Chris Garcia is a long-time science fiction fan activist. He’s been heavily involved in fanzines for years and, more recently, has been making documentaries. Chris is one of a core group of people planning a larger documentary series about science fiction fandom.
Chris chatted with Nalini via personal messaging for this interview, so it’s in text only.
Hi, Chris, thanks for talking to Dark Matter.
Howdy! Always glad to talk with Dark Matter!
Chris, when did you discover science fiction?
I don’t remember when there wasn’t SF around me! My dad read it, mostly as comics, and I took it up pretty early. I got most interested myself after having Kurt Vonnegut for a class project in Junior High
‘Having Kurt Vonnegut’ – that sounds like you had him for breakfast or maybe he visited? Or is that wishful thinking?
Wishful thinking, sadly.
At what age were you introduced to Doctor Who? As it’s the 50th anniversary this year and you started on the SF so young, I have to ask – DID YOU HAVE THE HIDING BEHIND THE COUCH EXPERIENCE?
You know, I’m not sure exactly. We had KTEH 54 on and they had a science fiction block every Sunday night and we always watched it. I remember watching Blake’s 7 and Star Cops and Red Dwarf, and a few Whos, so it was certainly before I was 10 or so. The hiding behind the couch thing was saved for Jack the Ripper specials!
Rofl. I didn’t watch anything that harrowing when I was young enough to hide behind chairs. So you had an early introduction to SF, then you continued to wend your way into fandom. Tell us about your journey from watching TV to becoming a SF fan personality.
Indeed. My dad took me to a few cons and showed my first zines. Oddly, after high school, I was away from fandom until I was 25, when the Computer History Museum was asked to send someone to Baycon. The late Kathryn Daugherty asked and I was chosen, and that brought me back in. I did a couple of panels, remembered how much I loved cons as a kid and it was off to the races!
That’s great. So you feel you came in from the cold and kept going to conventions. How did your fan experience evolve from attending some events to creating zines and all the other stuff you do?
That’s a bit of a round-about story. I started going to cons, and I remembered my Dad’s zines when I was a kid, but at first I didn’t think about them still being around. Then I went to a con that had a fanzine lounge where I got copies of Niekas and Mimosa. Those opened up my eyes. After a friend of mine got a Hugo for Best Fan Artist, Frank Wu, there was an article about him in a zine called eI, so I wrote to it. And I found eFanzines through that.
I started writing letters and articles, and that led to me thinking about doing zines myself. In 2005, I launched The Drink Tank, which was so much fun. I just loved layout and writing and such. Just a month or two after that, I started Claims Department. A while later, I took over Science Fiction/San Francisco. A couple of years later Journey Planet with James Bacon started, and the rest is recent history!
eFanzines was launched in December 2000: did all of this happen this century?
It did! It started for me in 2003: the Westercon in Seattle was that Fanzine Lounge! I really didn’t become a publishing juggernaut until 2005!
And what a juggernaut you are. Why did you decide to start so many fanzines? Why not just do one?
Well, that’s a part of my segmented love of the world. I started The Drink Tank to have a place for my thoughts, then Claims Department was for a longer series of stories about my travels. Exhibition Hall was because I love Steampunk and that fandom is separated from SF fandom really. Journey Planet because James Bacon is undeniable and wanted to start a zine! I just like doing the writing and layout so much, why only one?
With this kind of thinking, you’ve developed several niche zines. Will you stick to the four or is there potential for more?
There will be more, no doubt. In fact, I’m launching a new zine next week, dedicated to film called Klaus at Gunpoint. I’ll get another itch and launch another zine, maybe on wrestling…
or the Geelong Cats…
or Crockpot cooking…
For those who aren’t in the know, the Geelong Cats are an Australian Rules football team competing at the highest level of the Australian Football League. Geelong… Geelong is an industrial city south west of Melbourne, which probably implies all you need to know about Melbourne’s relationship with Geelong except some Melbournians love the Cats.
Personally I recommend the crockpot cooking zine, but then I’m not into sport. 😛
I do love Crockpots!
You seem to live at conventions these days, using your home as a pit-stop between. What are some of your favourite conventions and why?
Wow, there are so many. I love Gallifrey One, a con at the LAX Marriott. I just got back and it was an absolute blast. BayCon will always have a place in my heart. I was at the first as a kid and they were the ones who brought me back to fandom. I love SteamCon in Seattle. Steampunk is a favourite, and it’s a lot of fun as a con.
WorldCons can be amazing, with the Reno WorldCon being my fave of recent years, though it has an unfair advantage over all the others
Why did Reno have an unfair advantage?
Well, finally winning the Hugo, and the fact that ALL my British friends made it across. And the food was magical! And Tim Powers was there and he’s my favourite author!
You won the Hugo for Best Fanzine. What was going through your mind in the lead up to the announcement?
You see, the deck was stacked against me. It was the 2nd to last day of a 10 day adventure. I’d had less than 4 hours sleep each of those nights, so I was exhausted. They do a crawl of the names of every SF personality who died and one of them was Mike Glicksohn, who I had become a great admirer of after his passing and his name showed up and that got me emotional. Then they’re reading the names and I lean over to James Bacon and said “You know, I think File 770 is gonna win” and then David Cake announces The Drink Tank, and all hell broke loose!
And you made a very memorable acceptance speech.
I don’t know if I’d say that. It was an Acceptance Moment. It was the five stages of Overwhelming Joy![Chris’s acceptance speech starts at 0:53 seconds]
First there was hugging. Tim Powers, my favourite author, was in the front row. He was yelling ‘You won! You won!” and I hugged him and that led to even more emotions running through me like Bulls in Pamplona. Then the crying kicked in, oddly followed by denial.
“I can’t believe I won this thing!”
Then there was sitting after my knees just didn’t keep working. Luckily, James held it all together and did the work of actually accepting. Finally came acceptance, as I manage to thank my family, both real and selected, and that was that. It really was one of those moments that I had no idea what to do, and I really wish I could try to do it again!
Maybe there’ll be a second rocket to add to your collection, then you’ll have another opportunity.
I don’t think it’ll happen any time soon, but staying on the ballot would be nice, because then you can go to the parties!
Speaking of which, your acceptance speech was also nominated for a Hugo, dramatic short form.
It was, which was wild because of the party! You see, they have a party for all the nominees, and I was up for Best Dramatic Presentation Short form against Dan Harmon of Community, my favourite show, and Neil Gaiman for Doctor Who. They take a picture of the nominees so there’s a great photo of all of us wearing the fake goatees from Community.
Awesome. Ah, so THAT’S the origin of that pic, I’ve seen it a few times now. You’re currently involved in a new project…
I am, a documentary, in fact! About Fandom in the 21st Century, called 5 Cons. It’s a 21st Century Fandom Documentary Series
What inspired this project?
You know, I’ve always been a lover of documentary, and I was working on a project about 4 years ago of interviewing folks about their interaction with fandom. I saw that there was a stretch of 5 cons coming up where I’d be involved in 5 different ways: one where I’d just be an attendee, one where I’d be the Fan Guest of Honour, one where I’d be working on exhibits and finally one where I’d be a fan at a con that’s focused on professionals. I’d wanted to do a project with The Lovely & Talented Linda.
Has this project been underway for four years or have you recently resurrected the idea?
Just brought it back up. Linda and I were talking about what we could do to make the cons a bit easier to make happen and this idea bubbled to the surface.
Why do you think a documentary would make it easier to make conventions happen?
Because we’d have a target, a goal to reach for, and it could help us raise funds by doing a campaign. If I’ve got something to do, I tend to make it happen!
Who is your target audience, who do you expect to watch the documentary?
Well, we’re doing it sort of two-fold: one is for folks who are interested in fandoms, a pretty general audience, and then there’s the Fan History aspect. One of the things we hope to do is to give the footage we gather to an institution like The Eaton Collection at UC Riverside, or one of the other Fan History groups so that we’d have a document of what and who made up fandom.
So it’d also be a snapshot of fandom at a particular point in time?
Exactly! The year 2013!
How are you planning to structure this documentary? Will you be weaving a narrative like the recent Spurlock ComicCon documentary, dividing the cons into individual episodes…
Well, it’ll be formed episodically, with a different view in each point. We’re doing some specifically on individual conventions, some as a wider view, and some on people and themes. It’ll add up to 15 or so episodes that we’ll also put together as a single documentary. I haven’t seen the Spurlock doc. Also, we’re not covering ComicCon, largely because I don’t really think of that as being a part of fandom anymore, it’s more of a Trade Show than a con these days.
What are some of the themes you’ll be exploring?
How fandom bring folks together, the relationship between in-person fandom and on-line fandom. We’ll look at an event we’re calling “The Cautionary Tale of ZellaCon” about how a Hoax bid turned into an actual convention. We’ll be looking at romance and fandom, the Hugos and how pros and fans collide and collaborate.
That sounds interesting. Do you have any professionals committed to being involved at this stage?
Spill. Name the names!
John Picacio (2012 Hugo winner for Best Pro Artist) and Mary Robinette Kowal (2011 Best Short Story Hugo winner). There are fans too, like James Bacon, John Coxon, and the DUFF and TAFF winners when we find out who they’ll be. We’re hoping for at least 200 or so intereviews!
200 interviews! That’s a lot of air time.
Well, I tend to be Shoot Much, Edit More!
What other documentaries have you done?
I did one called Rock The Block: The Story of the Cactus Club, a feature length doc I produced.
Is it publicly available on YouTube, iTunes or other stores?
Not yet, but it will be someday.
I did a Doc for the ZerOne festival in San Jose, and my overall YouTube has my informal Docs. I’ve been doing little videos of my time at cons for a few years now. They’re simple, far-simpler than what we’ll be doing for 5 Cons.
What are the differences that you have planned? Is it just the length or is there more involved?
Far more involved. These are just quick-and-dirty, 5 Cons will be more designed as a real documentary, more formal, longer, and better shot and edited.
What lessons have you learnt from the previous documentaries?
That you gotta find the story from the footage first, not the other way around! Sometimes, you’re too focused on what you THOUGHT the story was instead of the REAL story.
So you’ve learnt to be flexible?
Yeah, and better at paying attention.
I’m typically a Producer, and directing is different. Linda’s my Producer, and she’s far better at that sort of thing than I am!
You’re not the camera person then? If Linda is Producing, what role will you play?
There’s more than one of us shooting. Myself, Linda, Alissa McKersie, and James Bacon are already involved, plus we expect more people to join us as we go along. One of the important things about this is that we want to have a wide range of people working with us. I love fandom and I love working with people. This gives us a chance to work with all our friends!
How will you manage this production with day jobs etcetera?
I’m famous for being able to fit things in. We’re shooting mostly during cons, which makes that part easier. Cons make it even easier because so many folks I’d want to talk to will be in one place!
This proposed documentary is on IndieGoGo to raise money to cover costs: why use IndieGoGo?
Well, I’ve used Kickstarter for a zine printing fundraiser, and it couldn’t accept donations from outside the US. One of the things that’s really important to us is to provide an international focus, and IndieGoGo makes that much, much easier.
You’re accepting donations globally, but how will you provide an international focus within the documentary?
Well, one of the cons we’re shooting at is in England, and we’ll be interviewing folks from the UK, Canada, Australia (hopefully!) and Alissa is going to be located in Ireland, doing interviews there! Once we’re at a con, we’ll probably run into folks from all over!
Australians NEVER do interviews
I really want to talk with Israeli fans because that’s a fandom I’m very interested in.
Which convention will you be at in England?
World Fantasy convention; it’s geared towards pros more than fans, but it’s an interesting convention. It basically tells the story of Pros as Fans and the relationship between the two.
What do you mean by ‘it tells the story of Pros as Fans’?
It’s about how Pros interact with each other, with their fans, with their work and conventions.
Interesting. Are there any other key features of this documentary you haven’t mentioned yet?
So many! The big thing is we’re doing this with a very low-fi sensibility, cheap cameras, iMovie… We’re working on doing a film that’s not super-flashy, but that focuses on the content!
So you’re targeting an audience who is genuinely interested in the fandom and/or people, not an audience who is looking for flashy entertainment?
And, of course, having said that it’s going to turn into a Michael Bay film!
Hum. Yeah. I can see that!
Your IndieGoGo funding campaign has 36 days to go and you’ve already raised 2/3 of the funds. What will you do with the extra funds if you are overfunded?
We’ve planned to fund only about 1/2 of the project, because we felt we had to show that we were willing to make the documentary even if we don’t get the funding, so if we over-fund, we’ll just lower our financial input.
You won’t expand the series then?
Well, you never know. Hell, as often happens with me, it’s likely to be expanded just because I have a good time doin’ it! Ultimately, that’s what drives me: Having fun.
What is the story behind ‘fandom the VHS game’ donation prize? What would you do if someone actually donated $20,000?
The Fandom VHS game concept is based upon my love of the Wrestlemania VHS game. When I did my first Kickstarter, we had a 10,000 level. For at least 10 dollars, you got a copy of the zines, for 10,000 you got 2 copies. If we manage to get someone to donate 20,000 grand, I’ll make the game, buy the VCR and send it out!
How do the fanzine editors react to all of this creativity and the kickstarter projects? I’ve been lambasted for putting up a ‘donate’ button!
I actually don’t pay that much attention! A few donated, but not many. In general, a lot of Fanzine Fans don’t pay too much attention to what I do, though some do.
So you wisely just ignore the old-school tradionalists?
Not really. Some of the traditionalists are a lot of fun! I just manage to not take anything in too deep. I think the thing that annoys a lot of folks is that I can suck, know that what I do sucks, and not be bothered by it!
I will refrain from pursuing that line of questioning in order to avoid yet another flame war.
That might be a good idea.
Do you have anything to add about your documentary?
I just wanna say if anyone has something they wanna make sure gets covered in the doc, the best way is to help us out! We’re looking for folks who have photos and video footage of cons and we’d love to see if we might be able to work with folks.
How do people get involved and get in touch?
Thank you very much for talking to Dark Matter; I wish you all the best in your funding campaign and with the documentary.
And thank you for lettin’ me!