Indie Press in the Pre-Internet Age: Dan Read’s Tribute to Two Fallen Stalwarts, Janet Fox and Marcelo “Buddy” Martinez

Jeff VanderMeer • December 30th, 2009 @ 11:46 am • Culture

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.

14 Responses to “Indie Press in the Pre-Internet Age: Dan Read’s Tribute to Two Fallen Stalwarts, Janet Fox and Marcelo “Buddy” Martinez”

  1. Mike Arnzen says:

    What an awesome tribute. These guys were heroes, and I share a lot of your sentiments as a longtime subscriber to Scavs. And your point about the small/underground press being a counter-narrative to cultural censorship are so very true. The small press vibe is very much alive on the net (has been all along, I’d wager), but the medium for the message(s) are decentered here online — though web2.0 is helping form communities not unlike the small press community in its heyday. THANK YOU for putting in words something that really needed to be said and published and thought about. People like Janet and Buddy mattered. — Mike Arnzen

  2. Warren Lapine says:

    Sad news. Janet was wonderful. If not for Scavenger’s I doubt I’d have ever started my own magazine. I subscribed to get the market info. But after reading it for a year, I realized I’d learned everything I needed to know to start a small magazine of my own.

  3. David Silva says:

    This is a fantastic piece. Thanks to both you, Jeff and to Dan. Both Janet and Buddy are an important part of horror’s history and it’s great to have you preserve some of that history here.

    Thank you!

    Dave

  4. Dan Read says:

    Thanks for the kind words in the comments thus far, though my intent was not to focus attention on myself, but on Janet and Buddy. It seemed necessary to paint a more full picture in order to appreciate their mostly unsung contributions in context. I hope others will offer much more detail in this and other forums. For example, I look forward to reading the extended obituary for Janet that is supposed to appear in the January 2010 Locus.

    David, while I’m sure this was the furthest thing from your mind, I realize that in trying to create a shortlist of small press horror publications of the late 80′s, early 90′s, I omitted mention of your incredible publication, The Horror Show. There were so many others, too. Grue comes to mind as another omission from my list.

    Warren, it’s amazing to learn that you feel such a direct connection from Scavenger’s to Realms of Fantasy. This example, among many others I’m sure, is why Janet’s impact will be felt for many years to come.

    Best,
    Dan

  5. Lillian Csernica says:

    Janet Fox’s Scavenger’s Newsletter helped me make my first short story sale. Later, thanks again to Janet’s market info, I sold that same story to Karl Edward Wagner’s Year’s Best Horror series. I owe her a great debt of thanks, for the market info and all the wonderful people I came into contact with thanks to following up her leads. May her memory be eternal.

  6. MarcL says:

    I never met her or dealt with her, but I have never forgotten Janet Fox’s story “Screaming to Get Out.”

  7. J. F. Gonzalez says:

    This is a wonderful tribute. Janet’s influence on Buddy and I was huge (David Silva’s The Horror Show was a huge influence as well). Buddy and I had sporadic contact with Janet during those years, mostly through letters. Janet’s short fiction is worth seeking out; she was an excellent writer. However, I will always remember her for her kindness and the words of advice she had for Buddy and I during the early days of Iniquities.

  8. Edmund Chan says:

    OMG!!

    Well, it looks like no one has posted here for a year, so I will post in memory of an old friend that I have teen trying to locate.

    I’m totally shocked. I’ve been trying to get a hold of Buddy for a few years now! We were very good friends in the 80′s and played together in a band. We stayed friends for years. I got the computers set up and helped show Buddy things he needed to get inequities started. I think in the first issue they mentioned me in there.

    He and his wife Holly used to live in Pasadena, California right by Pasadena City College and for years we would spend every New Years there and party like crazy and walk the Rose Parade route. I met John Skipp, Craig Spector and quite a few other people at Buddy’s house back then.

    The last time Buddy and I hung out, they had moved to Monrovia, California. We lost touch through the years but I have tried several times to locate him.

    I’m not really into horror gore, but I used to read through stacks of Buddy’s stories back then. I recognized the talent that he had.

    His stories were really incredible. He was such a prolific writer that back when we first met, other friends all thought it was rather odd that someone would write so much, but those of us who bothered to read or listen to him read his stories were blown away.

    I haven’t yet seen how he passed, so I will continue to look around, but I want to say, Buddy, you are obviously not forgotten by friends or admirers. You had a great talent and I will always remember the fun times we had and the stories I had the privilege to read.

    Take care Buddy….

    Edmund

  9. J. F. Gonzalez says:

    This is a message for Edmund Chan – Edmund, I remember you. Please get in touch with me at jfgonzalez(at)jfgonzalez.com. I can fill you in on what happened with Buddy.

    JFG

  10. Pam Chillemi-Yeager says:

    I had heard of Janet’s death a few months ago and was flooded with memories. Despite the various fits and tantrums feautured in the monthly letters column, often more riveting than any tabloid, she maintained an aura of class and cool.
    This tribute evoked a wave of nostalgia for a time now gone, the end of youth with its insistence and power and angst.
    Dan’s analysis of the socio-political climate and its impact on the small press and the genre and the pre-internet world are as insightful as any you could read in the corporate driven press. And that seems to be a lot of the point: that there was an ability to break out of and transcend the dominant culture to create a world of our own.
    I loved the observations about the splatter punk era, as well, and although I did not know Buddy at all, I was thrilled with a rejection letter for a submission about a horror writer whose fictional victims were coming to life and going after him. Derivative? You bet. But the fact that he was gracious and didn’t say ‘Don’t quit your day job’ thrilled me no end. Years later, in a most serendipitous fashion, a friend and I started a much less professional ‘zine, Fantasque. Imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail from a former Initquities editor. He let me know he and his family had relocated and were living in the same small PA Dutch country town. We met at a cool little coffe shop in town and I interviewed him with my trusty old-fashioned, antiquated tape recorder. I was then riveted to his fiction for the next two weeks and can attest to he fact that there has never been a more disturbing book than JF Gonzalez’ Survivor. We’re in North Carolina now, but I hear he’s doing pretty well for himself and continues to break new ground in the horror and thriller genre. And there’s some guy named Brian Keene who lived in nearby Craley, PA and created a powerful online forum called Hail Satan. My hubby had worked at a far right radio station there in the mid-eighties(hey, it was a job)and I found the idea of a burgeoning horror writer in Southern York county wonderfully incongrous and delicious. And maybe that’s the point. Creativity is everywhere. The ruling class can be thwarted.
    It’s a new world, the internet rules, with its own opportunities and advantages. That kick ass attitude of Iniquities, the steadfast commitment to the genre of Scavenger’s continue. There are new writers, and quite a few from the Scavenger’s era contributing to the genre. Art continues to evolve and flow. As Janet used to writeat the end of her monthly editorial : Carry on.

  11. Joy V. Smith says:

    Thank you for the tribute to Janet Fox. She published some of my stories, a couple of which made it into a Killer Frog contest anthology, though I never won the coveted froggie statuette. She helped and encouraged me when I was starting out, and I really appreciated SCAV.

  12. Joy V. Smith says:

    Here’s a link to the cover of one of the issues I have: http://pagadan.livejournal.com/138465.html

  13. Wade Tarzia says:

    I have been out of things for a long time, so it is only now that I have heard about the death of Janet Fox. I love the tribute essay written here because it echoes most of my experience with the “small press” ‘zines in that glorious (yes, glorious) period which for spanned 1983 to 1996 when seeking out small publishers and sending (mailing! as in postage and envelopes and SASEs) was the focus of my free-time life. People such as Janet Fox were the cosmic nodes of creativity, hope, and the taste of a contact with the great public. The magazines themselves varied widely in quality, but you had to admire the energy and can-do and DIY attitude of even the least of the type. I hope it no mere aging process that makes me want those days again, as much as I have gotten good things from the cyber world. Well, as I once posted after the passing of George Scithers: “Farewell, Janet Fox! May we all be resurrected inside a benevolent super computer spanning the insides of a blackhole in some virutal renewed world where we can greet, write, and edit!” –Wade Tarzia

  14. Don Webb says:

    I am so glad that this page exists. I wrote to janety after every issuse — sending a a couple of bucks for her to mail out a copy to whatever new zine I had found. Her influence was huge. She created a community — and I am glad to see her leagcy carried on by folks like Cynthia Ward, Thanks for creating this.

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