Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Summer 2005


I, FANARTIST

Taral Wayne

It's interesting how many people can point to a single moment or incident and say, "that's why I became a fan". I'm no exception. I discovered fandom in late 1971 as a result of buying a used copy of Fantastic magazine in a neighbourhood variety store. My life experiences had been rather chequered up to this point, and I had always been interested in the offbeat -- the Roman army, Cretaceous herbivores, luftwaffle fighter types, cards with pictures of Indianapolis racers -- and read anything unusual. No Hardy Boys or Gene Autry for me. I read my father's 007 novels instead, and had consumed Alice in Wonderland at five or six. I suppose I was all the riper to discover science fiction fandom after I'd been wowed by 2001A Space Odyssey in the theatre, and Star Trek on TV. And there it was -- fandom -- in the form of a tersely worded ad in the back of this battered 25-cent magazine. "Fandom Lives in CanadaWrite OSFIC"

So I did.

I got in the return mail an invitation to attend the next meeting of the Ontario Science Fiction Club. November 1971 in a room in the back of a Toronto public library, I met my first fans. It was crowded and I remember dim. Not everyone seemed to know everyone else, but some people obviously were old hands. Some guy with a beard and a bush hat was handing out copies of something printed on blue paper, but in spite of burning curiosity I didn't get a look at it. After the meeting, which was in point of fact rather dull, I hung around with some others who seemed equally reluctant to admit that it was all over -- that was how I met Phil Paine and Bob Wilson (today Robert Charles Wilson), who were the first real friends I made in my shiny new adulthood.

A month later there was another meeting, one I passed over, thinking it was somehow impolite to take up their invitation twice in a row. I attended the third meeting in January, now 1972. Things were beginning to sink in... the blue paper thing was a fanzine. I knew because OSFiC mailed me one of their own that was yellow. I found out that for the lavish sum of two dollars I would receive the right to attend all subsequent meetings, to the upper limit of twelve. Someone tried to get me to become a Libertarian. I observed another fan organizing Canadapa, but couldn't grasp what he was getting at. In time I understood that I could contribute drawings to the club publications, and submitted some stuff they didn't seem over glad to have, but did at least publish it in time.

My journey wouldn't take me anywhere as dramatic as the Cracks of Doom in Mordor, but for better or worse it had begun.

I still have that dog-eared copy of Fantastic, by the way.

As is usually the case, bad habits begin in childhood. I drew from the earliest age I can remember, using newspaper strips and comic books as inspiration. I already had a marked predilection for moonscapes and spaceships when I joined a fan club -- it was like having a knack for pegging rocks at strangers, and discovering there was a game called baseball where you were supposed to throw things at people and no-one thought it anti-social.

The first fanzines I saw had a diverse and copious biota of fanart. It was still the heyday of colour mimeography, corner illos, gorgeously lithoed covers, folios, fold-outs, and comics -- how could I not want to be a part of it? I submitted a number of pen and ink drawings almost immediately to the editors of the club zines, and waited... and waited... It seems that I waited an awfully long time, but likely that was a matter of subjectivity and impatience. Eventually most of my illos turned up in the monthly newsletters or in OSFiC Quarterly. From the clubzines I learned the addresses of others, like Mike Glyer's Prehensile, Leland Sapiro's Riverside Quarterly, Bill Bower's Outworlds, and Linda Bushyager's Granfalloon. Sending art to some of them was the next natural step.

Looking back on it now, I'd have to say I encountered distinct waves, or groups of fanartists in the first years I was in fandom, though I didn't know it at the time. There was an older wave that I admired, but never met or made even a nominal acquaintance of -- artists like George Barr or Alicia Austin or Tim Kirk or Steve Fabian. I never knew if they were just too alien to me by background, or isolated by circumstances, or maybe just snobbish. I have the impression many of that wave had art school backgrounds and professional ambitions. They were only in fandom because they were a friend of someone who was publishing a fanzine, and who could hit them up for art. The artist's commitment to fandom perhaps went no further.

There was another wave of artists who had also been around a while, but who seemed more deeply entrenched in fandom. These were fanartists who were fans and not just artists who knew fans. The fannish fan artists. While it was inevitable I suppose I never got to know these artists as well as I would have liked, it was possible to reach a position of mutual respect with most. A few I did get to know quite a bit better and like to think of as friends. Among them, Steve Stiles and Ken Fletcher. I quite admired also Dan Steffan, Reed Waller, Randy Bathurst, James Schull, Alexis Gilliland... to name just a few. Others too deserve mention, though perhaps Grant Canfield and Derek Carter didn't tickle my fancy as much.

The third wave were my actual contemporaries -- artists who had arrived only recently on the scene, or only shortly after my own unheralded arrival. Stu Shiffman for example. Marc Schirmeister, for another.

But it seems as though there were relatively few young fanartists in those years. Most of those I think of as contemporaries arrived on the scene a little after me, in the mid-70's. Harry Bell, Jim Barker, Jackie Causgrove, Phil Foglio, Joan Hanke-Woods, Vicky Wyman, Charles Williams. While I had been first published a few years earlier, I hadn't really found my niche until this time.

Those years were a second golden age for fanart -- 1974 to about 1980 -- I don't think we knew how good we had it.

I don't know how to judge what sort of effect being in that age had on me. Somewhat earlier, I had seen a fascinating folio by Dan Steffan, in which he imitated the other notable fanartists of his day. It stuck in my mind, and is most likely the basis of my on-going interest in imitating other artists' styles. At one time I fooled Rotsler himself into autographing an illo he hadn't drawn. It was only after signing the page he peered at it suspiciously then announced, "Hey, I didn't draw that!" Now and then I still attempt to adopt this or that way of doing things, to capture a Teen Titans look or maybe the feel of Ed Cartier. I've done quite a number of pieces in the past incorporating many favourite comic book or cartoon characters. But as to whether it has influenced the way I usually draw, it's hard to say. Subtly, it likely that the gradual change in my drawing style over the years has been a product of taking in little bits of what I've seen in other artists, but I can't say I've used anyone specially as a model. I aim for the clarity of a Herge or Carl Barks, but no one is likely to say I resemble them in any way.

If my contemporaries in fanart provided few models, I did at least collaborate with a few of them, from time to time. Jim Barker and I did a number of illos -- I would pencil and he would ink, or vice versa. The main problem is that our senses of humour weren't much alike. I also did a number of collabs with Stu Shiffman, Stu Gilson (of Winnipeg), sat in on at least one artists' jam with Gilliland, and must have taken part in others. In retrospect, I wonder why so little. Distance may have had much to do with it. I only attended cons frequently for a short period in the 70's, and the only other fanartist of note in Toronto at the time was Barry Kent MacKay (who was mainly crazy about birds and critters).

It would look as though other fanartists did not, in fact, influence me much. Not in any obvious way. I think the important thing was the inspiration I took from them, that they're so many different styles, and that an audience existed for them all. They filled me with a sense of purpose -- to get on the cover of Outworlds or Energumen, and be talked about in letter columns. Maybe even someday win a Hugo.

Looking back on it, I'm not sure I accomplished many of the goals I set out to fill. Many of the zines vanished before I really perfected my style, others remained closed books to me for one reason or another. But I certainly got talked about enough.... not all, but most of it in a pleasing way. If I didn't appear in some fanzines I would have liked to, I had art (and writing) published in quite a number of others.

Starting with old OSFiC clubzines I moved on to be a increasingly regular fixture of Mike Glyer's Prehensile, then Scientifriction, and more than anywhere File 770. I've appeared in many of Brian Earl Brown's zines, like Sticky Quarters. Raffles and Mainstream come to mind easily, as do Simulacrum, Rune, The Monthly Monthly, New Canadian Fandom, Karass, Yhos, Holier Than Thou, Foxfax, Mythprint, Anvil, Twll Ddu & Ansible, Outworlds, Nabu, Yandro. More recently in Twink, Challenger, It Goes on the Shelf, BCSFAzine, No Award, Nonstop Fun, Vanamonde... I won't kid you though. It's getting harder to find zines to pub an illo. Some of the ones I've been appearing in are relatively obscure and have low circulations -- big zines with huge numbers of readers like Challenger are few and far between now.

On-line zines regrettably don't seem to bother much with fanart. If they're the future, then I think the line of descent that began with Rotsler and evolved through Ray Nelson, Arthur Thompson, Ross Chamberlain, Alexis Gilliland, Jeanne Gomoll, D. West, Teddy Harvia, Brad Foster and hundreds of others largely forgotten, will become literally extinct in ten years.

Likely the most important goal I set for myself when starting as a fanartist was to become a pro. I thought I saw a clear progression from a beginning Neo, to Big Name Fanartist, to eventually becoming a Dirty Pro. It seemed at the time to be the route taken by artists like Barr and Kirk. In achieving that goal I largely failed, and I think for good reason. The cursus honorum was an illusion. There was no such progression from fan to pro because the artists I saw who had graduated from fandom had been pros from the start. In retrospect their careers doing covers for books or illos for SF mags were short. They made their careers in comics, or in animation, or greeting cards rather than in the pages of Analog.

So I never made the break either. In fact I had no success in SF for thirty years, until I had a series of illustrations published in 2002, in Rudy Rucker's last novel, Spaceland. Unfortunately the author was quite adamant that I follow his sketches exactly and there was no scope for creativity. It was a disappointment also because Tor had no further work for me.

But I don't want to leave you with the impression that I found no opportunities for professional work. I did. Outside the genre I found work illustrating for small magazines, doing patterns for cross-stitching, dabbling in commercial art, surviving on commissions, trying my hand at game cards, and for a while writing and drawing my own black & white comic book (Beatrix). None of it made my name a household word like Freas or Frazetta, but it did pay the rent at least and continues to.

I've never considered myself to be very experimental with tools. I use pencil, ballpoint pens, and markers on very ordinary white paper. It was how I did things, and what I did, that mattered, not what it was done with.

How I did things was no simple matter either. A few years ago D. West wrote a comprehensive and generally intelligent overview of fan artists for a fanzine called Lagoon, published by Simon Ounsley. There was a sample illo for every artist D. covered. For a very good reason, I was one of the few readers who clued in that the samples were fake, and that D. had drawn them all. Uniformly they were very good, and it took a careful eye to see that the hand that had rendered them was not as advertised. Except for one that is. D. used expressions like "twee", and "the technical quality of the artwork is not so outstanding…" in delivering his judgement. When he came to pastiching my work, however, it was frankly crap. He couldn't do it. Even though I could readily identify which drawing of mine he had copied from, it was by far the worst piece in the rogue's gallery. Evidently my "twee" was not so simple to do after all.

At one time or another, though, I've had to try my hand with other media. When Victoria Vayne and I were publishing DNQ, I often used stylus and templates to do titles, and even a few drawings. It was fun, but limiting, and I have never thought of doing it again. I've used ditto once or twice, but the only thing that comes to mind was the time I transcribed some ATom drawings to ditto master, and colourized them. This was for Ditto 1, so whether I really wanted to or not, this was the way to go...

The majority of my art published in fanzines was probably by mimeo. I've pubbed my own mimeo zines, and learned to master the difficult trick of printing art with large black areas without flooding the stencil so that the adjoining text was blurred, nor allowing the ink density to drop to where faded patches appeared, nor yet letting the stencil wrinkle prior to catastrophic failure. Its no wonder so much of my art published by other fans is faded, blurry or otherwise blemished. In the early days of photocopy technology, xeroxed zines where normally no better.

Now we have Photoshop. In only six weeks of digital colouring you can create the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but have no place to show it except a website that only keeps it up for six months. I guess this is progress.

Seems I've covered a lot of ground already. But it's true, I do have some sort of life outside fandom. I had to drop out of school, went back and finished my secondary education, have had no art training whatsoever, held a variety of dead end jobs that didn't pay enough to make them worth wasting a life on, never had any romantic entanglements for whatever reason, decided to make a living from my art even if it meant living in the basement of my family's home for the next twenty years, which unfortunately it did, moved into my own place when my mother died and managed to hold on by the skin of my teeth. Things haven't really progressed from there. Fame and fortune still elude me, but life goes on.

Looking at my time in fandom, I guess you could say that there were a number of years when I was focused on the local club, and edited its newsletter. There was an explosion of Toronto zines at the same time, to some extent perhaps because I was providing a model and acted as a goad, and reliable contributor. Things began to wind down in the late 70's, leaving Victoria and I as the nearly sole possessors of the local tradition. Our idiosyncratic newszine DNQ lasted about fours I think, and finished up with a huge final 34th. issue in 1984. I did a couple of solo genzines called New Toy over the next couple of years. While had once been in three or four apas -- Fapa, Azapa, Oasis among them -- by '84 I was only a member of the cartoonists apa founded by Marc Schirmeister, Rowrbrazzle. By '92 I dropped out of that as well, and that was pretty much the end of my fan pubbing. Thereafter I published mainly for mail order sales.

Art folios used to be pretty good business, though with computer scanners and internet archives and people burning CD's at home for under 50 cents, the bottom has pretty much dropped out of the market. After doing about a dozen folios with names like Demi Monde, or Strange Attractors, or TransFur, I fell out of the habit. I did one collection on CD called Off-Colour, and really ought to produce another. Predictably, fandom was never a source of sales. The trade or contrib ethic is much too ingrained, and people part with money only once they perceive you've crossed the invisible boundary that makes you a pro. The rule seems to be "not a dollar for fanac, but forty for a hardcover book -- no problem".

By that time I had largely shifted my interest and efforts to a newly emerged fandom, called Furry. It had been largely the creation of people such as me and Schirm, as well as the artists of self-published comics like Albedo, and Cutey Bunny. In those days the fandom was too small and too obscure to have any unsavoury reputation, and I think most of the members were in those days fairly level headed as well. (This would change, but not nearly as much as detractors would have you believe.) The first furry convention was held in the LA area in the late 80's, and I was invited to be guest of honour for the third. I think that was 1991.

A couple of years before, Bill Bowers had asked me to be toastmaster at the Corflu he ran, surprising hell out of me and probably a lot of other people. In 1995 an old friend from OSFiC days ran a Ditto, and wanted me to visit Seattle, so named me GoH for that. I was asked to attend a local con called Ad Astra as a special guest, whatever that was exactly, and can only say it was an ambiguous experience for me, and apparently the concom. The only other such honour I can recall was being the winner of the first actual election for the Canadian Unity Fan Fund (CUFF). I say "election" with some tongue in cheek, since no one else ran. (The previous two recipients were by outright fiat, while I went through the pretence of nominations and a ballot.) As prize, I got to go to a small con in Winnipeg that was that year's CanCon, where I was thoroughly ignored (along with the Auroras and everything else that came with being the CanCon).

Sic gloria transit mundi.

I've generally felt better about the Hugo nominations. It's true, a Hugo nomination and a dollar will only buy you a cup of coffee. As of the worldcon's Hugo ceremony, your nomination goes into the trash bin of history, and only a dedicated search of old program books and newsletters provide any evidence of your brief moment of glory. But hey, its recognition, however momentary. I was nominated for best fanartist starting in 1987, and managed to climb onto the ballot every year until 1990. From what I've been able to tell, I trailed a distant fourth each time, barely coming in ahead of No Award. Then in 1991, nothing. I figured the jig was up, and in any case I was scrambling to survive in the real world at the time, so let it go...

Then in 2000 I was attending a furry con in LA, when someone I knew said I was nominated for a Fan Hugo. "Go on", I said. "You'd think I'd know about it if anybody... " Silly me. It seemed everyone knew about it before I did, but I was too happy about the news to wonder why no one bothered to tell me. After ten years I thought it was a dead issue, and in any case I hadn't been very active in SF fandom for some time. I was duly nominated again the next year, in 2001. I figured I better do something to deserve this, so began collecting fanzine addresses and sending out art again. The zines mostly folded immediately, and the previous year's was the last nomination I ever received. The god of irony is too fond of me.

Obviously fandom isn't what it once was to me. One might ask, was it ever? But in my own estimate I'd have to say fandom isn't a central feature of my life. I can't afford conventions out of town where my friends and confederates were, and one by one they stopped publishing. There wasn't much reason to stay in touch. I don't even count myself as active in Toronto area fandom, since it seems to have become a mere cometary belt revolving around a handful of writers so that they have someone to give readings to. Running the local con is the only fanac I'm aware of, and I finished with that after founding Ditto. (With help from a few friends of course.)

I'd like to contribute more to fanzines, but much of what I draw (for furry fandom) isn't really suitable, and I have a list of only about four or five zines that I deem interested. Mainstays that I once counted on, like File 770 or Twink, are all but gone. Pessimistic about the fanzines, I don't manage to find the time or energy to do anything about it.

Considering how long I've been in fandom, I wish I could say I made more real friends. But I'm afraid the number I actually count as more than friendly acquaintances is rather small. There are people I liked in larger numbers, of course, but that's not the same thing. Abiding friendships include Moshe Feder, Marc Schirmeister, and Ken Fletcher. As well, I call Mike Glyer, Linda Bushyager, Stu Shiffman, and a few others more than just acquaintances. I'm not counting friends at home who I would be friends with whether or not they were fans (like Hope Leibowitz)... or worse, even if they've become professional writers (like Bob Wilson).

But no matter what, I must still be a fan. I'm taking the time to reminisce, when I could and should be cooking dinner. Fandom was a part of my life that was central to me for far too many years to step around it. It's there, like that old rec room, with the unfortunate choice of colour you painted the walls years ago, but with a comfortable seat and familiar old bookshelves that bring back pleasant memories.

         CONTINUED

 

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