Cosmag

contents vo.2 no.1

The contents page of Vo.2 No.1 of Cosmag.

Introduction

When I explored the fanzines in Special Collections, I wasn’t looking for one in particular to fall in love with, and I didn’t have to--they made it easy. Cosmag, a fanzine published by the Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization from 1951-1952, was a random glance from a PDF that was over 1600 pages long (1629 to be exact). The haphazard nature in which this zine was selected doesn’t change the degree to which I am captivated by it. In fact, it strengthens it, and strengthens my overall interest in fanzines. The idea that you could pick a title arbitrarily and be instantly smitten is a remarkable thing. Cosmag specifically grabbed my attention because of the power its readers had over the zine’s design. Ian Macauley, the main editor, always made sure to pay great attention to the readers' wishes. I will share with you the evolution of Cosmag, one guided greatly by its subscribers, and that is visible in its content, artwork, and format.

Th'Ink Spot

The letter column "Th'Ink Spot," which is organized by Cosmag's editor Ian Macauely. One of the "Eat At Omar's" cartoons that appear frequently throughout the zine is also featured here.

Th'Ink Spot

Ian Macauley is someone I admire, despite the fact that he strangely always referred to himself in the third person, which he was criticized for. The voices of the readers clearly meant a great deal to him, and he never failed to express his gratitude for their feedback. He created the section “Th’Ink Spot” where he published letters from fans and would leave his comments and questions. In the third issue of Cosmag he writes, “You haven’t let us down with your comments and criticisms. And that is appreciated by us very much.”[1] He constantly encouraged them to share their opinions, which he took into genuine consideration. When certain changes were made due to readers criticisms he addressed them, “Most complaints this time were for microscopic print and the lack of suitable-material for our format. Both have been taken care of, don’t you think?”[2] Keeping readers up to date on the changes felt quite empowering to me, because they could see the physical impact their words had.

Reading “Th’Ink Spot” was my favorite part. The opinions of the individuals in this community and the ensuing impacts they had on the zine is what truly, I believe, made me fall in love with Cosmag. The readers requested a section for letters and Macauley delivered. Max Keasler expressed his feelings about the letters, “Like most fanzines your letter column is one of the most interesting features.”[3] I concur with Keasler’s statement 100%. I believe the letters are evidence that Cosmag couldn’t have become what it did without the tough love and nurturing provided by its fans.

Gremlshunk

"The Martian Gremlshunk" by Lee Hoffman, which also features an illustration from Walt Guthrie.

Content

I wouldn’t be doing Cosmag justice if I didn’t mention its stories and articles. While letters where my most beloved section, much came before “Th’Ink Spot” feature. Cosmags first volume more heavily focuses on SF stories than its future issues in volume 2 and 3, which changed to a format consisting of one good SF story, a handful of articles, a zine review section titled “Fan Pubs” conducted by Jerry Burge, and then always concluded with “Th’Ink Spot.” This shift in content resulted from readers requesting more nonfiction.

Macauley, along with the illustrators Jerry Burge and Walt Guthrie, were the main authors of the first issue’s stories. This was Cosmag’s beginning, therefore they didn’t have a supply of works being sent to them yet and had to work with what they had. Jerry Burge in the second issue went on to have the section “Fan Pubs” for zine reviews that lasted through the remainder of Cosmag, but Guthrie went on to do only interior illustrations for the zine.

Volume 2 upgraded to have the writers J. T. Oliver, Terry Carr, and Tom Covington. They each individually took care of the three separate issues in volume 2, featuring their SF as the single fiction story Cosmag allowed space for per issue. Their stories are a fair length that is easy to get through and they were well liked by most. Terry Carr wrote, “Best in COSMAG was ‘Eleven to Seven’ by Oliver. If I were him, I’d have tried the pros with that yarn.”[4]

Articles took up the better portion of the zine, as requested by readers, with writers such as Bob Silverberg and Lee Hoffman who were prominent voices in Cosmag, both in their writings and the letters they sent. Lee Hoffman was known for quality work and was praised by Chuck Harris, “The best item of all was Lee’s Excerpt, the boy really can write.”[5] Hoffman was actually a woman and not a man, but the main idea is, boy can she write.

Cosmag presented a fair variety of works that were tailored to the interests of their readers, doing its best to deliver them with the topics they requested. The ideas presented in the writings gave plenty for them to criticize, praise, and debate.

Cosmag Vo.1 No.1

Cover of the first issue of Cosmag illustrated by Jerry Burge.

Artwork

The first thing you see when you look at a fanzine is its cover. Now, a lack of a sensational cover doesn’t equate to a dull fanzine, but the cover of the first issue of Cosmag set a high bar. It has layers of interest to it and a humorous overall scene. Also, a favorite aspect of mine is that the fanzines strewn about on the floor have recognizable titles, like Imagination!. Fanzines love to feature other fanzines, and the network of people in the community is highly interconnected. The layer of familiarity the cover created by utilizing these connections makes it more gratifying to an individual who has explored zines before. The original readers of the zine shared my sentiments about the cover, and honestly the cover was the prime content of the first issue, which is evident by Marion Z. Bradley’s statement, “I’ll say that a very excellent cover hid the indifferent inside passages.”[6] Bradley herself has a significant and widespread presence in fanzines and seeing her name in Cosmag was an exciting moment, as I had seen her work before. This further represents the extensive community fanzines knit together.

Cosmag Vo.1 No.3

Cosmag Vo.1 No.3 (third issue) cover illustrated by Jerry Burge.

The covers of the subsequent issues in volume 1 of Cosmag had their downfalls. The third issue of Cosmag in particular had the most unfriendly comments in total; the shading is poor, and Macauley even admitted in response to a comment in a letter that it was the first time Burges tried that technique--good effort, I suppose. Fortunately in volume 2 Jerry Burges found a consistent, clean style, which had quite the emphasis on space related themes. Fanzines are SF, and in the realm of SF space themes are prominent, but Burge’s images all vaguely looked the same. The readers voiced the monotony, “Maybe Burge likes that subject. I do, too, but let’s have a change.”[7] In volume 3 Cosmag delivered a refreshing change. You can see some of the covers below.

Amongst these purposeful covers are casual doodles that add charm to the zine. One collection of doodles in particular pops up in every corner and free spot in the mag, each saying, “Eat at Omar’s.” This routine cartoon appealed to some readers; for example, Max Keasler voices, “that EAT OMARS thing all the way through the mag is amusing.”[8] They elicited a sense of kind and friendly familiarity due to an arguably questionable frequency throughout the issues. As far as their intention, I had originally assumed it was an over enthusiastic restaurant with a curious amount of pocket change to pay for ads--but that didn’t make complete sense. Some readers of the zine expressed frustration, “what the (naughty word) is this deal about ‘Eat At Omar’s’ that pops up on almost every third page?” Terry Carr demanded in his letter.[9] J. T. Oliver also expressed his confusion, “Among other things I forgot to ask you about is this ‘Eat at Omars’ stuff. What means it? Or is it sort of a phobia?”[10] I began to come up with my own theories. Is it a setting for a future story? A running gag between the editors? A secret meeting place? Ian Macauley wrote a note in response to Oliver, “as for ‘Eat at Omars,’ that’s still a deep, dark secret which will be disclosed in some future issue.”[11]

Cosmag

Image of Vo.1 No.1, Vo.2 No.1, and Vo.3 No.1 of Cosmag overlapped to show the variation in the formats of the zine.

Evolution of the Format

Cosmag has an evolution that’s visible both in content and appearance. When I initially opened the folder and saw the stack of issues, my first observation was how varying they were; some were clearly superior. I looked at first ever issue consisting of who-knows-what because it’s not like you could read much of it; however, I did strain my eyes in an effort to crawl through the more visible sections. Marion Z. Bradley did the same and clarified since she is “an enthusiastic devotee of fan fiction and will struggle through almost any amount of poor mimeo.”[12] Fans were quick to jump on Cosmag for this glaring mistake, “Why not run the mimeo yourself instead of making the cat turn the handle” Ralph Bailey joked.[13] Most were understanding of the tragic print because “first issues are notoriously vile” as Bob Silverberg writes.[14] The creators of Cosmag took note of this input--and their own self respect for their work--and produced a legible second issue. Seeing this transition from their first to second issue was significant and grew my respect for their zine.

With the production of volume 2 of the zine Cosmag remained Cosmag, and yet didn’t just remain Cosmag as the same time. Let me explain. Ian Macauley lived in Atlanta, Georgia and he was looking through another fanzine and found a letter from someone else who also lived in Atlanta. The man was Henry W. Burwell who was working on a reprint fanzine featuring material from various “fmz’s all over the country” (fmz is an abbreviation for fan magazine) and it would be named Science-Fiction Digest.[15] After corresponding, they decided one city didn’t need two fanzines, but just one good fmz.[16]Plus it cut production costs. They announced in the first combined issue of their zine, “So here we are, the first ish of Cosmag-Science-Fiction Digest, destined to bring you good fan humor, articles, stories and features.”[17] Now I said before that Cosmag remained Cosmag, because despite this joining, the two fanzine titles had very clear defined separate halves of the zine. The readers would be getting a two-in-one with the same distinct personalities of the once single fanzines--a buy one, get one free deal you could say.

Cosmag Vo.2 No.3

The cover of Cosmag Vo.2 No.3 illustrated by Jerry Burge.

Along with the new joint production came a new format. Cosmag and Science-Fiction Digest (C/SFD) became a digest-sized booklet with offset printing--a major upgrade in the world of fanzines. Polished print, clean looking images, and most importantly, no more of their messy mimeo. Having said that, there was a major downfall to this change. The printing was neat, but the text became microscopic and tiring to the eyes. Redd Boggs attacks, “the descent into the microscopic isn’t my idea of improvement.”[18] I second that statement. Unsurprisingly, once again, Cosmag’s editors showed they listened. Vo.2 No.3 kept the beautiful offset printing, but upgraded to a larger booklet that was kinder to the eyes. However, the next issue, Vo.3 No.1 took a turn back to the original larger format with mimeo. The paper was the texture of a professional magazine and quite beautiful, but Macauley commented that it was the end of that experimental format and the next issue would return to offset.[19]

This is where Cosmag comes to an end. Its evolution was more than just a zine trying to improve by its own will, it transformed through the words of its readers. Cosmag truly became as much of its readers in the end as it was of its writers. It strived to keep fandom alive among the SF community and it gave a voice, and in a way a meeting place, where their minds came together to interact and take comfort in the safe haven of a fanzine. The crazy interconnectedness of the SF community along with the power given to peoples’ voices is part of what has given me such an appreciation for fanzines. Cosmag is just one small example among thousands. It’s amazing in itself, but the many zine reviews that can be found within it will be happy to suggest something you might fall in love with even more.

[1] Cosmag, Vo.1, No.3. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 17.

[2] Cosmag, Vo.2, No.3. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1952), 19.

[3] Cosmag, Vo.2, No.1. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 3, 15-16.

[4] Cosmag, Vo.2, No.2. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 38.

[5] Cosmag, Vo.2, No.1. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 3, 15-16.

[6] Cosmag, Vo.1, No.2. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 13-14.

[7] Cosmag, Vo.3, No.1. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1952), 2, 17.

[8] Cosmag, Vo.2, No.1. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 3, 15-16.

[9] Cosmag, Vo.1, No.3. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 17.

[10] Cosmag, Vo.3, No.1. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1952), 2, 17.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Cosmag, Vo.1, No.2. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 13-14.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Cosmag, Vo.1, No.3. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 17.

[16] Cosmag, Vo.2, No.1. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 3, 15-16.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Cosmag, Vo.2, No.2. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1951), 38.

[19] Cosmag, Vo.3, No.1. (Atlanta: Atlanta Science-Fiction Organization, 1952), 2, 17.