In the pre-Internet era, young artists, writers, and entrepreneurs often combined their interests to produce fanzines (or "semi-pro zines" if they paid for content), small press publications that filled a void in the marketplace and actually advanced the appreciation for the subjects (comics, SF, film, horror, etc.) highlighted in the magazines. Artists and authors were able to hone their craft or, if they were already working professionals, experiment with subjects or ideas they normally didn't have the opportunity to explore; publishers wet behind the ears were able to learn the ins and outs of the business while refining their design and editorial skills; readers were able to get something more than what the professional houses were putting on the news stands. Win, win, win.
Above: The first appearance of what became Superman, written by Jerry Siegel under the pseudonym of Herbert S. Fine with art by Joe Shuster.
Fanzines were a natural extension of science fiction fandom, which in turn spawned comics fandom; it's well known that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first created Superman for their fanzine Science Fiction #3 in 1933 (and eventually sold the character to National Allied Publications, much to their eventual sorrow). Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Ray Harryhausen all produced fanzines in their youth, creating crude yet enthusiastic journals with stencils and mimeograph machines. Stephen King's sold his first story, "I Was a Teenage Grave Robber," to the amateur journal Comics Review, while Tim Kirk built his reputation doing cartoons for numerous fanzines, eventually capitalizing on his recognition to be the artist for the first Lord of the Rings calendar from Ballantine Books. Tim went on to design parts of Disneyland, Disney World, and Epcot and is currently working on designs for the Hong Kong Disneyland.
With the advent of off-set printing and machine saddle-stitch binding, fanzines not only became something of a higher-quality training ground for aspiring creatives, but they eventually began to compete with professional publishers for talent, advertisers, and customers. Trends, ideas, styles, and concepts were many times tried out in the more experimental amateur arena first before being adapted by the mainstream.
Now days, with the dominance of the Internet, chain bookstores, and professional publications that address many of the subjects and interests that used to be the domain of the small presses (combined with an overall decline in magazine sales), fanzines are no longer as common or influential as they once were. But there was a time when the most exciting part of the field was the small press publications. Here are a few of my favorites. Above: Heritage was an ambitious, 2-issue fanzine devoted to Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon. It featured articles, photos, and new Flash stories by Jeffrey Jones and Frank Brunner among others.