The Story of The Cage, the Se-Kwester*Con Too Conzine... or... How Not to Publish a Fanzine

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Title: The Story of The Cage, the Se-Kwester*Con Too Conzine... or... How Not to Publish a Fanzine
Creator: M.J. Fisher
Date(s): July 1977
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
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The Story of The Cage, the Se-Kwester*Con Too Conzine... or... How Not to Publish a Fanzine is a 1977 Star Trek: TOS essay by M.J. Fisher.

It was printed in Spectrum #33.

Some Topics Discussed

  • the trials and tribulations of physically creating a zine at SeKWester*Con; this zine was The Cage
  • chaos and mayhem
  • community spirit
  • fans are late risers and do their best work at cons in the early morning hours
  • the author is not a fan of Kraith and the fan-created activity Kraith Affirmation Ceremonies

From the Essay

Last year the first of the real fancons was held in Kalazazoo, Michigan. Many people now consider that the SeKMester*Con's are just the beginning of an entire new wave of ST cons... cons that are designed to be everything that the large giganticons have not turned out to be, namely, personal, and quiet. The first SeKWester*Con didn't get all that much publicity, which was intentional however. It was never intended to take in more than about 175-200 fans. The success of that first real relaxicon is almost legendary now. Reports of the con were written up in several of the more popular fanzines and it was hardly surprising that when it was announced that there would be a second SeKWester*Con, more than just a few people rushed to get their memberships sent in.

I was rather lazy, I must admit, and waited almost a month after hearing about the con be fore I sent in my $$. Even so, I managed to be #17 out of 200.
Since I thought it might be fun to be involved in a project or two at the con I came up with an idea of doing a publication for the convention, and sent it in to Sharon. Cons in the past have prepared special zines, or picture books, souvenir books, and the likes, tor their attendees, but the idea I had for a zine was different. I was interested in doing a fanzine at the con. That is, enlisting the help of the attendees to actually type up stencils, draw artwork, print the zine and collate it.
I later got a postcard from Sharon saying something to the effect of: Great! Love the idea! Which translated means: You volunteered, so you're stuck with the job, turkey! I can't remember when I sent the cost summary, but it worked out to around $30 for a zine of 20 pages and a print run of perhaps 225. Sharon was kind enough to provide me with a $30 advance to get the supplies that I needed. For awhile there, before the con, it almost seemed as though I had everything accounted for. Indeed, from the sheer volume of stuff that I stuffed into my car to take to the con, it would seem almost impossible that I could have forgotten anything. There was literally room for no one else but myself by the time I had finished packing the paper, mimeograph, typewriter, and other miscellaneous printing supplies such as stencils and corflu. I had even been informed before the con that Pegasus Press would be coming up with their mimeo to help print the zine. That certainly did help matters a great deal. Part of the success of the zine (to whatever small degree) was in the fact that we had been able to plan for a few problems ahead of time. The one area in which the conzine was most effectively managed was in the machinery we had brought along to produce it. Between Kzinti, boo-jums and Pegasus Press we had 2 mimeos, 2 selectric typewriters, and a light board for doing artwork and proofing. We estimated that there must have been at least $2,500 of machinery involved in the production of the zine. Machinery wasn't our problem...we didn't even have any breakdowns. It was manpower that was our problem, or, more specifically, trained personnel.
Before the con Sharon and Paula had solicited stories to be included into the zine and all we had to do was type them. By 1:00 in the afternoon that Saturday, work had begun on The Cage. (Blare of trumpets, tolling of great bells.) To my continued amazement I finally got to meet Jan Rigby and Melissa Bayard of Pegasus Press, and more and more people dropped by to help out. I realized that Saturday would not be our big worry. Sunday was the day we had to worry about since it meant that we had to get the zine done before people began to leave early. By the time Saturday nite had come to a close we had 2/3 of the stories typed and ready to print. We closed up shop on an optimistic note and I retired early so that I could get some sleep after having been up 41 hours straight.
Sunday was indeed a day to reckon with. All of the hard work lay ahead of us. For those people who have never produced a zine, it may seem unusual to think that most of the work isn't just typing. In most cases, typing is just half of the work that goes into the production of a zine. The rest of the time is spent proofing, editing, page-numbering, adding artwork and re-working futzed-up pages...and, of course, printing.
By the middle of Sunday afternoon, chaos reigned. In one part of the con suite we had a group of 4 or 5 people proofing stencils, and drawing artwork on them, and in another spot we were trying to figure out how to put all of the typed stories together in a way that would read well, and on one of the typewriters we were making corrections and Leslie Fish was slaving away at yet another typewriter trying to type out the manuscript for a story she had brought to the con in rough draft. On top of this people were floating in asking if they could help, asking if we had seen so-and-so, calling long distance from various places around the country, and leaving the door open continually so that it was consistently hot and insect infested. Just a normal Sunday afternoon at a con.
By late afternoon we had finished most of the numbering of the pages. Somehow it had turned out that we had more pages typed than I had brought paper for. Swell. Do you have any idea of the feeling of desperation you can get from trying to imagine where you can buy paper from at 5 p.m. on a Sunday over a Memorial Day weekend in Kalamazoo, Michigan?
By 9:00 Sunday night we realized that we had missed our hoped-for deadline. Many of the people from the con had already left and we had only begun to run off the stencils. People were now drifting in and out like leaves in the autumn breezes. A few of them stayed around long enough to see what was going on or ask "Is the zine done," or "Can we collate now?" Never have I seen so many people willing to collate in all my life as I have seen at that con. I am of a mind to bring along all of my fanzines to conventions in the future if I can but incite that spirit once again. Part of the reason that we had so many eager would-be collators hanging around was because there wasn't anything else going on. The art auction Sunday had lasted an interminable length of time and the Kraith affirmation held later on was a definite turn-off for some people. Others had left just to find something more interesting and wound up at the con suite.
Our biggest goof in producing the zine was, first off, our surprise at finding that most of the artwork done on the stencils had not been drawn hard enough, thus making it come out light and spotty. A second problem came when we got the page numbering goofed up. Page 1 and page 2 were printed on separate sheets of paper, when instead, they should have been printed back to back. The same thing happened to page 39 and 40. Then page 32 simply gave up the ghost and fell apart on the machine, which of course meant it had to be retyped. Sigh. At that point any one of us would have given our right arms for the address of an all-night offset printer.
I think that it was about 1:00 in the morning before we ever began to collate. We had sent messengers to some of the rooms that still maintained life, and within minutes the room was filled to overflowing with collators. Within the hour the first copy of the zine finally appeared...a little later than we had originally expected, but we had done it!

The hardest part wasn't even over still since we had to try to give copies of the zine to each person present and cross their name off of the list of the people in attendance. This also meant accounting for copies that were taken for friends. It took at least 45 minutes just to do that, since once we announced that the zine was printed and ready to hand out, the fans that were still around seemed to crawl out of the woodwork. When it seemed that everyone up had gotten their copies we closed the doors to the con suite at around 5 ayem after several hours of late rapping with the people who had hung around especially late.

Monday morning the few of us left around had the ceremonial stencil burning....After some searching our motley crew managed to find a garbage can lid to burn the stencils in. Interestingly enough, stencils burn with a ferocity that is surpassed only by that of napalm. Paula suggested that it might be a omen or something to do with the contents of the zine. I have no reason to doubt it. Just think though...all of the stencils I have stored in drawers and boxes. One spark...and it could all go up. Spontaneous fafiation.

As an after thought it has been suggested that there are probably offset zineds would would have given anything for a film or videotape of the chaos that we experienced for the final six hours of that Sunday night...even a half hour's worth would have been enough to convince any would-be fan publisher that mimeo zines are just not worth the trouble. I totally agree. Yet consider that the conditions were at best tolerable, and that many of the people working on the zine had never worked on mimeo before.

The total bill for the zine was $42.02, not including covers. We wound up with about 255 copies, each with 44 pages. Yes, we made mistakes, quite a few that I hesitate to even admit, but it was still fun, and something that would be difficult to do with offset. I'm sure that if we ever do it again, we can manage to run things much more smoothly and with fewer hassles.