Friday, September 22, 2006

V - A History of the Fanzine That Gripped a Nation...sorta

If you stumbled upon this weblog by accident, you'll probably be asking yourself what "V - The Next Generation" refers to. Wasn't that a sci-fi miniseries from the 1980's? Wasn't it really cheesy? Well, no and yes, respectively. Here's the story.

I wrote and published a videogame fanzine back in 1993 called V - The Videogame Experience. I don't remember why I named it that, although I was often proud of my ability to come up with cool names for things. Perhaps I was thinking of Jimi Hendrix, which is odd because this was years before I evolved into the Jimi-Dylan-Neil Young quasi-hippie that I am today.

Anyway, V was my contribution to fandom, and it was my third or fourth fanzine up to that point. I already had experience with an Atari Lynx zine that was pounded out during high school computer class (and on an Apple II, no less), and a couple sci-fi zines through Star Trek clubs. Yeah, everyone has a terrible skeleton in their closet. That's mine.

V was something I was deeply proud of, and I spent an absurd amount of time on Microsoft Publisher (which, btw, sucked) making sure the layout was perfect, and everything was sooo professional. There was the lead editorial, some reviews, a few features, and all stapled together with a colored front page.

The above picture is from the first issue of V - TVE, published in April, 1993. It included a walk-through strategy guide for Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest that kept me out of more than a couple college classes (yeah, smart move, Einstein) and some bright spots. It was followed by two more issues in the same format; issue two with a blue cover, and issue three in pink.

The second issue offered more of the same, and maybe a couple more pages as well. The cover was stretched out, so it actually filled the page, and it was in blue as mentioned before. What exactly did I write in that one? I'm sitting here, scrambling for some scraps of memory, but they years have completely washed #2 away. I do remember that this is when letters and other zines started to appear in my mailbox, and I became aware of this growing underground scene.

V #3 was a major turning point for me. The first issue was highlighted in the zine section in Video Games magazine (the horribly butchered remains of the great Video Games and Computer Entertainment), and I was mentioned once before in Arnie Katz column (which essentially birthed the whole gaming zine scene). #3 was featured again in Video Games, and suddenly I was deluged with fan mail. Kids sending a dollar for an issue, of six bucks for a year's worth; other zines showing up in the mailbox, and press passes to the Consumer Electronics Shows in Chicago and Las Vegas.

I was then contacted by GamePro magazine, and was hired as a freelance reviews writer. For most of 1994 I wrote under the name "The Eternal Cheesehead" - the name was probably my growing restlessness with GamePro's policies and gaming journalism in general.

Oh, I nearly forgot - the cover for #3 had a post-it note with a stick figure animation, as a mockery of Nintendo's censorship of Mortal Kombat. Remember when that was such a big deal? I have a couple more stories about that, actually. Remind me to tell it sometime.

In 1994 I moved to Minneapolis, and lost my only copy of Publisher during CES in Las Vegas. All I had to use was an old PC and Wordperfect, a simple word processor. So when I returned to V for issue #4, the look had radically changed. It was far more basic, little more than two or three columns of text with marker pen graphics here and there. But the writing was much better, and my worldview was rapidly expanding. The title was also shortened to simply "V."

At the end of 1994 I ended my relationship with GamePro once I discovered my reviews had been censored. Criticisms had been toned down and the scores had been raised. It was common practice at that time for videogame publishers to intimidate the prozines into giving their games favorable coverage. Bad reviews meant pulled advertising. It felt like ending a dream, but I felt my convictions were more important. Remember, this was years before the internet took over everything. Today, I probably wouldn't even have been fazed.

Issue #5 improved in every way, and I think I really found a groove with the simpler style. I remember writing a piece on Warlords, musing what a modernized Tempest 2000-style version would look like. Didn't I reference Brian Setzer in the letters section? The letters were greatly expanded; I just wanted some great reading. This is when I really started to get hooked on painting with Kinko's Liquid Paper - a trait that continued into my art career years later. I was evolving into more of an artist, but I still wasn't really aware of it.

V #6 had a collage from a Nintendo ad for Super Punch-Out that showed a picture of a battered girl. It really pissed me off, so that was my revenge, I suppose. Well, that and a "fuck you" to Nintendo. More evidence of an emerging conscience from a 21-year-old Dittohead who was questioning everything. We used to call that a "breakout."

V #7 was the very best of the entire run. I found a real fun that the early, prettier issues lacked. Not spending weeks worrying about graphics and layout certainly helps, and I was mixing up the columns nicely while putting out my best writing to date. There was a lot of music influence, best demonstrated by the cover, which was a photocopied photo of Bob Stinson, the Replacements guitarist who had just died. The Replacements are considered legends in Minneapolis, on par with Prince and Dylan. I think this was in 1995, probably late in the year.

I do remember a V #8, which was another punkish collage - the evolution from the dark side was complete. I don't think there was more than one original page, and the rest was a "greatest hits" culled from all the issues. Again with the music influences. If you're wondering why so many of my paintings used song and album titles, now you know. I was a music junkie, and that was my re-education.

By 1996 I had tired of games, and the writing had moved so far away from games (and into music, politics, poetry, and personal life) that publishing the zine wasn't much fun anymore. Perhaps I just wasn't motivated enough. Perhaps it was just laziness. That reminds me - I still have to write this month's DVD column for my website. Dammit.

I had one final issue of V that included a large piece of toast. The toast was glued to the front page. I can't remember what compelled me to do that, or what else was in that issue; I think it was only a few pages of the usual apoligies for being "so late" (the zine mantra) and promises to deliver more issues. The sorry truth is that I threw away my entire zine collection long ago, in an effort to get rid of most of my possessions and simplify. Get back to the basics, get back to the core.

I did keep the covers from all eight issues, and I wish I did keep all the original pages. Imagine, then, my surprise when the first issue of V appeared a couple years ago on a website put out by an old faned. He put the whole thing up on his website, page by scanned page. Not bad. So I have a digital copy of #1. I really need to get the others. Any takers?

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