Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Signe Danler
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Signe Danler|
|Date(s):||August 11, 2017|
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Interview length: .
The Media Fandom Oral History Project is supported by the Organization for Transformative Works, the organizers of Escapade conventions, and the University of Iowa Libraries. For more information about the origins of this interview, where it is housed, contact information, suggestions regarding future interviewee candidates, and how to become volunteer interviewer or transcriber, see the Media Fandom Oral History Project page.
Some Topics Discussed
- while in high school, she contacted Ruth Berman by mail to ask about Star Trek fandom and fanzines
- considered herself an illustrator, rather than an artist
- fandom and profit
- thoughts on the zine The Holmesian Federation and its wank
- fandom as fun and accepting and as a sense of community
...way back in the sixties, or maybe early seventies, I was a Star Trek fan from when the first show came on. Yeah, I was ten or so, and I think it was ’69 or so, shortly after the show went off the air, I read an article in the newspaper. Of course, this was long, long before the Web and everything. You read things in the newspaper, and you wrote letters, and you made phone calls, and that was about it. So, I read an article in the newspaper about something called a “Star Trek fandom,” and that there were these things called fanzines. I knew nothing about any of this, and I’m pretty sure that the one they mentioned was Ruth Berman’s T-Negative. She was one of the really early fanzine producers. So, I wrote to her, all excited, you know. “What is this? Let me in on this!” and basically, through her and through all of the other connections, I made, that was how I branched out and gradually became very involved in other fandoms....It may have been as late as ’71 or something when I was already in high school. I wasn’t that young when I got into fandom. I was in high school anyway, and I hooked fairly quickly with other local fans who were a few years older than me. Like, they were in college when I was in high school. That got me rides to things before I could drive. [laughs] But no, there was never an issue with me being too young. You just contributed. You wrote things. You drew things. That’s what I did a lot of.
I definitely went to conventions, many of them. The first one was probably, I believe, it was called Equicon, down in LA, and that was a Star Trek convention specifically, despite being—I’m not sure why that name. It doesn’t sound very Trekkie, does it? But I’m pretty sure it was called Equicon. This was so many years ago. I haven’t thought about most of this stuff in literally decades. But, um, I’m pretty sure that was the first one I went to, unless there was something local up in the San Jose area, that I went to before that, and we regularly made the drive down to LA, and we went to the World Science Fiction Convention. By “we,” I mean my immediate group of fannish friends there. We went to WorldCon in Phoenix one year, and I traveled across the country periodically to go to various Star Trek conventions, often in conjunction with visits to my grandmother and father who lived in the Chicago area, so I would stay with them and go onto a convention from there or something. ... I was in high school and then in college during then, and I didn’t have a lot of money to go flying around the country. Grandmother was paying for me to get to Chicago so that I could go to a WorldCon in Chicago one year. I can’t remember the names of half of the conventions, but there was one in Kalamazoo, I think? You had that whole nest of fans in Kalamazoo—Lori Chapek-Carlton and Gordon Carlton and other folks like that in that area. There was a convention running there. There was one in Philadelphia , I think, one time. I can’t remember the names of the conventions now. It’s just too long ago, but there were Star Trek conventions and crossover conventions and science fiction conventions that also had Star Trek in them, you know, all sorts of stuff going on all over the country then. And they were all fan-run then. We hadn’t gotten to the state yet where the conventions were these big, commercial things that were just about making money, which a lot of them seem to be now, which is why I don’t go anymore. They were all fan run.
I don’t do art anymore, but when I did the Star Trek and fannish art, I sold many of the originals. Most of the conventions had an art show, just as many of them do now, and so you take originals, or you might do prints or something, and you would sell work at those art shows if you were an artist, so I did a lot of that. A lot of my originals went that way. Some, I made into prints and hand water-colored them, and then sold the prints. Umm, most of my black and white work at least, pen-and-ink work, I did keep some sort of copy of, though in a lot of cases, it was in the form of a PMT, which is an old photographic process for recording black and white images, and those have not worn well over the years. If I go back and find them, they’re all sort of discolored from chemicals and things like that. So, I have copies of a lot of stuff but not all of it by any means.
I had always drawn, you know, from when I was little, and when I suddenly had these things that I wanted to draw, you know, pictures of Spock and stuff, you know, I went wild, and I got a lot of my artistic experience just from fandom, literally. Literally doing the work I did in fandom, both in drawing and writing and publishing fanzines and things like that, that contributed to my many years of career as an illustrator and a graphic designer. That was what got me my first part job as a technical illustrator.
When I was in fandom, it was always Spock. I mean, I was a big Spock fan. So, I mean, not everything I drew featured Spock, but you know, he was probably my favorite subject. And I liked to do—I liked to do fairly ornate, pattern-based drawings frequently, not just like portraits, so I would do these costume fantasies. Like, if you look at Connie Faddis’ magazine, which the name of it is escaping me, but I did several covers for her, and they were these very elaborate, full-color or screen-printed costume fantasies, very highly detailed, very ornate, pattern-based drawings and stuff where the characters were a minimal part of it. It was the whole design.
...when you are illustrating something, you try to pick the media that will best represent what you’re illustrating, the mood of the story and things like that, so sometimes I would work in scratchboard, which was white on black, which gives a very different effect, a very dark effect, and for some—it was hard to print. It was hard to print, especially back in those early offset printing days, but if you could print it, it could give a very moody sort of effect to something. Yes, I experimented. I mean, again, I did some water colors and things like that. Some of my experimentation, I guess, again coming back to those color covers and those costume fantasies, there wasn’t any budget for full-color printing. That would have been super expensive for a fanzine to have at that time, but you could do two or three colors, with the colors being discrete, you know, like screen printing. So literally, the way I did those drawings was there was an underlying pen-and-ink drawing, but then I was cutting, hand-cutting, with a material called Rubylith, the overlays for each color, you know, and deciding this part’s gonna be blue, this part’s gonna be yellow or whatever, and there would just be a very limited palette of colors, but each one would have an overlay that I hand cut. So, it was very, very labor intensive. Oh, this would be done on a computer now very, very easily. You’d probably just do full color anyway because it’s much easier now. But back then, all of our productions of the magazine were just, I mean, it was a totally different world, much more hands on.
[I mostly used] photo references, occasionally live people as models. Obviously, for the actors, Spock and Kirk and all of that, I would use photos and I built up a very extensive library of, oh, I would guess, stills of conventions. I got a whole bunch of—there was a lot of leftover film from filming Star Trek and people like Jim Rondeau, who—he and Melody are still active down in the San Jose area—they sell all sorts of stuff at conventions; he would get ahold of film clips, basically, and you know, put them into a slide frame so you could use them through a slide viewer, so that was a very, very rich resource. You know, these were outtakes or just bits of extra copies and stuff. That was a very rich resource for images of the actors, you know, in Star Trek, and I would set up a camera in front of the TV and take pictures, too. They weren’t of good quality, but that’s one of the ways that you could get a picture at that time, you know. So, yeah, for getting likenesses of the actors, those were my main resources, and I had loads and loads of that sort of stuff. Then if I needed a body model or something, I’d ask a friend, or I’d look at myself in the mirror. I’d look at one of my good books on drawing the human figure or whatever.
there were so many good authors back then. I mean, just a few that come to mind were Eileen Roy, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Connie Faddis, and I’m sure many others, you know. There were a lot of really good writers, you know, doing some very creative work back then, and those are just a few names that come to mind that I know I illustrated more than once, and really enjoyed reading. Melanie (R.). Both she and Jacqueline both went on to become professional science fiction authors. And I’m sure many others did, too.
I have no idea [if Jacqueline Lichtenberg knew about our parody of Kraith called Kraith: Spock’s Anthropods ]. I certainly hope so! I mean, you know – Again, she was writing for fandom. She wasn’t a professional, published author getting paid big bucks or money or anything. She was writing in fandom. She was a fellow fan, and no one took themselves too seriously, or hardly anyone did. A lot of the fun we had was parodying Star Trek, parodying Star Wars, parodying that got too big in fandom and Kraith was certainly a big thing there. Writing filk songs, which were horrible parodies, oh my God. And a lot of them were filthy, too. [laughs] I find it hard to imagine now, maybe times are different now, but I find it hard to imagine that she wouldn’t have known about it, and she wouldn’t have been offended if she did. I think she would have laughed her head off because it was very, very funny. I’ve done a lot of them. I mean, these weren’t written because we didn’t like something; they were written because we loved it, and we were poking fun at it in the most loving, possible way, you know.
We were pretty geeky back then. You know, being a science fiction fan, being a Star Trek fan, that was—you know, you were a real geek, and it was not something you went and bragged about. That’s why, that’s one reason we stuck with our fannish friends. They were the people who understood, you know? No one else understood or cared, and you know, and this wasn’t mainstream at all.I don’t know that there would have been anyone to keep [my fannish life] secret from. I mean, I wasn’t married; I was living on my own with a fellow fan for a lot of that time. We were roommates, and then later on, when I was married, I mean, it is certainly not something I kept secret from my husband. I don’t think so. Now, certain types of art work that I did, I wouldn’t have used in my professional portfolio, but other types I did. You know, some of the more general stuff I did that wasn’t slash stuff or something like that. I did a certain amount of those illustrations. I did use fannish illustrations in my portfolio because some of my best work was there, you know, and there was nothing wrong with that. People may have looked at it a little weird, but they could see that my technique was good so I’d get the job!
I don’t remember being specifically impacted by [George Lucas' restrictions on fans and The Star Wars Letters]. I do recall, you know, certainly, things like that coming up. I mean, there was—in the early days, there was a huge amount of innocence, you know. I mean, we were doing all of this out of love and obviously Roddenberry tolerated it, and honestly, it brought Star Trek back and, you know, kept it going for so long, and I think he certainly appreciated that, and the people who worked with him. And now as time has gone on, a lot of the creators, the primary creators of these various [unclear word] have gotten more and more restrictive about allowing fans to do things with it, and—but I don’t recall really being impacted by that at that time.
Now, I just don’t really have much memory of it, except there was one very unpleasant incident with my own fanzine, The Holmesian Federation, very much a crossover fanzine, primarily Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but it was a lot of other stuff, and I got into a brouhaha with an author there, and again, I had operated out of naïveté and innocence and stupidity and did something that I shouldn’t have done and published something that I shouldn’t have published, and learned my lesson on that, but that was kind of a different issue. That was an author’s work. [I was absolutely] appalled and surprised, but—well, I stopped publishing the fanzine. I wasn’t going to risk getting into any more problems after that happened. Again, that was one specific issue that had nothing to do with Star Wars or anything like that, but wasn’t the only one. I’m sure other people—again, after operating from this level of innocence and love, suddenly ran into some legal issue that they couldn’t cope with, and I’m sure others were hurt or driven out of fandom. I’m sure it’s happened many times.[That incident] was a large precipitating reason [I stopped creating The Holmesian Federation]. I was also running out of stuff the do with it, and I was starting to move on with my life at that point, you know, being less involved in fandom, and that was just like the last straw for that magazine. I just didn’t have the mental energy to keep up with it at that point, after that had happened. It just knocked the wind out of my sails. Even though I loved it, and a lot of other people did too, and it was a lot of fun. Again, the amount of work that went into something like this was huge back then. I was just barely getting to that point where at least the basic layout could be done on a computer. The early ones hadn’t been done that way, but it was still a huge amount of work and yeah, it was just like the last straw for it.
I really started [publishing and editing fanzines] when I was working with Amy Falkowitz who was one of my closest friends in fandom. We decided to do The Other Side of Paradise, and we worked together on it. I was good at proofreading and editing. She was a writer, and we were both artists. I occasionally wrote stuff, but I wasn’t primarily a writer. I mean, it was just kind of what you did! [laughs] I mean, not that everyone did it, but if you had any inclination in that direction at all, you published a fanzine, and that one was very popular. We published some very good work, and then I went on and started The Holmesian Federation on my own just because that was my own particular little niche, that I really Sherlock Holmes, and I also really loved Star Trek and having a crossover of Spock and Sherlock was just too tempting to not do something, and it just kept going for a lot longer than I ever expected it would have.
the very first thing we published was done on a mimeograph, you know, if you even know what that is. That predated offset presses, and I won’t even get into the details of mimeograph, but it was horrible. [laughs] But that’s what we did. Those were the tools that we had available. I had a mimeograph in my kitchen, and I published things on it. Those were the tools that you could get hold of.
[ I was somewhat interested in slash] Always with some reservations, though.Slash wasn’t my main focus, I guess I would say, but it as hard to avoid, and I wasn’t so prudish that I was going to try to avoid it completely. I did some very beautiful work, in my own opinion, based on that. That went very well at conventions when I sold it because it was definitely a popular genre. So, umm, I didn’t avoid it, but I didn’t—I wouldn’t say I seeked it out—sought it out? Sought it out particularly. I wasn’t into really explicit, X-rated art work. You know, I tried to keep it something hidden, you know. [laughs] I wasn’t interested in doing any—I don’t believe I did any art work depicting actual sex or anything like that. That wasn’t a place I cared to go to. It was all more romantic, you know. Whatever the sexes of the people involved, it was more romantic stuff.
[snipped]Again, if you don’t like [slash fanworks], don’t buy it. Don’t look at it. Don’t buy the fanzines that do that stuff, and that’s the same for me. Going into hard porn was not something I wanted to do, but there were definitely people who wanted that, and that’s fine. There were people doing art in that area, too, and that’s fine. That was their choice, you know, but for me to try to censor them and say, “No! No! I don’t want to see Spock doing that!” or whatever, that’s not my business.
My opinion on [fan artists making a lot of money from fanart] from this vantage would be a very resounding “Bullshit!” You know, if people, if it’s at auction and people want to pay money for it, that’s their business. That is not making a commercial killing with someone else’s work or anything. That’s putting it up for auction and the market says what it’s worth. I mean, I don’t see any reason to argue with that. As long as it’s legal. Now, if you’re infringing on copyright, that’s another matter, and again, I know a lot of things have gotten more restrictive, and nowadays, a lot of what was sold back then maybe couldn’t be sold right now. I haven’t kept up with it, and when you’re getting into writing, you could get into a lot more difficult areas using other people’s characters, but I mean there’s always been fan art, so what are you supposed to do with it? You do fan art, and then the people who sell the fanzines weren’t making a killing either; they were trying to cover their expenses, and maybe there was a little profit involved, but not much. But then, is it supposed to just disappear? I mean, is that just---I don’t see any logic to the arguments there. Selling art at conventions has always been a big thing, and it’s always—in science fiction conventions before Star Trek and still, in conventions now, the bulk of the art, or certainly a lot of it has certainly been renditions of people’s favorite characters. Cosplay is just another version of that. They’re doing their favorite characters! And maybe someone takes a picture of someone in cosplay, and then they sell that picture for money or something. Well, fine! [laughs] You know, people are doing it because they love these characters....I certainly never had any problems with [people hassling me about my art and profit]. No one ever, that I can recall. I suppose that I might have blocked something out, but I can never recall anyone reprimanding me for selling a piece of art or anything.
The editorial standards were low [then], so, most anyone could write. I mean, they still are. I mean, I looked at some fan fiction online about Doctor Who recently, and ooh boy. The editorial standards are lower, way lower, than they were way back then. At least, the fully published fanzines had editorial standards. It was just “anything got published anywhere.” But it’s still all for fun, so who cares?
I was definitely a fan of the Darkover books. I’m not sure exactly what Darkover fandom did. Actually, I still have it. One of the few costumes I still have was actually a Darkover-based costume. It’s one of the few that still fits me. I can wear parts of it to Renaissance Faires which I occasionally still go to. So, yeah, I was definitely a fan of the books, but I can’t say that I was really involved in anything you could call Darkover fandom other than just enjoying the books. I don’t think I ever wrote anything or published anything in that genre. Besides, that was, I think—Was anything being published? I mean, Marion was very actively writing those books, and I wouldn’t think that it would have been appropriate to do a bunch of fanzines on that whole—you know, she was a professional, and that would have been skating into copyright infringement pretty quickly there. I know we met a couple of times, but no, yeah, we were not friends and I didn’t know her personally or anything. Let’s put it this way: I knew her, but she wouldn’t have known me. [laughs] At least I don’t think so.
[I was into costuming] long before it was called cosplay. So, yeah. I liked to design and make costumes, very much so, and I had—I was tall and very slim so I made a good costume model, and one of the things Equicon, which is that very early Star Trek convention was they not only had the masquerade which is pretty traditional for conventions, but they had a fashion show, and this was really a rather unique thing that I’m not sure any other convention has done where people would design costumes, and then, someone else who had sewing skills and modeling skills would make and model those costumes, so it was literally a fashion show of futuristic fashion, or science fictional fashion, and so I was one of the people who regularly did that. I would make sometimes someone else’s design and model it because I had a good model’s body, and they would have professional makeup artists—this was in LA, so they could get them. They would have professional makeup artists and hair stylists and put us through a makeup and hair styling thing, and suddenly you’re a Vulcan! Or whatever. It was great fun. It was quite a different variation from the masquerades.
[The thing in fandom I'm most] proud of? Aw geez. I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess The Holmesian Federation. That was the longest-term thing that I did that brought together two rather disparate fandoms and seemed to strike a lot of people in a good way. You know, a lot of people really enjoyed it, and I also was able to publish some people who really wouldn’t have had a place to be published because what they were writing didn’t fit in, in other places, which was one reason I was doing it. So, probably that.
[Fannish regrets?] I wouldn’t have published that story that got me in trouble once in The Holmesian Federation, but uhhh, I have no idea. I’m sure there are things, if I could even remember them, I would say, “Oh well that was a stupid thing to do,” but whatever. It was such a long time ago.Fandom was a huge and essential part of my life for a number of years. You know, I was a—by the time I was in high school, I was very introverted. I had very few friends. I read a lot, a lot of science fiction, and there was no, you know, online community. I mean, you were isolated. If there weren’t people around you, who thought like you—and there weren’t—there weren’t people. I communicated with other people when I got into fandom. Then there were letters and phone calls and people that I could get together with in person who thought like I did. So, fandom was my community. Fandom was the community that taught me how to be social. You know, how to participate in things with other people. Where I became an artist. Where I became a publisher. Where I became confident. I could play my violin in public, as opposed—I could play my violin in youth symphony, but when I got too old for that, there was no place that I could play, so I could play my violin. You know, there were all sorts of things. It was my social group for many, many years, and it contributed a lot to who I am today. I am not an active fan anymore, but I don’t regret because it’s a huge part of who I am, and I don’t think I would be nearly as good a person if I hadn’t found fandom! You know, when I did
There wasn’t a big precipitating event or anything [that caused me to to leave fandom]. Fandom moved on in one direction, and I moved on in another direction. I tried to stick my toe back in. When my son got to be the age two years ago when I thought he might enjoy a science fiction convention, I took him up to Northwest Con up in the Seattle area a few years ago. Big mistake. It didn’t work for him. I didn’t know many people there, and that made me realize that most of why I went to conventions was to be with my friends, you know. I would go to the conventions with my friends, to meet other friends that I only saw at conventions, and it was just this big love fest, you know. We got to sit around and talk all the time about the things we love. To go to a convention where I didn’t know anyone, there was nothing for me there. I mean, the panels weren’t that interesting, so I have not been back to a convention and probably will never go again.
[My advice to fans today is] don’t be embarrassed about whatever you’re passionate about. Just go for it, you know. It’s fun. And don’t get in feuds with each other! So I do have advice for people. Don’t get in feuds with each other!! Hell, because the internet just—people start piling on each other and calling each other names and flaming each other and everything, and it just sucks, you know? Be nice to each other. Be nice to each other. Respect other people’s opinions and be nice to each other. That is what fandom was always about and what it should be about. Accepting differences. And not just accepting them, loving those differences. But really, fandom was—I mean, again, I don’t know so much what it’s like now, but it was a place for people who were really different. You know, people who were sexually different. People who were physically different. You know, really, really overweight or albino or someone who just looked weird or who was in a wheelchair or whatever were people who were not being accepted by society at all. They could go and be fans and be not only accepted but be a big part of fandom and be loved.
- likely a Schuster Star Trek Conventions