From Holier Than Thou 25. Copyright © 1987 by Marty Cantor. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Nobody had ever heard of a loc when I wrote my first locs. The term was invented long after fans had fallen into the habit of writing letters of comment to first the prozines and then the pioneer fanzines.
I'm pretty sure it was just a half-century ago when I wrote my first letters to Brass Tacks, the name of the loc section in Astounding during the Tremaine and Campbell eras. I hope so, at least, because I've been telling people that this is my golden anniversary as a fan in the sense that it was in 1936 when I first did more about science fiction than read it and save the prozines I bought. Fortunately, there's no way anyone can disprove my memory, unless Sam Moskowitz' research has even extended to finding and preserving files of letters from readers.
As I remember the sequence of events, the first loc to Astounding didn't get printed but the second one did. Finding my stumbling prose in Brass Tacks was an enormous thrill to my 13-year-old self, even though it wasn't the first time I'd been published in a periodical. Several years earlier, I'd been precocious enough to have a book review accepted by St. Nicholas, a wonderful but long-defunct children's magazine. But I have no idea today why I wrote those letters to Astounding instead of to Wonder Stories or Amazing Stories, which I liked just as much. I believe I managed to get one or two other letters published by Astounding, and in one of them I mentioned the fact that I'd like to hear from any readers who might be interested in corresponding. This produced a half-dozen or more letters from all over the nation and one from England, so my pioneer locs launched me into another major form of fanac in the 1930s which has become quite secondary in importance today, corresponding. The appearance of those letters resulted in my receiving sample copies of a fanzine or two, but for some reason I didn't find them very interesting, perhaps because they weren't very good fanzines. It was two years later when one of those correspondents persuaded me to co-edit with him a fanzine and this decision thrust me fully into the fanzine phase of fandom.
Someday, perhaps, someone will have the patience and energy to publish a big volume on the golden age of the prozine letter sections. I gave next to no attention to this phase of fandom when I wrote my two fan history books, partly because my manuscripts were dreadfully long without that added material, partly because I didn't know how to go about tracking down the individuals or corporations capable of giving me permission to quote from The Ether Vibrates and Discussions and The Reader Speaks and the other famous loc sections in prozines. Many fans became active by using prozine locs as their ports of entry into fandom, some fans became prozine letterhacks without doing anything else of note in fandom, and you could create a wonderful guessing game by quoting sections of prozine locs by fans and pros who later became famous and asking players to identify the writers of those untypical excepts.
I don't remember the first loc I wrote to a fanzine. I doubt if it was written before 1938, perhaps it didn't come into existence until 1939, because the first fanzine I published was distributed late in 1938 and only then did trades begin to bring me a substantial number of fanzines published by other people. But I occasionally run across my copies of fanzines published by various people in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and I find myself in their loc sections with fair frequency. Those early fanzine locs were written out of sheer desire to inform fanzine editors of my reactions to their publications, because fanzines weren't traded for locs at that time. One of fandom's all-time mysteries is exactly when and how the free-issue-for-locs custom began. I have seen one or two speculations about the identity of the fanzine editor who started the practice but there seems to be no general agreement on the matter. I grew less and less active in fandom during the 1940s, and when I resumed full fanac around 1956 I found the new method of encouraging locs had sprung up during my hiatus.
But even back in the 1940s, someone occasionally claimed I wrote a letter about every issue of a fanzine I received and I attributed it to imagination, the familiar mental quirk of imagining that something frequent is something inevitable. In just the same way, even oldtime fans often fall into the habit of remembering Astounding during the early years of Campbell's reign as the uninterrupted succession of stories that were masterpieces of science fiction. The clinkers in almost every issue have vanished from recollection because of the generally high level of most of the contents of those issues.
It was in the first years following my degafiation that I became best known as a loc writer. There were several reasons for this. For one thing, I did manage to write a loc on most issues of most fanzines I received during the late 1950s and early 1960s and most of those locs got published in whole or in part. Then, too, I cut back sharply on the number of articles I contributed to fanzines during that period and so my fannish image gradually became equated with locs rather than with formal contributions. Meanwhile, I was a member of only one apa and I rarely attended cons, two other reasons why fans began to associate me with locs. It was also during this period that I settled on a two-page loc as my standard. There were times when I wrote a longer or a shorter loc, particularly when a fanzine was particularly fat or thin, but most of the time I filled two pages. This seemed to me to be a reasonable response to a free fanzine without consuming an unreasonable amount of my typing time and the fanzine editor's reading time. When this or that fan asked me where I found time to write all those locs, I could only tell the truth: practice had enabled me to write a loc in less than a half-hour in all but the busiest days. Fortunately, I had taught myself to be a touch typist and I involuntarily got a lot of typing practice every day because of my newspaper job, so I was able to create words and sentences and paragraphs on a typewriter faster than many other fans.
This was the greatest era of fan publishing, I believe. There were enormous quantities of fanzines appearing in the United States, ranging from chatty two- and three-sheeters to the enormously plump publications of Bill Donaho. Irish Fandom was at its zenith and fandom in England was also publishing great fanzines. Even certain European nations with other native languages were the source of good English language fanzines, particularly Germany and France. Mimeography had become a fine art for many fanzine publishers and some artists were doing things with a stylus and shading plate that are unsurpassed to this day. Never have fans had a greater incentive to write locs that kept those fanzines coming into their mailboxes.
But the years continued to come and go and loc writing gradually became a burden for me. For one thing, I suffered two accidents in the 1960s that made it impossible for me to type for many weeks in each occasion, throwing me far behind on loc obligations each time this delicate balance of fannish nature was disturbed. Then there was the foolish decision to write a couple of fan-history books, research for which required endless letter-writing in search of information, long sessions of leafing through ancient fanzines for facts, even desperate efforts at several cons to find an old timer or two who was sober enough to answer questions dependably. The percentages of fanzines locced compared with the number of fanzines received began to sink gradually. Nobody in fandom seemed to notice the defections I was involuntarily committing and I remember such incidents as an argument with one fan over statements he claimed I had been making in locs to Yandro. I didn't receive Yandro which wasn't available in exchange for locs and I never appeared in its letter section.
When the 1970s arrived, I found myself switched from reporting and editing duties at the newspapers to column-writing. This also had a bad effect on my loc output. I had hoped when the change occurred that I would have more time to read fanzines and write letters commenting on them, now that I no longer needed to be in the office or at events at specific times on specific dates and could instead more or less make my own working schedule, provided I grind out five columns every week. But it didn't turn out that way. The need to think up subject matter for columns became a dreadful compulsion that was never entirely out of my thoughts, and I would find myself driving around through Hagerstown or leafing through books and magazines at the public library in hopes of coming across something I could use as inspiration for a column, when I would have been much happier engaged in fanac. Even after I'd completed my week's quota worth of newspaper columns, I couldn't conscientiously forget the job and relax with fanzines for the remainder of that week. Instead I would continue the quest for column ideas and try to get one or two extra columns written so I would have a backlog for the occasional awful week when I couldn't get five columns written. The percentage of fanzines locced dipped again.
Fortunately, this gradual breakdown in meeting fannish obligations didn't reduce the number of fanzines arriving at my home. Except for a few fanzines like Yandro that didn't include locs among The Usual, some local club bulletins, and an occasional fanzine from someone who didn't like me, I received virtually all the fanzines being published in the English language for non-apa purposes. And something peculiar began to happen around this time. I would find once in a while a loc from me in a fanzine's letter column which I felt pretty sure I hadn't written. I wondered if the fanzine's editor had put my name on a loc from someone else because of force of habit, the habit of having a loc from me in each issue, or if I had misread the loc section and had imagined I saw my name over the letter I didn't remember having written. I never complained, for fear I would look silly if the latter explanation was the true one.
By this time, fanzines were beginning to experience the problems that have become more acute during the 1980s: most younger fans were interested in comic books or television or the movies instead of prozines and books, and their favoured forms of fanac were going to cons and forming local clubs and partying instead of reading and publishing general interest fanzines. I hated to make the situation worse by cutting back sharply on the number of locs I wrote, at a time when so many fanzines were having trouble getting feedback from readers. But my eyes began to give me a great deal of trouble, an operation prevented me from typing for several months one year, I couldn't resist the urge to watch all the baseball games that suddenly became available when the Hagerstown cable took Ted Turner's Atlanta superstation aboard, and then the local newspapers switched to computer operation which forced me to use a terminal whose screen created almost daily headaches that left me unfit for much reading or typing when I got home. It seemed impossible to continue to write locs at even my reduced level of output and I felt I should cut back drastically, perhaps even retire completely as a lochack. But I didn't know how to go about it. If I told this fan I couldn't loc his fanzine any longer and I continued to write locs on another fanzine, I would create immense amounts of ill will for myself. If I told all fans I wouldn't be writing any more locs, I would no longer receive some fanzines I very much wanted to read regularly because they weren't available for money. For several months while I tried to decide on a course of action, I wrote very few locs, and something strange happened. Fanzines continued to arrive at their usual quantity rate and most of them contained locs from me.
I consulted two or three older fans whose knowhow is vast, on a dnq basis. They agreed with my hypothesis. Decade after decade of excessive loc writing on my part had established a sort of mass hypnosis in fandom. Everyone engaged in fanzine fandom expected to receive a loc from me after publishing a fanzine and to read a loc from me in each fanzine published by someone else, and they continued to think they received locs and read locs even when I didn't write them. Every year since the 1960s there had been at least a half-dozen statements in fanzines every year that I wrote a loc on every issue of a fanzine I received, even though anyone unfamiliar with fandom could have disproved the statements by looking through a stack of fanzines chosen at random. The current belief I was still writing numerous locs was nothing more than an intensification of the old truism caused by the passing of still more time. To make sure, I gave some fanzines to a mundane friend. He reported finding locs from me in just two or three of them. Presumably they had been written by fanzine editors who assumed they'd lost a loc from me and tried to reconstruct the missing letter from memory or were invented by the editor to prevent his fanzine from being the only fanzine published that year without my loc in its normal place. Fans were obviously imagining they read locs from me in those other fanzines because they had never experienced the concept that I could stop writing locs.
I believe it was in 1979 when I wrote my last loc to a fanzine. The legend that I am fandom's champion loc writer doesn't seem to have suffered since then and it is even strengthened from time to time when a fan in Australia or Manhattan writes a fantastic article alleging to explain how I achieve such epistling feats. I still receive most of the non-apa fanzines being published, and I think I enjoy them more than ever, now that I needn't think while reading about what I'm going to say about them in a loc. I confess that I've stopped reading loc sections, however. If I thought I found comments from me in them, it might confuse me.