Critical thought and the audience for the field has hit an all-time low – this much is certain. The idle threat that ‘everyone’s a critic’ has come to pass in such a monumentally crushing fashion, that the parade of absolute nobodies lined-up to offer their views on topics only recently the domain of tweed-veined professors has reached breaking point. Pay £20 quid to be treated to a version of a film which bears striking resemblance to the DVD you bought two years ago but enjoy a complete stranger to explain how you should be watching it. Preposterous. How did we let this happen? Yet, there is a distant light offering hope – the brave souls who have spent their entire lives soaking in their chosen vat of culture and have retained the passion for their subject as well as the ability the convey it.
Issue 39 of The Paperback Fanatic (and, once again, that’s issue 39 – these things don’t write themselves) tells me a great deal about Steve Holland and Eva Lynd, whose artistically rendered forms appeared on hundreds of paperback and magazine covers – think Men’s Adventure and you’re picturing Steve. This article written by Paul Bishop is in no way preachy, convoluted nor wholly cribbed, it is written by someone who has devoured their subject and is willing to share their world.
Even better is Peter Enfantino’s piece on the Frankenstein Horror series of books published by Popular Library through 1972 and 1973. Despite the time and dedication that has gone into researching every element of these nine novels, the writer spares no horses in going into a delicious amount of detail as to how thoroughly rotten they are (with the exception of the debut). Lines are dragged kicking and screaming from their pages to illustrate his barbed points, revealing not only his eye and ear as a reader but also the ability to spin a damn fine yarn himself. Though ripping them to shreds critically, he retains a fondness for the books which is contagious – despite their panning, I’d like nothing more than to read them now myself. A job well done.
Justin Marriot’s articles in Sleazy Business are introduced by him confessing he has already gone one over the volumes he expected to be able to produce (this is the fifth), though readily contributes articles which demonstrate both his passion for paperbacks and an endearing confession that there are limits to his knowledge. By way of example, he caps an even-handed appraisal of the Falconhurst ‘plantation’ novels by saying that although he has covered the sixteen books he owns, there could be even more. It may be slightly shadowy modesty but it still lends his prose an attractive quality which invites the reader to join him on the journey, rather than be told in a starchy, lecture-like manner.
Also onto its fifth issue is Marriot’s Pulp Horror, a gleeful traipse through field which offers no end of angles and opportunities. An exploration of Donald Glut’s bafflingly broad series of Frankenstein books, skilfully navigates their rather complex birth and distribution without conflicting with the magnificent daftness and lurid covers of the likes of Frankenstein and the Dinosaurs and Frankenstein Versus the Robot.
Long-time editor of a huge number of horror publications, David Sutton, manages to cram a history of British literary horror zines into an all-too condensed space (a subject worthy of its own book), though facts about stapled and photocopied mags from as far back as 1962 offer not only some terrifically imaginative titles (Crucified Toad; Balthus) but also the unassuming rise of now well-known names such as Alan Moore and Ramsey Campbell. An interview with Sutton follows, revealing the dedication this art-form required in these early days, from hand-cranked duplication devices to how to survive in a world that stocked so little small-press releases.
All three publications are, as it is required by law to say, lavishly illustrated, though do suffer slightly from the unnaturally crispy typeface and layout offered by online self-publishing – it would be lovely to see the odd ink smudge and haphazard picture placing to fit the trashy subject matter. Though very occasionally the writing slips into fanboy-ish self-satisfaction at having “being there first”, they are all hugely entertaining and informative and serve to remind that the service provided by self-publishing and fanzines is endlessly rewarding.