Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Beware of the Blog: The New Wave of Fanzines

Maybe I'm just the last guy on the block to realize that 2 + 2 = 4, but I had a eureka the other day while writing my "Watchdog Barks" editorial for VIDEO WATCHDOG #124. That eureka being that Video WatchBlog is the fanzine I work on between issues of VW, my magazine.

I thought this blog would be one thing when I started, but it's morphed into something else that I like a lot better -- something looser that plays by only one rule, that rule being the ebb and flow of whatever interests me at the moment. This blog feels to me like a return to the original spirit of VW, before the magazine column matured into the magazine it is today. It's also fun for me in ways that the hard work of VW isn't, always. I suspect this blog and the work I'm putting into it will influence VW in some ways, I hope all for the better, but we're not publishing regularly enough at the moment for me to determine what shape this influence will take.

Since I joined the alternate universe of bloggers, various people have drawn my attention to other blogs, some of which I really like, and a few of which I could grow to love. The blogs that really reach for my heart are not the review sites or the personality sites, but what I'll call (for lack of a better or more concise term) the obsession sites. These focus on a single facet of pop culture and go at it with all the intensity of a diamond drill. These blogs feel to me like the real fanzines of today.

The most glamorous of all the movie blogs I've discovered is undoubtedly John McElwee's Greenbriar Picture Shows, "a site dedicated to the great days of movie exhibition." John, who is a cousin of the brilliant documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee (SHERMAN'S MARCH, TIME INDEFINITE) and figures pivotally in his recent must-see BRIGHT LEAVES, lives up to his appearance in that family drama on his blog with a treasure trove of reminiscence, insight and photographic memorabilia. John generously posts the most amazing, obscure photographs in superb "click to enlarge" resolution. I admire this site because it's so anchored in affection for all facets of movies; I always learn something new by going there.

Then there's Flickhead, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when it coralled a number of fellow bloggers into celebrating "International SHOWGIRLS Day" or somesuch. Flickhead is the brainchild of Ray Young, whose MAGICK THEATRE was one of the greatest fanzines, or semi-prozines, ever devoted to fantastic cinema. Ever. Scout for copies on eBay -- you won't be disappointed. I assume that Ray stopped publishing because he found his interests expanding beyond those perimeters of his formative years, and Flickhead illustrates that growth by covering a broader range of obsessions, albeit in the same detail and with the same personality. More than just a blog, Flickhead has characteristics of an online magazine. (A curious footnote: I don't usually surf the net with my computer speakers activated, but I happened to visit Flickhead's index page recently with my speakers on. I was astonished to be greeted by a John Barry cue from A VIEW TO A KILL which had been haunting me for weeks, since I'd last seen the picture. Further proof, if I needed any, of a kindred spirit.)

Another blog I like to frequent is Curt Purcell's The Groovy Age of Horror, which is devoted to "'60s/'70s horror in paperbacks, Groschenromane, fumetti, comics, and movies." Curt is constantly turning up shelfloads of obscure, forgotten horroriana -- a lot of it trash at a glance, the sort of thing people only collect for the covers -- and actually reading it (my hero!), posting full reports on each title's plot and literary quality. He is on a Peter Saxon kick at the moment -- Saxon being the author of the novel on which the AIP cult favorite SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) was based. Recent postings not only reveal that "Saxon" was one of many pseudonyms employed by this specific writer, but also a "house" pseudonym used by a number of different writers -- and the same fellow who wrote THE DISORIENTATED MAN (the basis of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN) also wrote the novel that became the basis of the notorious Peter Cushing film CORRUPTION (1967)! I've also gotten a big kick out of past blogs addressing the topic of obscure novels written about the Frankenstein Monster (more extensive than you'd ever imagine), horror-based erotica, and Italian fumetti. Poring through the backlog of amazing book cover scans and poring over the accompanying text will shave hours off your day, but you need to check this place out. The only down side is that The Groovy Age of Horror creates a terrible appetite to read or at least sample all the neat junk uncovered by its archaeology dig.

A couple of days ago, Charlie Largent introduced me to Bubblegumfink! -- damn him, damn him! This is one of a growing number of music blogs that either include or lead one to locations where vintage music can be downloaded in mp3 or flac format. What's interesting about Bubblegumfink! in particular is that it encompasses very-hard-to-find children's LPs from yesteryear, like SQUIDDLY DIDDLY'S SURFIN' SAFARI and SNOOPER & BLABBER'S MONSTER SHINDIG, in addition to its primary diet of '70s bubblegum pop. One of this site's most daunting features is its list of other recommended blogs, all of which are sure to tempt a click. New worlds await. Yeep.

By clicking on Bubblegumfink!'s link to a Jack Kirby-themed blog, I was led to something even more commanding of my interest -- a Steve Ditko weblog (not by Ditko himself, naturally) and it led me to this wonderful page of "alternate universe" STRANGE TALES covers. For those of us who were sad whenever Doctor Strange wasn't featured on the cover.

And then there's Record Brother, another download blog, which leans toward blaxploitation and action soundtracks, psychedelia, and other sonic oddities. MAGOO IN HI FI, anyone?

Like exotica music? Then you'll like all the goodies on offer at Planet Xtabay. I can't tell you more about them; I just discovered them... but I'm headed back there now as soon as I can bring myself to stop typing this blog of my own.

With all this in mind, a reader e-mailed me yesterday with the following questions:

Dear Tim -- Does the world need yet another website about genre movies? If so, what would it be about? What would it have that all the others do not? What would YOU want to see and read about?

To which I replied: Dear [Reader] -- I'm afraid the world doesn't need another website about genre movies. If a better one came along, it would simply edge one of the few I visit now off my radar. What the world really needs is a website that could teach us how to micromanage our free time to allow us to do everything we want to do, and don't have time for. If I had more time in my day, I'd read more books and get out of the house once in awhile -- not visit more websites. Sorry, but that's the truth as I see it!

Which is soitenly the truth as I see it, but I also have to admit that the aforementioned (and many other) blogs, of all configurations, are becoming more interesting to me and harder and harder to resist. Like I said at the beginning, I don't know if this is a fresh observation or not, but it does seem to me that these blogs are the new fanzines.

May they never go semi-pro.

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