Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

OG Zinesters

Turns out you really CAN find anything on the internet.

Reminiscing about all the cool stuff I found at Looking Glass Books back in the day reminded me of one of the best fanzines I ever ran across. REH: Lone Star Fictioneer‘s final issue, #4, showed up at Looking Glass, as it happened, right when I had discovered Robert E. Howard in prose; and also, in one of those perfect-storm coincidences, right when the Howard paperback wave was cresting.

I was already all over the Conan paperbacks, and was slowly moving on to the Zebra Books paperbacks reprinting EVERYTHING ELSE Robert E. Howard had ever done.

So Lone Star Fictioneer caught me at exactly the right moment. I was even okay with the $3.50 price tag, though that sum could have purchased two or three Howard paperback books at the time.

For a fanzine, it was pretty amazing. First of all, it was really classy-looking. A Howard story I’d never seen before, “Three-Bladed Doom”….

… with illustrations from Jim Steranko.

I pored over those like they were keys to buried treasure. I was a huge fan of that kind of high-contrast, spot-black shading– I’d seen it from Steranko and also from Howard Chaykin, my other artistic idol of the time, and I was desperate to learn how to do it myself.

But the rest of the magazine was pretty awesome too. There was a wonderful lengthy interview with John Severin about his work on Marvel’s Kull, a couple of art portfolios (including work from the aforementioned Mr. Chaykin) and an odd but interesting bit of fan fiction, “Incident at Cross Plains,” a play about the last days of Howard’s life.

I don’t know what happened to my original copy. I suspect it went in the purge when I moved to Eugene in 1979 to go to college.

But the point is, in the midst of my nostalgia wallow about Looking Glass, I suddenly wondered if that Howard zine was available from a back issue dealer somewhere. And it was! For a mere three times the original cover price I’d thought was exorbitant back in the seventies. In 2020, I counted it a bargain and snapped it up.

You can probably guess the rest. I went down a bit of an eBay rabbit hole.

My first thought was, well, what about the other issues of Lone Star Fictioneer? After all, the one I had enjoyed so much was #4… that implied a #1, 2, and 3, right? At least. So I went looking.

Now, there are a number of sites that document not just Robert E. Howard’s life and work, but also ancillary stuff like pastiches and continuations… and zines. HowardWorks was very helpful. With that and a little eBay noodling around, I soon had #2 and #3 here as well.

At this point I need to stop and give you a little background. Today we have the internet. So fan-to-pro apprenticeships tend to take place here, online. Blogs, fanfiction sites, webcomics, DeviantArt, and so on. But back in MY day, youngster, if you wanted to make your own Thing, whatever it was, you made zines. More often than not they were ditto’d and stapled things printed on a machine commandeered from an indulgent parent’s workplace after hours, or in the case of the truly dedicated, a ditto machine of their very own, maybe bought used or something. Usually done in purple ink and smelling strongly of solvent.

Stephen King’s first published anything ever was one of these, “In A Half-World of Terror” (original title: “I Was A Teenage Graverobber”) and the editor that published it was a young Marv Wolfman.

My own first publication was a zine that I blarneyed my high school journalism teacher into allowing us to do as part of newspaper class, so we were able to spring for real printing.

Back in the 70s fandom scene, there was a kind of in-between apprenticeship zone where the really talented zine folks were clearly going to cross over from amateur enthusiast to paid professional. Especially in comics, with the rise of the undergrounds. And in the nerdier end of fandom, like sword-and-sorcery and Star Trek and superheroes and so on, you had folks doing really polished work, and even managing to get contributions from actual professionals here and there.

Lone Star Fictioneer was clearly one of these almost-kinda-pro efforts. It was a genuine printed piece, not a ditto zine, and a very class act. #2, I was delighted to discover, had a bunch of wonderful illustrations from Stephen Fabian.

I knew Fabian from his work with Byron Preiss– Starfawn and Doc Phoenix— but I think this predated that. Even more interesting, this issue had the first publication– before it showed up over at Zebra Books in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard–of “Sword Woman,” the debut of Dark Agnes.

Now, this is one of my favorite Howard stories, and clearly, one of Stephen Fabian’s, because he had illustrated it.

This was interesting to me because Agnes did eventually get her own Zebra Books paperback, and it was one of the very few covers NOT assigned to Jeff Jones. Instead, the gig went to one… wait for it… Stephen Fabian.

Fabian would come back to Dark Agnes more than once.

She was the cover girl for one of his own art collections, even.

Lots of other nifty art from pros and almost-pros along with Mr. Fabian, as well. Howard Chaykin must have been tight with these guys because he had something in every issue, I think. Usually just a spot illo or a couple of pin-ups, but he was there. This issue also had a nice art portfolio section–‘good girl art’ had been a requirement for Howard since Frazetta made it a thing– and a wonderfully exhaustive interview with Roy Thomas.

I was fascinated by the leap forward in technology in each issue–I spent a number of years in commercial printing and I couldn’t help but notice how painstaking these guys were with their amateur production. Not to get all uphill-both-ways-in-the-snow about it, but Lone Star Fictioneer #2 almost certainly would have been lucky just to break even and as far as I can tell the original master had not been actually typeset, but done on an IBM Selectric typewriter with variable font wheels. (Ask your grandparents, kids.)

The point being, those pages had almost certainly all been typed by hand directly on to the master, changing out the wheel for italics and then back again to normal type (The Thomas interview, with all the questions in italics, must have been brutal.) Then pasted up by hand, and any mistake meant starting over. Or at least cutting out the mistake and pasting in a corrected overlay, which unless you are VERY careful leaves you with something that looks like a ransom note…but this is flawless. I am awed. I remember how hard it was to paste up Visions and that was eight pages. This is more like 80. I love Robert E. Howard but I don’t think I love his stuff enough to do that kind of horribly difficult, painstaking (and unpaid) labor for 80 pages’ worth of hand-typed stencils and paste-up. Byron Roark and his posse were hardcore. Respect.

The next issue, #3, production had leveled up considerably. The cover was a full-color wraparound (!) from Alan Weiss, featuring Solomon Kane.

This one is fully typeset for real, as well.

Lots of cool art here as well… contributions from Alex Nino, Steve Leialoha, Roy Krenkel, Stephen Fabian, P. Craig Russell, Alfredo Alcala, Walter Simonson, and Howard Chaykin (again) …mostly featuring buxom young ladies in various states of undress.

Mr. Weiss also contributes a five-page Kane portfolio along with the cover, and the Howard reprint is the original “Guns of Khartoum” this time, again pre-dating its official appearance in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard. There’s also an interview with Howard’s literary executor Glenn Lord, and an enraged editorial from Byron Roark about what L. Sprague deCamp was doing with the Conan paperbacks.

I enjoyed these as much for the archaeology into the early work of many favorite artists and writers of mine as for the actual content.

Now by this point eBay had figured out I was interested in these early zines and was suggesting other ones. Most are priced WAY out of my range but I did drop ten bucks on this one because it was relatively inexpensive and I was eaten with curiosity. Tony Isabella’s Wandering Fan #7.

And yes, that signature is “Evanier” on the cover. (Like a lot of writers in comics, including the young Marv Wolfman as shown above, Mark Evanier also drew at the beginning of his career; though I don’t think anything saw print professionally unless it was a background or something when he was Jack Kirby’s assistant.)

This is from May of 1970, and it’s kind of an anomaly since it was part of the larger CAPA-alpha fanzine, though it’s stapled as a self-contained unit. The way the APA (Amateur Press Association) zines used to work, as I understand it, was that every contributor was given x allotment of pages and they’d send those pages to the central mailer guy and he’d collate everything into a giant anthology and print the copies, and then the zines would go out. Wandering Fan certainly seems like it began life as part of a larger whole; a lot of the contents are referencing other CAPA-alpha members and their controversies. But this is an individual piece, there’s no outward sign (meaning the physical production, itself) that it wasn’t published as a self-contained zine.

Sadly, Evanier’s cover is the only art included, the interior is 24 pages of single-spaced typescript. Like this example here….

Full disclosure: I know Tony a little, as do fellow Junk Shop scribes John Trumbull and Jim MacQuarrie. We’ve corresponded and we count him as a friend of the site. Maybe he’ll drop by and tell us how this came about, assuming he remembers. As a production printing guy I am really curious as to how it was printed; it’s in black ink, not purple, and the pages are double-sided and hand-stapled. Again, the amount of work it must have taken to get all this typed up, without any typos or any visible sign of a paste-up overlay or anything, is staggering. Even if the mailing list was only fifty people, the hand-stapling alone would be daunting.

The contents are just Tony opinionating about this and that (Then, as now, Tony had Opinions about the comics industry!) along with an interesting piece about the Green Goblin tale in the then-current Amazing Spider-Man and the decision to publish it without the Comics Code approval.

By now I’d really gotten the bit in my teeth about this seventies fanzine thing and I remembered another long-standing itch I thought I might be able to finally scratch.

Back in 1978, my old friend Joe and I attended a one-day science fiction symposium at Portland State University, where we met John Shirley and Vonda McIntyre and John Varley, among others. (I made it a point to go find their books shortly thereafter.)

There were a couple of dealer’s tables next to where the authors were signing, and on one of them I saw this zine.

Flipping through it, it totally looked like my kind of thing; a profusely-illustrated magazine dedicated to reconciling all the multiple-Earth stories in comics. It cost $1.50, though (which was serious money for me in 1978) so I regretfully put it back. Many times over the years since, I’ve wished I hadn’t.

I thought, The Howard ones were on eBay; would this be there too? Yes indeed, but for a hell of a lot more than a dollar-fifty. This is the cheapest one currently on offer.

I have considerably more disposable income now than when I was sixteen, but a book that spendy is out of the question. However, comics historian Kurt Mitchell hooked me up with PDFs of both Omniverse #1 …and #2 as well.

And they are pretty awesome.

Well, thry are if you are a giant comics-continuity nerd, anyway.

The list of not-quite pros is kind of amazing. Mark Gruenwald, Kim Thompson, Dean Mullaney, Peter Gillis, and Jerry Ordway. I think this Ordway kid, especially, might have a real future in comics.

Anyway, that was my eBay rabbit hole. Hope you enjoyed the trip as much as I did. My justification for it all was At least I’ll get a column out of it… and now I have.

Back next week with something cool.


  1. This stuff is awesome. I love seeing the early days of creators who get bigger later on, and wonder about the guys who didn’t become big.

    The REH/Conan zines intrigue me as well as that’s sort of the birthplace of Cerebus, which of course is one of my big comics geek outs.

    And damn, Omniverse is one of those things I’ve heard of that sounded awesome, and I knew Gru was the mastermind, but I didn’t realize how many other big names were involved. Networking!

        1. Oh, I think Marv Wolfman would be the first to agree with you. Although he has said that trying to be an artist made him a better comics writer. Gruenwald drew a little too and I think he actually did get in print once or twice as an artist during his time at Marvel.

  2. I only have Omniverse 2 but it was excellent. I believe I sent in a letter criticizing a couple of points and got a personal response (obviously there was no #3 to print it in).
    I love Dark Agnes. It’s a shame she didn’t catch on.
    And wow, that’s some awesome art.

    1. I almost forgot, but Marvel just had a Dark Agnes book start recently. The first two issues of a planned 5 just were out in the last month or so, and it was written by Becky Cloonan, who’s definitely talented, so Marvel was going to put in some effort.

        1. I should have been clearer, Dark Agnes was one of a bunch of Marvel books that got cancelled, this book after just 2 issues. Hopefully they’ll put a trade out or finish it digitally.

          And this last comment says it’s by Fraser but it’s showing Hatcher’s pic. Weird.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    Marv had at least one pin-up in Who’s Who In the DC Universe (Plasmus, I believe) and Gruenwald had the aforementioned Hawkeye mini. Shooter did an issue at Valiant, under an assumed credit, if I recall correctly. Gaiman and Moore have also dabbled a bit., as did Archie Goodwin.

    Of course, the CPL Gang, who produced Contemporary Pictorial Literature, would go on to take over The Charlton Bullseye, for Charlton Comics and several moved into pro positions at Charlton, and then DC and Marvel, including Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob Layton, Roger Slifer, Michael Uslan, Steven Grant, Duffy Vohland and that Isabella guy.

    If the kids wanna see a ditto machine, they should check out the movie Teachers, with Nick Nolte, Jo Beth Williams, Ralph Macchio and Crispin Glover. Royal Dano plays a teacher, known as Ditto, who spends every morning hogging the ditto machine cranking out papers for his classes to waste their time on, while he avoids doing and active teaching. A woman who is waiting for it flips out and smears ink all over his face (the school psychologist!). My dad, a teacher of 37 years and veteran of many dittoed tests and papers, loved that scene and that character.

      1. Edo Bosnar

        Heh, Greg and then you guys talking about ditto machines reminded me of my early grade school years, when all of us kids loved it when a teacher would bring some freshly-dittoed papers to class – we loved huffing the sweet aroma left behind by the chemicals.

        And that IBM Selectric brings me back to my freshman year typing class – all we had at home was an ancient manual typewriter, so I thought the IBM machine was such an advanced piece of technology.

  4. jccalhoun

    I was part of a Legion of Super-Heroes APA (Klordny) back in the early 90s. It was a lot of fun. At the time printers and copiers weren’t everywhere so it was sometimes tough to get the copies made to send to the central mailer. I know Steve Lightle was part of it for a time after he was already an industry pro but I don’t think any of the other members went on to be professional comic creators.

    I miss that kind of community from the pre-internet days. Certainly, there are communities I am part of now (mostly around a couple podcasts that record live on twitch) and I wouldn’t want to go back to the pre-internet days but I do miss those days.

    1. Teaching the cartooning classes in the afterschool program, I decided we would do a class anthology zine specifically using the APA model because of that… We could have done a webcomic site or something but I wanted the kids to have something tangible, something that they could hold in their hands and think, I helped make this. There’s really no substitute for it. Even today when I get author copies I still get that little visceral thrill. There’s a magic about physical copies that net publishing just doesn’t have.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.