What follows is an essay that Dave originally had posted on Xen Magazine. Since the magazine and the article are no longer on line, Dave has given me his permission to reprint his essays on the CFG site.

You Kids Don't Know How Easy You Have It Today

December 07 2004

Here I confess to feeling particularly old, having been a "ziner" before most of your readership was bornóbeginning around 1971 (which, to people of my generation, as years go, seems as if it should perhaps be five or ten years ago and not as distant from 2004 as 1971, itself, was from Hitlerís invasion of Poland). Of course back in those days (1971, I mean) fanzines were more literally "fan magazines" -- less the personal expressions which they seem to be today than publications of devotion to a given subject matter. In my case comic books, comic books and more comic books. Starting with Comic Calender (note: always a good idea to check the spelling of any noun in your publicationís name before committing it to paper) and Googli (which never got off the ground) and proceeding through the Now & Then Times, I really earned my "zine stripes" for the first time with John Balgeís Comic Art News & Reviews, which began in the fall of 1972 and ran for approximately thirty issues. It was Johnís and my attempt to do a literate publication about comic books years before that became fashionable. On those occasions when I have had to dig up the back issues (most recently the reprinting of my Barry Windsor-Smith and Harvey Kurtzman interviews for upcoming issues of Following Cerebus) I have found it to still be readable, although primitive. But the point Iíd like very much to make (and hereís where the "old" part comes in) is You Kids Donít Know How Easy You Have It Today.

On the earliest issues of CANAR -ówanting to have justified margins to the columns -ó John Balge literally had to type out every word of every article on his electric typewriter and -óat the end of each line of type -ó then type a series of xís until the carriage of the typewriter hit the right-hand margin. Then, when the entire article had been typed in this way, he had to retype it, inserting the number of required spaces into each line. That is, if the line had had three xís typed at the end, he would type the first word in the line and then double space instead of single space, type the next word, and then double space instead of single space, type the next word and then double space instead of single space and then finish typing the line which would, as a result, finish flush with the right-hand margin.

And doing the headline type was no easier.

In order to do a headline, you needed to buy Letraset sheets which ran about $8 each (as I recall) and consisted of a 10x15 plastic sheet of dry transfer letters which had to be positioned exactly into the intended place and then transferred from the carrier sheet onto the pageóone letter at a timeówith a burnishing tool. Then the backing sheet had to be placed over the transferred letter and the burnishing tool again brought into play, affixing the letter permanently to the layout page. The letters themselves were made up of excruciatingly thin black plastic which tended to tear and break easily at inopportune moments in mid-transfer. When that happened, you had to take an X-acto knife and carefully scratch the imperfect letter off of the page (while being careful not to damage the letters adjacent to it) and then start over again with another "D" or "L" or whatever letter it was. A simple five-word headline could take upwards of an hour or two to accomplish. And this was not uncommon. This is what we were ALL doing in our own ways all across North America as zine fever hit. Typesetting was too expensive and, thus, out of the question, although by the mid-70s that was beginning to change.

By this I mean that in the mid-1970s computer technology was still in its infancy but was beginning to make its presence felt. I remember the Marxist collective, Dumont Press Graphix (named for Gabriel Dumont of Louis Riel fame) (or, as I see it, notoriety) which used to occupy the top floor of the factory/warehouse at 97 Victoria St. N. here in town. They used to do the camerawork for John, shooting the negatives needed for printing and the stats -- photo-static copies -- needed for the illustrations. It was only because it was being run as a co-operative leftist political venture -- basically providing work at or nearly at cost -- that a number of publications became feasible, Comic Art News & Reviews among them. Their first computer was about the size of a small furnace and had its own room devoted to it. Word processing was done on keyboards with no "display" whatsoever, each letter being punched in computer code onto a yellow paper tape which wound onto a spool to the right of the keyboard. The completed spool was then fed into the computer by a technician, along with glossy photostatic paper and the typesetting would emerge from the developer bath looking like elongated photographs (which is really what they were) which were then clothes-pinned to the lines (which occupied one whole corner of the loft) and left to dry for a half hour or so. The strips were then put through a waxing machine which would apply a layer of hot wax in a web-like configuration to the backs so the strips could then be positioned onto the blue-lined Dumont Press Graphix layout paper and repositioned as necessary. Then individual lines containing typographical errors were highlighted with non-reproducible blue marker and corrective lines inputted into the computer by the same process on yellow paper tape, then developed, hung to dry, waxed and then the individual lines cut out and burnished into place over the lines with typographical errors in them.

We thought we were in heaven.

Compared to the laborious process of typing lines with a series of xís at the end and then adding spaces to the lines and meticulously transferring one Letraset letter at a time to the layout page, this primitive computer typesetting was unbelievably fast. And the most amazing thing was that it looked like typesetting -- just like a newspaper or a real magazine. As I say, we thought we were in heaven.

Thus, I feel justified in the capitalization of my assertion: You Kids Donít Know How Easy You Have It Today.

With the desk-top technology which exists today at virtually everyoneís fingertips, I must confess itís a less a wonder to me that so many people are doing their own zines than it is that so few people are. Itís very gratifying for an old fellow like me to read the words of Queen Zine in your publication, enthusing over the first fruits being borne of this new technology and certainly there is no question in my mind that the surface has barely been scratched in what is possible. Or perhaps (and here we come to the crux of my argument) what is necessary.

"Publish or perish" was one of the guiding principles of pre-Revolutionary America. It is a principle that is even truer today than it was then, I think, for exactly the reason that freedom of the press has been permanently wrested from the hands of moneyed interests and is now accessible and available as a communications tool to (the mind still boggles at the prospect) everyone. I suspect that the fact that so little advantage is taken of it might well be attributable to the fact that the first tsunami of "Internet Mania" has, as of this writing, not fully depleted itself. The first novelty of Freedom of Expression as Inviolate Absolute and the toy-box of communication devices available on the Internet, it seems to me, havenít yet dashed the requisite youthful enthusiasm upon the rocks of the self-evident Internet shortcomings: foremost among them that the vast majority of Internet content -- or "content" -- consists of incoherent, non-rational and largely sub-intellectual sputum (Iíve never participated myself but the bloom definitely seems to be off the rose when one reads between the lines of the commentary of Internet enthusiasts and compares it with the geeky, bounding-puppy-like enthusiasm which dominated Internet discourse in the waning moments of the late twentieth century a mere three years ago). It seems to me that the day is perhaps imminent when it will behoove each individual citizen -- those at each point along the ever-widening political spectrum -- to seek out venues for expression of those viewpoints most important to them AS citizens. Viewpoints closely argued and advanced with intelligence which are able to persuade the largest masses of people of which direction our civilization is --and more importantly -- should be heading. Nihilism, that hobgoblin of the left from time immemorial and the emerging core of Internet discourse, in such a construct, could never be less fashionable and could best be described, I think, as viewpoint suicide. If you just canít be bothered; if you are unable and unwilling to express your viewpoint lucidly and to persuade others of that viewpoint, the best indicators would tell us that your viewpoint is headed for the sidelines and from the sidelines to the dust-heap of history (as we used to say back when the earth was still cooling).

The fact that the gay marriage propositions went down to resounding, crashing defeat in all eleven states which had them on the ballot, to me, would indicate that there was a complete failure to mount (if youíll pardon the expression) a convincing argument in favour of gay marriage. If the best you can come up with is that it is "un-cool" to oppose gay marriage then you should probably count yourself lucky that you are even able to keep your own team "on-side" and might have to begin to consider that the choir to which you are preaching might be a few tenors and a couple of falsettos short of a quorum.

"Publish or perish!"

Stop talking just to others who share your own political opinions, learn how to enunciate your viewpoints with clarity and with verve so as to render them more persuasive than those viewpoints which you oppose and to render them more persuasive, most especially, to those who hold those viewpoints. Political viewpoints are indeed pendulum-like, oscillating from one extreme to the other. But a pendulum, it is worth remembering, left merely to BE a pendulum will exhaust all its potential energies sooner rather than later. Entropy, alas, works. But all oscillating metaphors are not created equal. A playground swing, too, is a pendulum and, with appropriate displacement of the center of gravity and rhythmic distribution of muscular energy applied with determination -- in this case sharply honed and refined intellectual argument, cleanly stated and reproduced in pamphlet formóheights can both be achieved and then improved upon: and without any meaningful competition from most mainstream media. Our own beloved Dull Thud Daily, virtually all TV news and discussion programming are largely and self-evidently -- even to the dull-witted -- advertising agencies selling others (and, one suspects, itself) on an entirely mythical status quo that is usually (at least!) ten years out of date.

But zines! Now thereís a place -- with todayís desk-top technology -- where a young man might indeed make his fortune, cutting a wide swath through his society with the clarity of his vision and the incisiveness of his rhetoric. "I think youíre all wrong. Hereís where I think youíre wrong and hereís what I think is required to fix the mess youíve made of things." How infinitely preferable to a chicken in every pot: A Kinkoís on Every Corner.

Ah, if I only had my youth again.

I had intended, as I mentioned to you on the phone, to send you ten or so copies of the 96-page Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing that -- in the spirit of all of the above -- you might disseminate in a contest or use as prizes of some kind. As you know, this publication constituted the sum of my best advice on the subject of Self-Publishing Your Own Comic Book and evolved over the years 1993 to 1997 from my various promotional tours and speeches and what-not on the subject. In reconsidering, I think it would be preferable if those among your readership who are interested in a copy would write me a letter in care of Xen magazine requesting one. As recent experience has shown, requesting a letter to be written is a good way to separate the intellectual wheat from the Internet chaff. Initiative seems to be in short supply these days and actually getting up from the computer or TV screen, writing a letter, finding an envelope a stamp and a mailbox verge on the heroic.

Iím hoping to make inroads on the backlog of my correspondence over the next fortnight and hope at that time that I will be able to provide you with something of greater substance than I have been able to provide heretofore. If I promise it often enough, maybe it will actually come to be. Until then, I remain

Yours sincerely,

Dave Sim