Menu Menu

Harter Proper Boskonian

Proper Boskonian, The Gory Years

by Richard Harter

The goode folke at NESFA requested that I write an account of my term in the early 1970’s as editor of the club fanzine, Proper Boskonian. Out of the goodness of my heart or in a weak moment (pick one) I did so. Since my motto is waste not, want not, I recycle all such trash into my web site. Here then is a narrative to make strong men weep.


Once upon a time, in a cataclysmic event best left unrecorded by fannish historians, an SF club called NESFA came into being. The founding progenitors did conceive that it was right and proper that NESFA should publish a journal of fact and opinion devoted to divers topics related to science fiction and did therefore decree the establishment of said journal and did set its title to be Proper Boskonian.

Such was the importance of this journal in the eyes of the founders that they did further decide that the editor of the Proper Boskonian should be an elected officer of the club. In due course elections were held and one Cory Seidman, now the good wife of Alex Panshin, was elected to be the first editor.

Cory served well and ably as founding editor, bringing out issues 1-4 of PB, volumes having inestimable collector’s value. In truth Cory suffered under certain disadvantages. NESFA had not yet attained that glorious pre-eminence which marks it today as the marvel and wonder of fandom nor were any of its members of that early day known as publishing giants of the fanzine press. In consequence Cory had to scrounge for material. In this effort she exercised her feminine wiles to good effect on susceptible young artists. None the less, early issues tended to be slender.


Time passed (it has a way of doing that, you know) and Cory wished to pass on the torch of editorial glory. Thus it was that yours truly seized the moment (the poor thing was flopping around unattended) and volunteered for the post. It cannot be said that I had any qualifications for the post except for the crucial one of being willing, indeed eager to take on the job. Oh, I had written a few pieces for the Twilight Zine and for Stroon but I had never been a fanzine publisher.

So there I was with folders of inherited material and a fanzine to bring out. By dint of pulling together material on hand and by reprinting a Boston Globe article relating Russell Seitz’s acquisition of the components of an ICBM I produced PB 5. I then went on to publish several more issues. Unlike the early issues these were fat rather than slender. They also had a quite distinctive style filled with editorial presence. (Every one agreed that they were filled with something – I prefer to call it editorial presence.)

In my efforts as editor I was helped no end by Marsha Elkin who had recently divorced Charlie Brown (of Locus fame). Unlike myself, Marsha had worked on major fanzines such as Niekas (then in its glory days as a Hugo winner) and had extensive contacts throughout fandom. During the period when we were intimate associates she was de facto co-editor. It was she who taught a hapless farm boy some of the fancier tricks of fanzine publishing. I also wish to acknowledge the noble efforts of Mike Symes who acted as art editor.

I brought out issues 5-9 of PB and was associated with PB 18. Over time PB became fatter and more ornate, notable for its spectacular amount of artwork and an ever expanding letter column. This by the way is a normal phenomenon – boy editor does fanzine, does enthusiasm, fanzine grows, fanzine bloats, old man editor says the hell with it. From youth to age takes 2-3 years.


PB 5 and 6 were printed on the evial Arluis’s AB Dick, a quite serviceable electric mimeograph. Subsequent issues, however, were published on a Gestetner 466, a fell machine that was state of the art in mimeography in those ancient days.

We acquired this machine second hand from a furniture store that had used it to print broadsides hawking their wares. We were quite fortunate to do so for a new Gestetner 466 would have cost a great deal of money, far beyond the slender resources of the club in those days. Yes children, there was a day when NESFA was impoverished and virtuous, when it did not own real estate and swollen coffers.

All of this, mind you, was twenty very odd years ago, long before desktop publishing and Microsoft word. Inexpensive reproduction meant mimeography. One typed (using real typewriters) material onto stencils, wax coated sheets which were placed on a drum on the mimeograph. The drum rotated, ink from inside the drum went through a silk screen through the stencil and onto the paper, said ink coming from tubes of ink paste which had to be changed from time to time. We also acquired an electro-stenciler which cut stencils from originals. This could, if one were patient, cut stencils with several hundred dots per inch. In practice the supply of patience was not that great and the electro-stenciler was mostly used for cutting artwork.

The G466 had a number of merits. It was fast, somethingthat you will appreciate if you have to produce 500 copies of a 100 page fanzine. The quality of the reproduction was good. The registration was reliable. And it was easy to change colors of ink.

Thus did NESFA acquire the machine which would be used to produce issues of PB and divers other publications including many apazines. As editor and fanzine hacker yours truly provided a home for the G466 first in Cambridge where it resided in the dining room and then later in Concord where it graced the basement.


In these latter days of personal computers, laser jet printers, and all of the other electronic paraphernalia that has made Bill Gates disgustingly rich it is hard to realize the primitive state of typography in the antiquity of the 1970’s.

Your old fashioned typewriter only had one font. IBM, however, had come out with the selectric typewriter which had a removable bouncing ball. You could remove the ball and replace it with another one having a different font. I acquired one of these magic typewriters and got several fonts, thus becoming a fanzine editor with a greater than usual number of balls.

This meant that PB had multiple fonts – generally the choices were courier for ordinary text and italics for editorial comments.


Those of you fortunate enough to have seen and read those early monuments to mediocre publishing will have noticed that it was printed in multiple colors with exuberant amounts of artwork. This was no simple matter.

What we did was to make separate passes to print the artwork and the text. The artwork would be electrostenciled separately with separate small pieces on one sheet. We would then cut out said pieces with a border around the artwork itself. We would take blank stencils and cut holes in them where the artwork would go. The piece of stencil with the artwork was then pasted over the hole using magic transparent to tape it down. This was moderately tricky because the tape wanted to stick to everything; any errors of laying things down would cause the stencil to wrinkle.

The game was to run all of the text stencils off first and then run the artwork in subsequent passes. There were odds and ends to take care of. Stencils which had a large solid area on one side tended to shift position during the course of a run. Mimeo ink is heavier than the ink used in offset press and modern printers and hence had a tendency to leave ink tracks from one sheet to the next. You got around this by slip sheeting. This means putting something between each sheet as it comes off the drum. The G466 had a slip sheeting attachment which dropped pieces of cardboard onto the sheets as they came into the hopper. This bit of mechanics was on the rickety side and didn’t work all that well at higher speeds so I only slip-sheeted the artwork passes.

Mimeo ink being heavier meant problems with see-through and bleeding. We found the cheaper mimeo paper with the soft surface was actually better for avoiding all sorts of problems with repro quality. The one real problem with it was that it threw off a lot of lint which meant that themimeo had to be cleaned frequently.


In theory PB was to be a showcase of material from members of NESFA and so it was, more or less. NESFA members such as Tony Lewis, Suford, Doug Hoylman, Jim Saklad, Cory Seidman and Joe Ross all contributed articles and reviews. There were odds and ends of anonymous humor pieces, most of which have been reprinted endlessly over the years in fanzines, in usenet newsgroups and, of late, on the web.

I picked up a few pieces from kin and friends. My sister Lois wrote a mundane con report on an SAA convention; fandom is a much nicer place. J.R.B. Whittlesey Jr. (the research director at a geophysics company that I consulted for) did a piece on LSD research. Whittlesey was an interesting duck; he used to meditate long-distance from Texas on the company WATS line with his guru in Colorado.

Marsha Elkin brought in her train new sources of material. Marsha was the author of the endless Heicon report. Marsha also numerous contacts in fandom, particularly among the LA contingent. She was a regular contributor to APA-L by long distance and induced me to also become a contributor. Thus it was that we got a regular column from Tom Digby (he of Chocolate Man Hole Cover fame) and some nice stuff from Dian Girard Pelz.

On the whole the printed material in those issues was so-so. It was fun but not exceptional. Like the buffet at an all you can eat restaurant there was plenty of it and it was edible but you wouldn’t rave about it in a guide to gourmet restaurants.


The art work was another matter. I had two excellent artists who were heavy duty contributors, Mike Symes and Mike Gilbert. Mike Symes was a Mattapan refugee. Mike Gilbert was married to Sheila, Marsha’s sister. Both did elaborate art sequences. One of the nice things about having good repro equipment was that we could do reasonable justice to the art work.

The secret of getting fan art is to send copies of your zine to fan artists you want material from. A gentle letter asking for material doesn’t hurt either. Fan artists like to have their stuff appear in fanzines. They particularly like it when it is treated well.

It is noteworthy that there are a number of Rotsler cartoons. Bill Rotsler has been generously contributing cartoons to fanzines for 50 years. At LACon III he won the 1996 fan art Hugo and the retrospective 1946 fan art Hugo – the only man to win two Hugos for the same category at the same convention.


One of the most notable things about my stint as editor of PB is the steady inflation of the letter column. The rest of the zine didn’t get any bigger but the letter column grew and grew. In part this was simply because it was being produced regularly and was being sent out to more people. There was a more insidious reason however. As you may have noticed I babble in print a lot. What happened was that I started out in the world by making short editorial comments at the end of each letter. As time went on said comments got longer and longer and more discursive until well over half of the letter column was editorial comments. By PB 9 the letter column occupied 36 of the 82 pages.


PB 9 was my last issue as editor. It did not end my connection with PB however; I continued to run off stencils on the G466. Other saner people took over and produced shorter issues. In the late 1970’s Mike Saler, a local Concord fan attending Concord Academy, and I invented a fictitious fan, one Mark Anderson. We created APA contributions for him and enrolled him as a member of NESFA. (The fabrication of non-existent people is an ancient fannish tradition.) In due course Mark became the editor of PB and brought out PB 18, the Richard Harter retrospective issue in which I was slandered shamelessly by my nearest and dearest.


After having burnt out on PB 9 (the last page of which has a pathetic plaint about being tired of running off stencils) I decided that I really did want to do a fanzine only what I really wanted was to do a small personalzine. I forthwith started a zine called Personal Notes which ran through nine issues. Nine seems to be an inauspicious number – if I ever break into double digits I will be in the big time. The theory was that I wouldn’t worry about getting art work and articles and such – I would just babble about whatever occurred to me to babble about. The theory was good but PN suffered from the same fate as PB. The letter column grew and grew and grew. PN started out as a sloppy little personalzine; it turned into a sloppy fat personalzine.

I had the material for PN 10 and had run about half of it off when things slowed down and then I started a company and time for fanzines disappeared. Years went by as I struggled with my long range plan to get rich slowly. Finally time reappeared and I said “Aha, I will finally bring out PN 10”. But I didn’t. Instead I took the material and created this web site instead [-dgg- That URL is on the Wayback Machine, it was originally].