New book about cult magazines does great job of recounting history of bOING bOING


Luis Ortiz sent me a copy of his new book, Cult Magazines: A to Z: A Compendium of Culturally Obsessive & Curiously Expressive Publications, which he co-edited with Earl Kemp. It's a remarkable history of special interest magazines from the 1920s to the 1990s, arranged alphabetically.

As you might imagine, "special interest" mainly means magazines with photos of unclothed women, and this category is well represented here, but there are also lots of lovingly-written entries on magazines about science fiction, adventure, the occult, detective stories, music, comics, humor, and movies.

The entry on bOING bOING, the zine, is very accurate. I have no idea where they got these details, but they included things I'd completely forgotten about, and things I didn't think I'd ever told anyone before. (The only bit that's incorrect is that our last issue was 15, not 16.) Luis kindly gave me permission to run bOING bOING's entry here:

BOING BOING

The zeitgeist of the 1980s through 1990s was full of people attempting to meld computers, technology, sex, literature, and art. The science fiction sub-genre cyberpunk was one offshoot of this mating, and it served as the hot core of many new magazines. Mondo 2000, Black Ice (from England), N6, Nonstop, SF Eye, Future Sex, and bOING bOING were all 'zines that shared much of the same mindset, and some of the same writers.

In 1988, Mark Frauenfelder and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Carla Sinclair, began putting together a fanzine full of fun technology, freaky comics, Silicon Alley gutter-curb culture, cyber-science fiction culture, and all manner of posthuman irreverent things. Frauenfelder, while working as a mechanical engineer, had discovered Factsheet 5, a review for do-it-yourself magazines, and was inspired to create his own zine. He used a dot matrix printer and the copier at his office to publish the first 32-page issue of bOING bOING, which included an interview with Robert Anton Wilson, a piece on brain machines by Sinclair, and comics by Frauenfelder. The couple sent copies to Factsheet 5, and the review there brought the 'zine to the attention of Ubiquity Distributors in New York City. Soon Fine Print and Dessert Moon distributors, who were all looking to get into the zine boom of the early 1990s, picked it up.

Paul Di Filippo's "Ribofunk" ran in the second issue, along with work by Gareth Branwyn who joined the editorial staff. By the fifth issue, the self-styled "neurozine" began running color covers, and carried ever-changing mottos: "The perpetual novelty brain jack" or "The brain mutator for higher primates." It didn't take long for bOING bOING to find its audience (a group made up of alternative comics fans, first generation cyberpunks, and computer geeks), and the magazine was soon selling over ten thousand copies an issue, even though it is quite probable that none of its readers could describe the magazine to non-readers. A sort of editorial/manifesto appeared in the eighth issue: "How can our paranoid one-maze monkey brains integrate new structures and patterns? Where is the hard reset button on our nervous systems that'll allow us to flavor our thinking with new epistemological spices? One of bOING bOING's purposes is to explore metanoia (the ability to simultaneously incorporate multiple tunnel realities) and discover some of the countless ways to achieve this fun state."

bOING bOING was put together by geeks for geeks. Frauenfelder was also the magazine's main illustrator, and utilized a cartoony style that appeared cribbed from the spare 50s television cartoons of Gene Deitch. The writers included a mulligan stew of science fiction authors and tech-heads like Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, Richard Kadrey, John Shirley, Charles Platt, and Rudy Rucker. Circulation reached 17,500 by the 16th issue [should be the 15th issue -- Mark], but the bankruptcy of Fine Print Distributors left Frauenfelder and Sinclair in the hole for $30,000. The distribution aspect had always been on shaky ground and when another distributor collapsed Frauenfelder and Sinclair attempted to sell the magazine directly to readers with mixed results. In the magazine's last year, the couple were working on books and internet projects that would eventually replace bOING bOING. Frauenfelder was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998 and founding editor of Wired online. bOING bOING was a website for a while, before turning into the popular web blog it is today. In an interview, Sinclair said, "bOING bOING always comes back."

Cult Magazines: A to Z: A Compendium of Culturally Obsessive & Curiously Expressive Publications