Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6


My life in SF Fandom

Dick Jenssen

[ Continued from previous page ]

So the planned M.Sc project was going to be, as far as I was concerned, like living an SF story. Resistance was futile, even if it had crossed my mind. Were it not for SF and Rayer, (and a very scrappy undergraduate record, and the desperation of the Meteorology Department) I would have had a very different professional career. I would have missed out a job which, for the most part, was enjoyable and rewarding, and I would never have known just how much I liked teaching. Programming and lecturing slowly usurped the place SF had occupied in my life, a place to which I only returned after my retirement, and then not nearly as passionately as in the early years.

The highlights of my career include moving, after taking my Ph.D., to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1963 as an Assistant Professor in the Meteorology Department. In 1966 I returned to Australia and to Melbourne University, where I spent most of my professional life in the Meteorology Department, of which I have been Chairman. I'veauthored some 30 papers (mainly in the field of computer modeling of large ice masses such as Antarctica), co-edited a book ("Climatic Change and Variability. A Southern Perspective", Cambridge University Press), been a council member and Secretary of the Royal Meteorological Society (Australian Branch) and the Australian Meteorological Society, and editor of the Australian Meteorological Magazine. My main professional successes were performing the first computer weather forecast in the Southern Hemisphere, and pioneering the use of computer modeling of glacial dynamics and thermodynamics. I have been a Research Associate at The Scott Polar Institute, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, and at CIRES at the University of Colorado in Boulder.



Very early in my life as a real SF fan, I found myself wanting to express my devotion to the genre and to do so in a way which I would find rewarding. There was writing, and I tried this, but it was always a choresitting down to put words on paper, even if what I wanted to say was clear in my mind and had been written there, at least in principle, was not a satisfying experience. And I was not - it was very, very clear, very, very soon - a competent scribbler. What gave me the greatest satisfaction was pen on paper, graphically. I was, as I've said, a great fan of Buck Rogers, and so drawing comics, from the age of 7 or so, was inevitable. I remember at that time telling a friend of mine that when I reached legal maturity - twenty-one, that is - I was going to change my name, by deed poll, to Buck Rogers. It seemed perfectly sane at the time, and Ken Hayward, to whom I confessed this ambition, regarded it also as nothing unusual. I never did, of course, effect the change, but with time I transformed my primitive comics into drawings for fanzines.

There were essentially three of these Bacchanalia from Race Mathews, Perhaps from Lee Harding, Merv Binns and myself, and Etherline from Harding, Ian Crozier and myself. I did covers and interior illustrations for all three. Etherline was a Roneo-ed, digest-sized publication typed onto waxed master sheetsthese were then placed on a drum containing ink, a handle was cranked (Merv was always co-opted for this task as he seemed to spray the least amount of ink on the surrounds) and paper fed through under the drum. Drawing on these waxed sheets was done using a metal stylus - which had the unfortunate effect of all too readily tearing the surface apart. It was always a challenge.

Now, my memory is faulty - it always has been - I seem to have a facility to remember trivia; useless facts about words (for example that abstemious and caesious are words which contain the vowels a, e, i, o and u once and once only in their correct order, or that duoliteral and prunoidean contain all the vowels once only but in reverse order); or numbers; or film credits - but important facts, and names, and faces keep evaporating. So when I say that I remember a digest-sized American fanzine in the 50s titled Science Fiction Advertiser, I'm almost certainly wrong. I also remember that some of its covers were done by a Morris Scott Dollens - but that, too, is likely a figment of my mismemory. These covers, whoever they were by, and wherever they appeared, were in black and white - stunning space and planetary scenes (perhaps they were photographed models?) in rich chiaroscuro. They inspired me to try to create some of my own, and when I went to the downtown artists' supplier - Dean's - and asked how I could go about such a program, it was suggested to me that I try scraperboard. This was a thin plaster, or something akin to it, such as cohesive chalk, bonded to a cardboard base. The white surface could be painted (usually black), then scraped away with a scalpel to reveal the white underlayit was a method of drawing in negative. I used this method for covers for Bacchanalia and Perhaps. Interior graphics were standard pen and black ink on paper (I liked an onion paper for these).

When I went to the U.S. in 1963, I found myself not only away from my circle of SF fans, but so heavily involved in work - which was enjoyable, satisfying and rewarding - that I had no time to pursue my graphics. The work became even more demanding (and enriching) as I moved up the academic ladder and had to add administrative duties to my work day, so that, even though I was now back in Melbourne, I drifted away from the SF scene. Only when I took early retirement at the end of 1992, did I segue back into the field and renew my friendships with Race Mathews (fifty-eight years of it), Lee Harding and Merv Binns (both fifty-one years), Bill Wright (fifty years), Bruce Gillespie (forty years)… Science fiction friendships have a quality, it would seem, of long-term sustainability.

My career had been intimately connected with computers, starting with my M.Sc. work in 1957, and then in climate and glaciological modelling research, so that when I found myself away from work, the best way I could think of filling in the time as I slid down the razor-blade of life into total senescence, was to explore my discarded interest in graphics. There were no conscious influences at work here, no artists which I could truly say were my guides or exemplars, because I knew that what little facility I possessed, if I truly had any, was of an exquisitely minor nature. Perhaps, however, my graphics have been shaped inadvertently by those artists whom I admire--Botticelli, Tiepolo, Redon, Tapies, Alma-Tadema, Leighton, Dali, Puvis de Chavannes, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Lautrec…the list goes on. And of course, Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok, Maxfield Parrish and Winsor McKay. But I cannot, no matter how hard I try, see their influences on my work.

Since I always had trouble when using pen, or brush, to transfer, what I vaguely had in mind, on to paper (and the initial image was indeed vague), and since I usually always wanted to redo what I had created, in order to reorganize the compositional elements, and/or the coloring, and/or the elements themselves, it seemed that graphic packages would be ideal. Software which would allow me to generate three-dimensional objects in a virtual world, to organize their spatial distribution and relations, to color them as I wished, to manipulate them in unreal ways, to… The problem was that, as a retiree, I had limited funds to play with, and so what I bought would not only need to be powerful but inexpensive. I settled on Metatools' Bryce 2.

I rejoined the SF scene partly by accident, and once again it was Race Mathews who was responsible. He gathered together some old-time fans - Lee Harding, Bruce Gillespie, John Foyster, myself - for dinner at his place, and we discovered that even though we all still read SF, but for most of us in a rather desultory manner, we all were confirmed cinema buffs. Race suggested that we get together on a monthly basis to watch films. Which we did. With the SF contingent strong at these evenings, and since we were later joined by Bill Wright who like me had moved back into the SF fold and was resurrecting his Apazine Interstellar Ramjet Scoop, it seemed inevitable that I would proffer my graphics to fanzine editors - Bill and Bruce in particular. Bill, especially, has been most generous in his use of my efforts, inasmuch as except for the first, coverless, IRS reissue (December 1996), and that for December 2004, he has used my work on every subsequent cover. Bruce Gillespie also has had my work on his 'zines brg, Metaphysical Review, SF Commentary, and Cosmic Donut of Life. His wife, Elaine Cochrane, had used some illustrations of mine in her gardening 'zine Weeders' Digest. Other places where people have been fearless enough to use Ditmar work have been Thyme (Alan Stewart), and 'zines by U.S. fans Bill Bowers (Outworlds 70), Michael Waite and Tim Marion. Even Earl Kemp has been bold enough to not only use some images of mine, but has 'published' on his eZine a Ditmar Portfolio - a collection of some recent efforts of mine.

I said that I initially used Bryce 2, and as it went through successive metamorphoses, I moved with itto Bryce 3, then 4, then 5. Corel had taken the software over by then, and for two years just sat on it. They then discontinued supporting it for the MAC, and it seemed to me that its days were numbered. But, by one of those Jungian synchronisticevents, I received an email from Eon software to tell me that, as a legitimate and registered user of Poser, I was entitled to a massive discount on Eon's Vue d'Esprit 4 - an alternative to Bryce. So I moved to Vue, which was quite an improvement from Bryce in many respects. Then came - a few months apart - Vue 4 Professional, Vue Esprit 5, and now Vue Infinite. As each incarnation was a good step beyond the last, the latest (Infinite) is well beyond Bryce. DAZ has now taken over Bryce and the latest is version 5.5, which is still well behind Vue.

[ Continued... ]


[ Ditmar Art Portfolio 656KB ]


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