The High School
by Mike Gunderloy
from "How to Publish a Fanzine"
Most of you, on seeing
that title, probably conjured up a vision of a group of young,
dope-smoking revolutionaries, publishing a sheet that was equal
parts rhetoric, obscenity and direct challenge to the administration,
and getting frisked, suspended, and expelled for their efforts.
I'm afraid that I'm going to disappoint you. While there may
still be a few HS undergrounds in the grand tradition of the
early '70s (and I'd love to see examples if anyone knows of them),
I'm going to talk of my own experiences on the staff of the Underground
Pony Express. We were a product of the late '70s, satirical
rather than radical, and we had a lot of fun and a few years'
success. I think this experience did a lot to get me started
on the road to self-publishing, and it might be instructive for
those of you wondering what makes a self-publisher.
Like most other schools, Simi Valley
High School had an "official" paper, the Pony Express.
It was a training ground for the sort of journalists who
write the sports news in towns with populations under 20,000,
and of course it was excruciatingly dull. They regularly printed
2500 copies about one for every student and burned 90 percent
of them the next week because no one had bothered to pick them
up. If no news is good news, their content was excellent.
On the other hand, life at SVHS wasn't
all that bad. It was an open campus, so we could get away for
lunch or to cut classes. The rules, such as they were, weren't
strictly enforced on the students. A couple of the administrators
maintained close and friendly ties with the campus community,
and some of the teachers were on a first-name basis with the
students (practically unheard-of at the time). Even the smokers
did their thing across the street without being harassed.
But this didn't stop some of us from
wanting to have fun. Born as a four-page dittoed effort, the
Underground Pony Express (UPE) came into existence. The
first issue set the tone for what was to come, dusting off a
few hoary old jokes (like the Round Tuit), and printing "news"
that was a mixture of satire and surrealism, with made-up quotes
from campus figures and bizarre stories, such as one of the classics
about the Killer Rabbits lurking in the shrubbery.
I got involved around issue #3, when
we went to offset printing and the UPE took off in popularity.
Someone hunted up a printer who would give us a good price on
a four-page full-size paper (translation: a bunch of students
could come up with the money to front the first issue), we all
went over to somebody's house and shot the breeze, and somehow
an issue emerged. Over the next couple of years we got our act
together, and although it never became routine (mostly because
the editors were always getting into vicious arguments with one
another, and quitting on a rotating basis), the broad outlines
of the operation stabilized pretty well.
Most of the content of the paper was
in the form of columns, each written by a different person. Some
of them were just plain bizarre, as for example "Colonel
Fonsby," the adventures of our man in deepest Africa. Others
had a vaguely philosophical bent, like "The Seaside Wanderer,"
who walked along the sands and came up with ideas on how life
and the universe and all that worked. My own major contribution
was simply inexplicable, a loving discussion of pay phones and
all the uses they could be put to for shaking people up, together
with a listing of choice phone numbers.
Besides the personalized columns, there
were features all of us worked on. Chief among these was the
first-page section devoted to invented quotations from student
leaders, faculty and administrators. These were designed to point
up people's typical concerns and way of speaking in a friendly
(mostly) manner. There were a few people we got vicious towards,
but they were the butt of general campus disapproval in the first
place. Then there were the classified ads, the "Believe
it or Don't" section (DID YOU KNOW THAT: Simi High was originally
built as a Holiday Inn? BELIEVE IT OR DON'T), and various filler,
like "The Marines are looking for a few Good Men.... But
They'll Take What They Can Get."
We usually ran three or four actual articles
on issue, ranging from the absurd to the mildly subversive. The
closest we got to the Sixties stereotype of an underground paper
was "How To Steal Books From the Library," an article
that very nearly got us all suspended who would have believed
that 200 fanatic readers would follow instructions? The next
issue we published instructions on making a bomb from a can of
chicken soup, but apparently no one planted any of those around
campus. Too Bad. Other favorites include one on a rash of UFOs
kidnapping teachers, students and homework and, of course, the
Killer Rabbits story.
Occasionally, when the funds ran low
or we felt like a change, a special issue would appear. One of
these was a dittoed program book for "Parents' Night,"
which we handed out in addition to the more usual one prepared
by the administration. There was a series of calendars, featuring
famous dates and the occasional illustration, like "Invention
of the Frog." Our senior year, the Other Paper decided not
to print any "Senior Wills," for the first time in
years, and the UPE stepped into the gap.
One major advantage of our lighthearted
approach was that we were at least tolerated, if not loved, by
the administration. (It also helped that we had checked out the
applicable laws which in California at the time basically stated
that you could distribute a paper any place and time you wanted
so long as you did not interfere with the orderly running of
the school.) In fact, we made a special point of giving copies
to teachers, walking even into the Sacred Teacher's Lounge on
the morning of publication day to hand them out.
The only problem with student distribution
was that we always ran out. Our press runs hovered around 500,
which meant that they tended to be all gone within hours of hitting
the campus. But they were passed from hand to hand for weeks,
and we were satisfied that our actual circulation was much greater
than that of The Other Paper.
Financing was solved by simply begging
for the most part, although we did manage to sell a few ads (but,
by far, the majority of the ads were fakes). When we were ready
to print an issue, the staff would begin systematically harassing
everyone on campus who we were in the slightest acquainted with.
If someone didn't want to contribute, fine, but we were popular
enough that the stash of dollars, quarters and dimes would accumulate
enough to pay for the issue after a hard day or two of soliciting
funds. on occasion, one of the more student-oriented teachers
would kick in a twenty, but even this didn't keep us from making
fun of them as well as everyone else.
Alas, all good things must come to an
end. After my class graduated, we left the UPE in what
we thought were capable hands in the next class. Unfortunately,
they stepped over the fine line dividing satire from libel, and
after a single issue that disgusted even former supporters and
staffers, they wisely shut up. Too bad.
Copyright 1988 Mike
Gunderloy. Posted with permission. To download "How to Publish
a Fanzine," click here. To return
to the index, click here.
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