided to put that into the pizza fund and call it done. The table fee could just be Julie’s and my contribution to the students and to the festival, and anyway, I wouldn’t have missed it. It ended up being a lot of fun, and it’s a pity the kids that flaked out weren’t there for it, because they would have had a great time as well. But there’s always next year.

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The very next weekend we had the wonderful Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.

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This is a classy event held at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, and is a very elegant affair compared with the scrappy punk-rock DIY vibe of the Zine fest.

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But that’s only a first impression. Scratch the surface and despite all the expensive first editions under glass, you’ll still find a bunch of joyously nerdy enthusiasts getting their geek on.

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We love the Book Fair, and this year– thanks to an exceedingly well-timed insurance settlement– we not only got to go, but we even had a little pocket money. Again, I took many pictures and mostly I’m just going to talk about those.

This is from Bob Brown Associates, a lovely little store right here in Seattle. Lots of cool mysteries and juveniles.

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I could only sigh over the first edition of I, The Jury. But he did have a paperback of Subcutaneously, My Dear Watson by Jack Tracy (the Encyclopedia Sherlockiana guy) and Jim Berkey. I’ve been trying to replace that one for YEARS. It’s usually prohibitively expensive, but Bob had one, with just a little water staining, that was discounted to something I could afford.

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I also fell for Will Murray’s Doc Savage/King Kong mashup Skull Island, another one I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. That one was from Bud Plant. He and his partner Anne Hutchison are always fun to talk to and we spent some time shooting the breeze while Julie looked through the vintage children’s books they’d brought along.

Now, normally that would have done it. I’d shot my allowance. But I still had thirty dollars in credit that I’d never used coming from Dave Smith at Fantasy Illustrated.

We always visit Dave anyway, because we enjoy his fanzine and also because he has the amazing wall-of-pulps display that I have to get a picture of every year.

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But the picture is usually enough for me. Honestly, genuine vintage pulps are so fragile it’s almost impossible to just read and enjoy them. Where Dave always gets me is his books.

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I’ve been lusting after that first edition hardcover of The Prisoner by Thomas Disch for literally years now. I am certain that if I ever get to a place where we can justify the expense, it will already be sold. But I still take a picture and sigh every year that he brings it, anyway.

I ended up applying my credit to this one.

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The Shudder Pulps by Robert Kenneth Jones. This was the original hardcover edition from Fax Press in West Linn, Oregon, about ten minutes’ walk from where I grew up. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about them in high school or I probably would have pestered them to death– they did several limited-edition hardcovers of the lesser Robert E. Howard stories like Son of the White Wolf and Dennis Dorgan and so on.

Anyway, wad blown, we just wandered around looking at things and saying hello to people. We had a nice chat with Don from Pacific Coast Books in Lincoln City and promised, yet again, that we would get back down that way if we could ever afford to go on a real vacation again. (And if you are ever in Lincoln City, Pacific Coast Books is not to be missed.)

And we had to stop at The Book Bin‘s booth, the other pulp-centric bookseller at the fair. I had a moment’s quiet swoon at this display…

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The original Skull-Face And Others from Arkham Press, especially. That was the book that essentially triggered Robert E. Howard fandom among SF fans, in 1946. I have most all of the stories collected in that volume here in other editions, but still. And of course I’ve got a nice paperback of The Simple Art of Murder, but this was a genuine first in terrific shape. Sigh.

But it was this display out front that stopped me in my tracks.

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Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang was a naughty humor magazine that was the brainchild of one Captain William Fawcett, and was enough of a success that it financed the creation of Fawcett Press.

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“That’s how we got Captain Marvel,” I explained excitedly to my bride. “It’s why his name is BILLY Batson and he appeared in WHIZ Comics. It all spun out of this little magazine. Fawcett– Captain Billy himself– is the guy that invented paperback originals. The Gold Medal guys. John D. MacDonald, Shell Scott, Donald Hamilton, Westlake’s Richard Stark– all of that came from this.”

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My impromptu lecture brought Mr. Baird himself out to talk to us a little more about the display. He pointed to the various artists listed as having work in each of these issues of Captain Billy, and added, “But it was all pen names, because it was kind of risqué, they didn’t want it known they were doing it. See, it started as more of a family thing but with the war, they were selling mostly to G.I.’s and it got more adult, and then it faded out when photography took over the girlie magazines, a lot of these pin-up guys were out of work. But it was great stuff.”

He looked hopefully at me but I had to shake my head. “It’s tempting but I don’t know what I’d do with one,” I admitted. “I mean, I’d read it once but it would mostly be a display piece, something you frame, and it’s not like we have a lot of visitors or anything. Are these actually moving for you?”

He shrugged. “Kind of a try-out, to tell you the truth. I thought I’d see if these actually sold before i invested. Fella has a warehouse full of them, they were comps for his father. He wrote jokes for them. So he’d get his contributor copy and file it. They’re pristine. But I don’t know if I want to spend three thousand on them.”

This is why we love the Book Fair. People think I’m some sort of walking encyclopedia of book lore but I am just an amateur compared to the folks that do it for a living, and Julie and I both love hearing their stories. And the nice thing about the Book Fair is that it’s very leisurely. Everyone has time to chat and trade anecdotes.

And it’s exactly the same community feeling we get from going to the Olympia Zine Festival. There’s just something really fun and energizing about being in a roomful of people who love the same thing you do. It’s empowering to be validated like that, and it’s why my students have come to enjoy tabling at shows so much, I think. Certainly, we have. We kind of backed into both of these particular corners of fandom by accident, but it was love at first sight when we arrived. If you have similar shows in your community, you should check them out. Chances are, if you’ve ended up here at the Atomic Junk Shop, you’d enjoy them. Here’s a list of antiquarian book festivals around the country, and here’s a list of zine fests. And if you have something like these shows going on in your neck of the woods, feel free to plug it in the comments below.

Back next week with something cool.

4 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    As usual, your photos from the book fair, like those from your book-scouting posts, make me want to jump into my screen so I can browse through those books.
    Also, too bad more of the kids didn’t show for the zine fest. I enjoyed the write-up anyway. And of course the Nichelle Nichols issues is sold out…

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Have to wipe up the drool, looking at those books. I can at least say I have the Chinatown Death Cloud Peril hardcover. I used to have the advance reader copy; but, I let that go, since I had the hardcoer; plus the HC has that great cover (the advance reader had a photo of a dark street). We got the ARC when I worked for B&N and I opened the package, looked at it, read the accompanying letter, and immediately snatched it up, A plulp mystery with Lester Dent and Walter Gibsob? I’m in! Just a great read.

    My dad would have wanted to grab the Ernest Gann, though he had a paperback of it. We have a great used bookstore, The Old Book Barn, in Forsyth, IL, near where I grew up. It’s in an old auction barn. When it originally opened, when I was in high school, my dad and I went down there to look around. I found a copy of Michael Moorcock’s The Dreaming City, from Lancer, and he found some aviation novels, including Gann, who was a favorite of his. My dad grew up in the 30s and early 40s and loved airplanes (used to design and build his own rubber-band powered planes) and served in the Air Force, before becoming a teacher. Gann was one of the better serious aviation-themed novelists (as opposed to the aviation pulps).

    Sorry your turnout wasn’t what you hoped; but, glad to hear everyone had a good time. As always, the stories of your class are both inspirational and fun.

  3. Simon

    The first cover to grab my attention was the one that looks like a negative-spaced molar? I’d flip through that just to know what it’s about. (Unfortunately, you only described four of the six zines pictured.)

    The second most-arresting one was also untitled, but is obviously BENDING SPOONS. Contents looks interesting, too, so I’ve added “Michael Sabine” and “Sabine Rear” to the list of names I mass-search against Previews’ text files. (I wondered whether your “she” was a tyop, but her site is indeed about “M. Sabine Rear”, “Blind Illustratrix”. She’s also studying non-visual porn for the blind!)

    I read RAT POISON’s cover as “RA POISON” before realizing this was no Egyptian temple, heh. Cover made me think a little of some Windsor-Smith or Druillet?

    – “I’ve been lusting after that first edition hardcover of The Prisoner by Thomas Disch for literally years now”

    But are you still waiting to read it, or is it just the first-ed fetish? For a novelization it was rather interesting because Disch didn’t rehash the series, he just used the premise for an original story and a different ending. (Of course, he did better dystopian novels, such as GENOCIDES and CAMP CONCENTRATION… or the 334 whose spine is visible on the same shelf!)

    And on the shelf above was Hal Clement’s nice sci-fi adventure MISSION OF GRAVITY. (A rocket is lost on a planet whose gravity is too strong, so they deal via radio with a native merchant, a cunning centipede afraid of heights who has to cross the planet and reach the site for them. It’s kinda like RINGWORLD meets Jack Vance!)

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      Disch’s novel is certainly the more interesting of the Prisoner novels. The Hank Stine one is more like a straight untold episode of the series; not bad, not spectacular, but Disch’s goes beyond, into the whole structure of the premise. I haven’t read the third contemporary one, The Prisoner: Number 2 (aka Who Is Number 2?), nor the Robert Langley books or Powys Media. The Dean Motter and Mark Askwith mini-series, from DC, was excellent.

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