Indie Press in the Pre-Internet Age: Dan Read’s Tribute to Two Fallen Stalwarts, Janet Fox and Marcelo “Buddy” Martinez
I had been meaning to talk a little bit about Janet Fox, who died this year and who used to run a market report that also served as a kind of indie press crossroads/clearinghouse back before the Internet took hold. Fox was a great person, a good writer, and did a lot for the community back then. I wrote more than one article for her, and she was always very supportive of new writers. Also passing on this year was Marcelo Martinez, who I knew less well but who was linked to Fox in that they were both prominent in the horror/dark fantasy/fantasy scene at around the same time.
Our friend Dan Read, who doesn’t blog, has written a tribute to the two of them that I’m happy to post here. I think Dan also makes an important point about having lost part of our history in this internet age–and how important it is to reclaim it. This post is well worth your time–please read. I would also add I couldn’t find a photo of Janet on the internet or a large image of a Scavenger’s cover. If you have either, perhaps you’ll post a link. – JeffV
Janet Fox and Marcelo Martinez: A Tribute by Dan Read
The following is intended as a tribute to two people who died in late 2009, Janet Fox and Marcelo “Buddy” Martinez, on October 21, 2009 and November 30, 2009, respectively. Their pairing in a single tribute may seem odd, as I have no idea whether they knew each other personally. For my part, it is a coincidence of the close proximity of their passings, the fact that I encountered their respective work in the same scene at around the same time, and the fact that I first learned of Buddy Martinez’s passing in this blog post by Brian Keene, which relates the news of both Janet and Buddy’s death in the same post—and which inspired my own joint tribute. I hope no one minds.
Thanks to Jeff VanderMeer for providing a home for this small tribute to two people whose time on this earth I can only offer a small slice of what is due, I am sure. Please add comments to correct or expand on my perspective, which is limited by not having known either Buddy or Janet personally, and to add remembrances of your own.
I was sad to hear news late this year about both Buddy and Janet. Both had a formative influence on me in the sense that they were already doing things that I wanted to be doing. They shared, it seems to me, a certain DIY aesthetic, which corresponds to their memberships in the small press world during the post-zine, pre-internet days of the desktop publishing age (let’s call it ’84 to ’94). As publishers, curators, and artists, they showed others, including me, what was possible. They created or illuminated avenues that brought writers, artists, publishers, and readers together, in the process demonstrating that top-down “mainstream” culture is not all there is.
As the internet age rushed upon us, the important indie press contributions of the late 80’s and early 90’s were obscured in the dust-up. I see many signs of this being corrected. People are rediscovering the contributions of small press magazines like Deathrealm, Cemetery Dance, The Silver Web, Pulphouse and many others, including The Scavenger’s Newsletter, published by Janet Fox, and Iniquities, edited by Buddy Martinez (working also with J.F. Gonzalez). I remember Iniquities very well, even though it was very short lived. Iniquities picked up where an earlier small press horror magazine, Midnight Graffiti, left off–showing the world that a small press horror magazine could be “slick” and attract top name authors and artists. Indeed, the first issue of Iniquities featured a beautiful Alan Clark cover (not quite a top name himself yet, though well on his way) and work by Clive Barker, John Shirley, Richard Matheson, David J. Schow, and Edward Bryant. The second issue had a J.K. Potter cover and work by Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale, Peter Straub, William F. Nolan, and Charles Beaumont. The third and final issue had another Alan Clark cover and work by Skipp & Spector, Ray Bradbury, Ellen Datlow, Steve Rasnic Tem, Wayne Allen Sallee, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman.
I was of a certain age at the time when Iniquities was published–a college age male who enjoyed the shock of gore movies, punk rock and heavy metal music, underground comics, and yes, splatterpunk. I don’t remember specifically whether Iniquities explicitly tried to link itself to the splatterpunk label (some people at the time embraced it, others ran from it), but I certainly remember the magazine as part of my experience of that movement. Why should we care? Because it’s easy to forget what it was like in the 80’s. There was ill shit coming from both the right and the left: the cloying, smothering blanket of Reaganism; the rise of political correctness (which did, admittedly, have some positive effects); omnipresent fear mongering about the evils rock and roll music and Dungeons and Dragons; the loud, self righteous bloviation and legislative muscle of Al and Tipper Gore and the PMRC. And of course, we all lived under a palpable sense of dread about the possibility of nuclear war with the USSR, chemical warfare, acid rain, and various nearby Communist threats.
Splatterpunk, you may recall, was supposedly the antagonist to so-called “quiet horror,” which preferred to keep the horrific elements hidden under the surface. Most people point to the influence of cinema as the primary reason for this divide, but I think there was an important political element to it as well—the splatterpunks rejected the “quiet horror” idea of keeping things under the surface, unseen, only suggested and said instead, “No, we’re going to put this shit right out here on the table and look at it.” It may be easy to dismiss splatterpunk and horror publications like Iniquities—along with similar movements that had their roots in that time like death metal and indie/alt/post-punk music—as silly or inconsequential entertainments (even if Skipp & Spector books were selling in the millions), but these were antidotes to real and powerful poisons in our culture. I’m thankful for these antidotes, these inconsequential entertainments. I think, in fact, that their impact continues to be felt.
(It may be telling that splatterpunk’s child, the wonderful Bizarro genre, had its formative rise in the time of neo-Reaganite President G.W. Bush and seems to be coming into its own now—at the same time that other important 80’s memes like post-apocalyptic stories and zombies are once again in full bloom.)
Janet Fox’s Scavenger’s Newsletter was an important publication in the small press world of those days for different reasons, though probably few today realize how much so. It catered to a key nexus of concerns from the desktop publishing age: first, in the pre-internet days it was hard to get the word out about your publication and also hard to find out about new publications (the incomparable Fact Sheet Five filled this role in the more “mainstream” zine world); second, as it has been since the days of the pulps, the many people who write or aspire to write genre fiction make up an important core audience for the publishing of genre writing and art—particularly short stories and poems. Partly this is a genre-related phenomenon, but I also think it was an important, little recognized precursor to the world wide web. People were searching for like-minded souls and subcultural currents they could connect with and found them in movements like political zines or death metal tape trading or small press sf, horror, and fantasy publications and fandom.
What was cool and exciting about the zine/small press world was the idea that you could do this too—it took more than just a snap of your fingers, sure, but with some effort, some networking, and an aesthetic vision (the most important ingredient) you too could be publishing a zine, or having a poem, short story, or illustration published in one. The web has this power as well, of course, but by now the possibilities for self-actualization and self-expression through web publishing are so pervasive as to be taken for granted. Small press publishing was like many other people-powered movements like sf fandom going back to the 1930’s, 1960’s rock music, 1970’s microcomputer hobbyists, 1980’s BBS hobbyists, 1980’s punk rock and underground music—the list goes on. The common theme is that we don’t need to wait for the blessing of the mainstream, the ivory tower, the large corporations and exclusive distribution channels. We can do it ourselves, make our own scene, do things that are supposed to be forbidden or impossible. Anyone can be a rock star, anyone can have their own microcomputer, anyone can publish a zine or a BBS, anyone can have a web site, everyone’s a publisher, everyone’s a curator.
Pardon my going on a bit, but I wanted to underline the importance of Scavenger’s Newsletter to this small press world of the desktop publishing age, one of the worlds that helped give birth to the amazing internet-powered cultural age in which we are now submerged. Janet Fox deserves props for her role in it. I read my issues of Scavenger’s Newsletter cover-to-cover every month in the years between 1987 and 1992 or so, studying the listings of markets and publications, and enjoying Janet’s commentary and choices of poems, short-shorts, and illustrations. It was so DIY I just loved it. What’s great about a DIY zine is the less polished materials afford a lower resistance to the transmittal of the human qualities and passions of the creator. Like the best zines, every issue of Scavenger’s felt personal and intimate and exciting, a real human connection.
I’m not sure if this is a good thing, but I burdened many an editor’s slush pile after finding out about a publication in Scavenger’s. But you know what, I almost always bought a sample issue first, or subscribed, which I seem to remember was part of Janet’s standard advice. I always felt like each purchase, each letter to the editor, each submission, even each rejection letter was a personal human connection. I felt I was supporting a scene that couldn’t exist without me.
I knew neither Buddy Martinez nor Janet Fox personally, but I was impacted and enriched by the respective stamps they put on the world. I’ve only commented on a part of their contributions, I know. Buddy Martinez went on to be involved in various projects, including involvement with Gauntlet Press and working with Clive Barker, and Janet published Scavenger’s Newsletter up until 2003. I’m also sad to say I was not more familiar with Janet’s fiction, or I would have commented on that part of her life and work. I know I read some of her stories, but it’s been 20 years and I don’t feel I can do a good job commenting on it. I plan to seek out some of Janet’s fiction, starting on my own shelf, where I’m sure I must have a few of her stories in an anthology or magazine. Check out Janet’s Wikipedia page or ISFDB or Locus for a listing. (Some issues of Scavenger’s are still available here, apparently.)
Thanks again, for reading, and for adding your own thoughts and remembrances to the comment thread.