It’s a big year for Ray Bradbury. Fans of this incredible author are celebrating his centennial. Later this month, in fact, San Diego Comic-Con will feature him on the cover of their Souvenir Book* with a gorgeous William Stout illustration. It’s appropriate as Bradbury was a frequent guest and attendee of Comic-Con. (And artist Will Stout is one of the few people who has attended every San Diego Comic-Con.)
During this centennial, the prolific author, Bradbury, is very much on the mind of an industrious fan named David Ritter. Ritter kind of joined the party late, he admits. He started getting serious about Bradbury when he turned fifty, although he read E.E. “Doc” Smith and H.P. Lovecraft growing up.
But now, he’s making up for lost time, and he’s working hard on the First Fandom Experience. Here’s how David officially describes the effort:
“First Fandom Experience is a collaborative publishing project focused on the history and impact of science fiction fandom,” said David Ritter. “We are science fiction fanatics who aim to honor, preserve, and bring to life the experience of the ‘first fans’ — the pioneering fans who were instrumental in defining, driving, growing and supporting science fiction and fantasy in the 1930s and beyond. We seek to give readers a visceral sense of what it might have been like to be a science fiction fan during a seminal period in the development of the genre.
We hope to engage science fiction readers who are interested in understanding how science fiction grew from an obscure literary niche into a pervasive cultural phenomenon. FFE unpacks the relationship between science fiction fandom and comic books through the stories of early fans who were involved in both worlds. Julius Schwartz, long-time editor at DC Comics, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman, were among the first fans of science fiction and went on to help establish and define the comic book industry.”
The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom
This publication is their initial effort. It’s an astounding documentation of the early days of sci-fi fandom. It’s filled with great stories, illustrations and fan created art. In fact, there are over 500 illustrations included.
The origins of this volume are fascinating. Ritter and his team realized that they may have the most 1930s and ’40s fan-made science fiction material. And the question became, “What do you do with it?”
Having read The Immortal Storm, a classic analysis of science fiction written by Sam Moskowitz in the early ’70s, Ritter thought, “Could we tell the story of early fandom using the material that the fans themselves produced?” And it was all the more enticing as “so many of the fans, Julie Schwarz, Mort Weisinger, etc. became professionals creating work we all loved.”
In today’s documentary-obsessed culture, one can’t help but agree that this is better served as a book rather than as a documentary. The inclusion of so many lost treasures that readers can linger over and refer back to creates an immersive experience.
The First (!) Cosplay
Ritter is a masterful storyteller, and there are a lot of stories from the early days. He told me that tale of the first (!) cosplay. It was in 1939 when Forrest J. Ackerman and his wife dressed as a character from H.G.Wells’ Things to Come at New York’s First World Science Convention. Soon, Masquerades (the prototype for today’s cosplay events) would become a standard event at cons. Cosplay hasn’t slowed down since.
The Earliest Bradbury
The newest book, The Earliest Bradbury, is a unique exploration of Ray Bradbury’s earliest writings as a science fiction fan, presented in a rich and compelling visual style, and it sports a striking cover by one of my favorite artists, Mark Wheatley. He’s also supplied the art for the narrative sections.
Following in the footsteps of iconic writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, Bradbury’s stories reached beyond the mainstream of science fiction, earning him recognition with the National Medal of Arts (2004) and a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation (2007).
The astounding thing is that Bradbury started a fanboy. But what a time to be a fan! It seems like “everyone” from that time went on to create great things in science-fiction and comics.
As the story goes, Bradbury became friendly with Forrest J. Ackerman and the Los Angeles Science Fiction League (LASFL) in October 1937 when he was just seventeen years old. Just a few months later, Bradbury’s first published science fiction story appeared in the January 1938 issue of Imagination!
And The Earliest Bradbury lovingly charts that part of the journey, as a young fan becomes and impressive author. For more information check out the intro video here.
By the way, Happy Income Tax Day today. It’s so weird it’s in July, isn’t it?
*The 2020 Comic-Con Souvenir Book will debut on Wednesday, July 22 as a FREE downloadable PDF publication.