Wednesday, September 22, 2010

OWARI #1 (October/November 1995)

I know the date above says "October/November", but my admittedly sketchy memory of things is that I finished putting together the first issue of my fanzine earlier than I'd anticipated. Hence, I am pretty sure I shipped out the earliest copies of OWARI #1 in September. That would make this month the 15th anniversary of OWARI.

Oh, and I should tell you that I don't have any more copies of this issue, or most issues of OWARI. I never felt any great attachment to the printed versions, since I knew I'd have the layouts for my files. This retrospective will be based on those layouts.

We'll look at the cover first, seeing as how I've uploaded a scan of it and everything. Your clue that it is from my layouts and not a printed copy is the faded "#1" which I wrote directly on that bullet glued to the cover. Let's just say that the ink pens I was using in those days turned out to have some long-term issues with the ink gradually turning a greenish hue.

I created that "OWARI" logo, but I was never very happy with it. The idea of a bilingual logo was sound, but I didn't have enough artistic skill to make it work properly (a recurring theme in OWARI's fanzine days). The calligraphy of the hiragana for "owari" came out well, and the matching of the syllables looked decent. I even managed to create proper-looking circles by tracing the shapes of coins (same method as for the "#1" slug). It's just in the English lettering that everything fell apart. I decided to junk it entirely after this issue, but fate intervened in a most pleasant way.

The cover is by Lewis Smith, but don't expect to see it in any of his online galleries. Point of fact, he NEVER intended that art to be the cover of anything. It was a whimsical drawing he had done for his own amusement and then sent to me. I don't THINK he ever expressed regret over that decision, but he got a fair amount of static from some quarters when I chose to use it as the cover to my first issue.

Look, let me say that if anyone deserved grief over the cover of OWARI #1, it was me, and not Lewis. Trust me, he was just as surprised as anyone to see it up front, much less carrying the hand-lettered (by me!) title "Rangers on Vacation". In retrospect, I think I could have represented his artwork better than by going with my oddball sense of humor and running a swimsuit cover. However, after seeing early covers for the venerable Japanese Fantasy Film Journal fanzine, I am wondering why my cover caused such a fuss.

The editorial page was pretty standard fare, though I am still proud to this day of the masterstroke that led me to title it The Beginning of "The End". The indicia at the bottom of the page is possibly more interesting than anything I had to say in my editorial. First, it is a paste-up, though why I covered the original version is something I no longer recall. Second, it is the only place where I listed the price of the 'zine ($1.50). Third, it is where I coined OWARI's original subtitle - "The Fanzine For People Entirely Too Interested In Japanese Sci-Fi". Having to lose that tongue-in-cheek label was one of the only downsides in broadening OWARI's horizons in later years. Finally, OWARI is listed as being published by "Captain Satellite Productions"! Yes, this was probably my first public use of the name of my favorite homemade hero. I'm just lucky no one ever tried to make out a check or money order to that non-existent publisher!

Next came the acknowledgments page, which puzzles me now. Why didn't I put this at the end to wrap up the issue? Learning curve, I guess. There was a special thanks to Lewis for his many contributions, because he put together almost half of the issue's contents himself. I also thanked a number of other people and a few companies, and gave a "recommended reading" list. I seem to recall this generated some unhappiness because I failed to give contact info for any of the publications on the latter list. Probably a fair point, but I did feel I was too obscure for such things to matter.

The page was rounded out, such as it is, by possibly the nadir of my self-publishing efforts (other than that one thing which doesn't count) - a hand-scribbled video want list. This somehow seemed appropriate in those video trading days, but the execution of it looks downright embarrassing now. Oh well. There is also a B&W version of this picture, which almost redeems the page's shortcomings by being both endearing and ridiculous simultaneously.

At long last, we arrive at the content of the 'zine itself and it's...not bad, all things considered. The lead article was titled "Varan The Unbelievable : Facts Vs. Myths" and ran approximately two and a half pages. The purpose here was to clear up some misconceptions about the 1962 U.S. incarnation of this 1958 Toho film. I think I acquitted myself decently, despite the fact that I had not yet even SEEN the Japanese version. As a result, I made a couple of mistakes, and failed to outline some of the trivia points that worm their way into the "Americanized" Varan. This is one I'd like to take another crack at someday, though the version of the film it discusses is threatening to fade into total obscurity.

The remainder of the third page of the Varan article was filled out by a piece on YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE. Rather than telling you about it, I'll just point you to the updated version I posted here in January. I had hoped this would prompt some sleuthing by people with more resources, but so far, that hasn't happened.

"Two Mecha In Every Garage" was a collection of Japanese monster toy reviews done by Lewis Smith, and it ran 3 pages plus some change. Truthfully, my interest in the toy collecting side of kaiju fandom (and toy collecting in general) was pretty minimal even then, but this was part of my effort to give Lewis a chance to write about things that interested him in the pages of OWARI. Covered in this article were Bandai's Serpentera toy from the Power Rangers line, and Trendmasters' Garuda and 10" Mechagodzilla.

Lewis' article ran a few lines past three pages, so I needed to find something to complete the rest of that fourth page. This led me to put together the feature that was probably the most popular thing associated with that first issue. I wrote a spirited though brief defense of the monster King Seesar from GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974) and illustrated it with a pair of images to cover the fact that the write-up wasn't very long. Ah, but those pictures probably only added to the interest. You see, I made the point to link the monster with the shisa of legend that inspired him, and included a shot of one of the statues from a Japanese guide book I owned. I also cobbled together a rendering of キングシーサー, the katakana for King Seesar's name.

I probably will rerun this article someday on the blog, but only for historical purposes. The King Seesar/shisa connection has been made numerous times since its publication, but it was a unique insight (it seemed to me) in the Western Godzilla community circa 1995. Or maybe I had just missed the previous attempts?

"Where In The World Is Kenji Sahara?" most plainly reminds us of the time period that birthed OWARI, because a Carmen Sandiego reference was topical then. Now, it just sounds quaintly dated. Pop culture can be fickle that way. Anyway, this 2 page overview of Kenji Sahara's career might be the first such dedicated article for Sahara, or in fact ANY tokusatsu film actor, in the English language. Certainly, I don't think there were many prior to this. There are omissions out the wazoo, owing mostly to my limited knowledge base and source material at the time. There's also a rather annoying error that snuck in due to my repeating faulty information from one of my references. Even so, this article established the OWARI policy that the actors and actresses in Japanese monster movies were of equal importance to the monsters and hardware. That was, and is, pretty bold.

Lurking at the bottom of the Kenji Sahara article was the debut of "O-Factoids" - brief bits of information, or sometimes silly jokes, that I wanted to share, but didn't feel like merited an article. People usually liked these, even though they were mostly filler. In fact, I totally missed them the first time I reviewed the contents of this issue!

"Mysterious Shadow : Guyver 3" was a two page fanfiction authored by Lewis Smith that follows the continuity of the film GUYVER 2 : DARK HERO. In it, Lewis brings in some elements from the manga and/or anime (I'm no Guyver expert,folks!) and applies them to the movie version. I'm unsure now, but this may have been the first time Lewis' fiction had been seen by a wider audience. Of course, he's done a fair amount of that sort of thing since with Gunmetal Black and Seven Spheres Legend.

And that, as they say, was that, though you can read about behind-the-scenes stuff here and here. OWARI #1 was 14 pages all told, and they were all single-sided, too. Why? Well, my layouts were ridiculously flimsy and I feared they wouldn't hold together if I gave them to someone else for printing. Besides, I just couldn't see moving enough copies to warrant a mass-printing. It turned out I was correct, though OWARI #1 was probably seen by more people than any other issue. As you can imagine, that was a double-edged sword.

Looking back, I am impressed by the energy and enthusiasm on display in that first issue. The writing needs some fine-tuning, but that would come with experience. If there is truly a downfall, it's that the whole package just looks crude. Part of that is due to a sheer lack of ability, and I learned and improved as I went. But another factor that can't be discounted was a lack of resources. I created my portions of OWARI either by hand or via typewriter, and it shows. Lewis' pages were computer printouts (dot matrix, in fact) and therefore appear a bit more "modern". The rest of the issue looks suspiciously as if it fell out of a time warp from the 1970s.

Still, everything has to start somewhere, and this was where OWARI started some 15 years ago.


Xenorama said...

I liked it. I don't care what anyone says about artwork or whatever, usually they are not publishing their own magazines. constructive criticism is one thing, even if it's hard to hear, but really.
glad to have another Owari being published!

Travis said...

I always thought King Seesar was pretty cool. I wish he'd gotten more of a chance in the movies, because there was some real potential there.

Kabuki Katze said...

This, for me is neat, because I totally missed out on 'zine culture such as it was.

Also, what on earth would "Rangers on Vacation" given anyone to fuss about?

Kazekage said...

Oh Jesus. Elam, I am so paying your ass back for this on the Prattle. *L* It'll be up tonight.

Seriously, though. This takes me back. This was indeed my first piece of fiction ever widely made available--even with OWARI's selective readership more people read this than my high school comics (possibly because there was more than one copy to be read)

And yes, there were unkind words pointed in my direction, words that led to me canceling my subscription to a certain magazine that shall not be named. Yeah.

I still have my Serpentera toy. I am neither proud nor ashamed of this. It just is.

Man, and I was just thinking about my grey hairs today and here this comes. While this was a good first effort and I enjoyed the fact that we were totally doing this, it's really issue #2 that feels like the "first" OWARI issue to me, possibly because things start going in a direction in which only the people involved could take them.

C. Elam said...

@Xenorama : I appreciate it! Considering you are one of the few that got to see the evolution from beginning to end, that's saying a lot.

I think people's standards of what made a "proper" fanzine became very set in the community where we traveled back then, and it was a hard thing to get past. Oh well, it gave us all reason to get better!

Yeah! Now we need to crack the whip on those other slackers! :)

C. Elam said...

@Travis : You know, I did too, and learning about the basis for the character back then really gave me the impetus to write that article. It seemed like something that got people's attention, which is always a good thing!

King Seesar could have been used in a modern, Majin-type context, but I suspect the environment for such a thing was all wrong in the 1970s.

C. Elam said...

@Kabuki : Well, I imagine they are still out there to this day, but yes, the 'zine culture took a huge hit when the Internet took off in the 1990s. I know for me personally, the only incentive to do one soon became the idea of having something tangible. That increasingly wasn't enough.

The best explanation I can offer you about that is that sometimes we live in a joyless world.

C. Elam said...

@Kazekage : Hahaha! Well sir, it's not as if I haven't been threatening to do such a retrospective for years. But, if this led to THAT post, then I'm even happier. I think I need some time to fully absorb the greatness it entails.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don't think I'd have ever gotten around to doing a fanzine without all the stuff you let me print of yours. So I was happy to give you the place to make your "not ready for prime time" debut.

Y'know, David and I were discussing that very thing the other night, and we agreed that it was pretty much unnecessary. It did seem to miss out on the fact that it was A CHEAPO PHOTOCOPIED FANZINE, and not a professionally produced package. But hey, as someone who finally let that same subscription lapse a couple of years ago, I can say you didn't miss a whole lot during the intervening time.

I would expect no less, to be honest. :)

One of the odd sensations for me in reviewing the first issue is how much we consider part of the "identity" of OWARI is absent from it. Though it still had its own problems, those start to form more fully in #2. And not to worry - I fully intend to review every fanzine I ever published sooner or later.

It will be an educational journey, I am sure.