At the 1996 Eastercon, Evolution, the two of us spent a lot of our time doing a newsletter. Not the official convention newsletter, Primordial Slime but an alternative publication, Wrath of Ghu. So why would anyone in their right minds do a convention newsletter when they don't have to? Well, it was like this...
The Confab committee (pretty much the same group of reprobates as the Plokta cabal) was having one of its famous committee meetings; good beer, good food, good slash and lots of lying around feeling wasted. We were discussing what we could do now that Confabulation (the 1995 Eastercon) had been and gone. None of us wanted to run another Eastercon, but we wanted to keep doing things as a group, or there'd be no excuse for the committee meetings. One of the suggestions was that we should volunteer to do a convention newsletter, partly because we were too busy to do one at Confab and partly because several of us had been involved with Intersection's newsletter, Voice of the Mysterons. So, the question came up of who was doing Evolution's newsletter... "Bridget," came the reply. "What, Bridget Hardcastle? But she's chairman, she can't do newsletter and be chairman!" "No, Bridget Wilkinson." We considered Bridget's attitude to libel and scandal. She produces the monthly Fans Across the World newsletter, which is notable for being more worthy than Attitude. Much more worthy than Attitude. More worthy than the Financial Times, in fact. "She's not going to be very scurrilous, is she?" "Well, I guess they reckon that anyone who can turn out a regular monthly newszine is reliable enough to do the convention newsletter" "But it's so serious! And she never mentions moose! We ought to do our own pirate newsletter just so people have something amusing to read in the bar" "Yeah, we could bring the PCs and the laser printer and set up an alternative newsroom." "We could have a creationist theme and poke fun at Evolution, do the heavy revivalist preacher bit..."
However, like many good ideas, it might have ended there if it hadn't been for Alison and Steven taking a holiday in India. For in the duty free shop at Heathrow they spotted a Casio QV-10, one of the first digital cameras to get below £500 and the first with a cosmic instant gratification preview screen on the camera back. After a desperate struggle with the conscience of her credit cards, Alison bought it, took loads of holiday snaps, and started raving about to anyone in sight. The Bob Shaw memorial event in Warrington was the next time that the committee met, and the digital camera was displayed in all its glory. Alison showed off pictures that they had printed from it using just a laser printer; and suddenly the idea of doing a newsletter seemed much more achievable.
We decided however, that we wanted the newsletter to reflect fandom, not Christianity, so we decided that we were to be creationist from the viewpoint of Ghu, the traditional fannish deity. We took the templates we had used for VoM and simplified them. We were a bit short of the necessary kit, so I bought a laptop, Alison bought a 600 dpi laser printer and Sue bought a new biro. I was doing the signs for Evolution, so I needed to have a computer and printer there anyway (the Radisson is one seriously warped hotel; it's one of those dimensionally challenged buildings where every so often a chambermaid gets eaten by a shoggoth...). Oh, and as of the last minute, I was also doing DCM which meant I looked like being pretty busy for most of the con. Still we reckoned that it would only take a couple of hours to produce an issue, which should be quite feasible.
So, we got to the con and set up our room with all the technology we could fit in the car (the convention charity was Intermediate Technology, a group that specialises in giving third world countries the sort of machines that would actually be useful to them -- hence the Superfluous Technology bit). We also had large amounts of paper (useful), chocolate (necessary) and sake (essential). We did our various jobs for the con, I posted signs everywhere I could (though I knew I was in trouble when I got lost putting the signs up) and tried to convince Ben Yalow that I shouldn't do all the early morning shifts. We also perused the first issue of the official newsletter, Primordial Slime. If it had been stunning, we might have stopped right there and history as we know it might have been very different. But it was, as we had anticipated, a little worthy. Alison and I repaired to my room and we began to prepare the first issue.
We set up the layout, inserted sundry digital photos and silly stories, re-arranged things, moved bits about, you know, all the stuff you've since come to know and love in Plokta. Then we coupled up the printer and tried running off a few copies. The quality was fine, but the speed was abysmal. We tried a few tricks to speed things up, but nothing worked. Shit. At this rate it was going to take us several hours to print off each issue and it was already quite late at night. Giulia was hankering after her beauty sleep and was in danger of collapsing into the sake. We resigned ourselves to an abysmally small print-run. After taking over an hour to print about 30 copies, Mike Scott appeared on a quest for a re-supply of flavoured condoms... He pointed out that we had the "Collate Copies" option switched on, which meant that the whole text was being sent to the printer individually for each of the 200 copies. We switched off the option and suddenly newsletters started spewing out of the printer. We looked at each other sheepishly. Mike looked insufferably smug. We had been outgeeked.
WoG was a great success; the 200 copies meant that it was in sufficiently short supply for people to have heard of it and be actively looking for copies, whilst having a sporting chance of actually finding one. Primordial Slime seemed to benefit from the competition, too. With the addition of Alex Stewart and Jan van t'Ent to the official editorial team, the two newsletters began to feed off each other and to spark off running gags in all directions. Of course, WoG still had the overwhelming advantages of the digital camera, no requirement to print anything truthful and no schedule to stick to. We also didn't have to sit in the newsroom; we just took the laptop into the bar and wrote the newsletter there. I heartily recommend this to anyone else producing a newsletter; it's much more fun and you get much better quality scandal.
Over the weekend we did six issues, one of which was the "official" spoof newsletter, Primordial Ghu/Wrath of Slime. We got more adept with both the printer and the camera. We berated ourselves for the poor quality of some of the pixellated digital photos, but since then we've seen far worse in the UK's national newspapers. On about Sunday evening, we thought "Let's do a fanzine together next." So, Plokta is a direct descendant. However, two hours an issue turned out to be a bit optimistic. Seven would be more like it.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Just don't ask us to do it again. We've proved it's possible and that you can produce a top-quality newsletter whilst sitting in the bar, armed only with several thousand quids' worth of superfluous technology. We're now looking forward to our next project. The virus convention infiltrates a real SF con; you rent a small portion of the con hotel directly, run programming, and sell stickers allowing entry to the virus convention to your friends and other luminaries. Meanwhile, the host convention gets to do all the tricky and boring stuff. Remember, there'll never be a gripe session at a virus con. Coming soon to an Eastercon near you.
-- Steve Davies
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