The central publication of what became known as the ‘zine scene’ was Mike Gunderloy’s Factsheet 5 (FF hereafter). Introducing itself as ‘the zine of crosspollination and crosscurrents,’ this publication was composed of pithy summaries of as much of the material that circulated through the autonomous zine networks. Its pages were complete with full contact information. Throughout its sixteen year run, the zine did not waiver in its aim to publicize the volumes of self-produced literature dedicated to topics and movements that lay beyond the moral, economic, political, and spiritual boundaries of conventional society. So by the time Gunderloy retired from FF in 1991, the publication had become the central hib for underground culture in the US. With listing that including everything from software to pornography to incense, FF represented the Library of Alexandria of the ‘black market,’ if not the Akashic Records of the ‘lunatic fringe’.
Factsheet Five facilitated the growth of the zine scene, and with it, the rise of a class of writers, visionaries, and artists whose talents elevated them to underground preeminence; as one commentator put it, these men were the ‘Demigods’ of this marginal milieu. The zine scene can be defined as the network of formerly insular zine micro-communities that grew to immense proportions between 1984-1991. FF was the undisputed facilitator of this meta-networking as it was within its pages that zines made their debut, duly judged for their merit, and changes of addresses were listed. It was simultaneously the central directory, editorial center, and showcase for underground self-publishing during this period. Gunderloy’s genius for editorializing made it so that the merits of every zine, no matter how outré, explicit, crude, or taboo, would clear for all to see. While an aside, it is worth asking how Gunderloy’s editorial style, and FF as a whole, reflected a Discordian sensibility. A convincing argument could be made that Gunderloy’s ability to entertain the virtues of the dramatically diverse publications he reviewed was a reflection of Discordian thought in the line of Sri Sayadast (cf.ch.3). The extent of Gunderloy’s commitment to Discordianism is not as anecdotal as it may seem, for behind the coalescing of the zine scene in FF was the editor’s unhindered bias towards Discordianism, and his open promotion of The Church of the SubGenius. Already a bastion of eccentric brilliance by the time FF was founded, The Church of the SubGenius was poised to capitalize on the ready-made, and ever-expanding audience created by Gunderloy’s zine. Essentially, FF provided a perfect stage for The Church as well as the Discordians who found a new source of entertainment and energy within it. The Church’s inherent strength mixed with Gunderloy’s Discordian bias, and the resulting combination installed in FF, and, more importantly the emerging zine scene it stimulated, the creation of an underground intelligentsia. This literary class was composed of the zine scene eminent literati, all which were either Discordian or SubGenii (and in most cases both).
Looking at the earliest issues of FF provides a clear picture of how the ‘zine scene’ formed and the way in which it became saturated in Discordian and SubGenius influence. Appropriately enough, Gunderloy entered the world of zines from SF fandom, and as a result of cohabitating with a number of ‘fen,’ Gunderloy came into contact with the wealth of home-made and personally distributed writings that formed SF zinedom. It was not long after his introduction to this material that he became acquainted with Discordianism, a religious affiliation that he retained throughout his participation in the zine scene. While Gunderloy had made the conscious decision to ‘gafia’ (meaning ‘get away from it all,’ this neologism is used by SF fans who leave fandom) he did channel his energies into Elayne Wechsler’s zine devoted to ‘comedy and creativity’ entitled Inside Joke. While the zine began in the October of 1980 as an outlet for fans of a comedy TV program, entitled The Uncle Floyd Show, it was not long after Wechsler was introduced to the Church of the SubGenius that her publication shifted directions. This shifted consisted of phasing out ‘fannish’ material regarding comedy programs on TV with original creative content such as essays, short-stories, and poetry. Furthermore, after Wechsler conversion in February 1982, Inside Joke became a bastion for SubGenius related humor. The ‘SubGenius turn’ of her zine also facilitated the addition of three new staff writers, Bob Black, Gerry Reith, and Kerry Thronley, who were also amongst the most popular contributors to The Stark Fist. Despite Wechsler’s own status as a SubGenius, as well as the ubiquity of writers associated with the Church in Inside Joke, it would be misleading to say that the zine was a ‘SubGenius publication’. (Not least because it self-identified as an organ of the ‘Nationalist Surrealist Party’!) Figures like Wechsler, Black, Reith, and Thornley were model SubGenii, which is to say they use the teachings and iconography of the Church for their own idiosyncratic purposes. Often times, their purposes amalgamated SubGenius and Discordian perspectives (Thronley and Wechsler were vocal Discordians), thereby making any attempt to distinguish between the religious sensibilities impossible. Indeed, despite the ubiquity of Dobbsheads in the text, Gunderloy was later to remark that by 1983, Inside Joke had been ‘hopelessly corrupted by the Discordians’. (Fig.3)
Wechsler’s Inside Joke represents a landmark in the formation of the zine scene that took shape in 1984. Published monthly for ten years (1980-1990), Inside Joke merged a range of outsider subcultures (e.g. horror film aficionados, SF fandom, punks) into a single world of underground Arts and Letters; and, perhaps more importantly, established humor (particularly of the Discordian/SubGenius variety) as the lingua franca for underground writers interested in writing for audiences beyond their particular subcultural milieus. What more, by virtue of its impressive staff (which also came to include, Tuli Kupferberg, Zach Replica, and John Crawford), Inside Joke was instrumental in the creation of this audience. Alongside The Stark Fist, as well as a handful of Discordian zines and APAs, Inside Joke would provide the foundation upon which the zine scene would be built. One of Inside Joke’s staff members in particular was indispensible in this regard, Mike Gunderloy. While he had been a pseudonymous participant in numerous SubGenius and Discordian publications, it was not until his tenure at Inside Joke that Gunerloy found the inspiration to create the zine launched the underground publishing movement movement, Factsheet 5.
Mike Gunderloy composed and edited the ‘fan noose’ section of Inside Joke, which listed all of the zines that readers of publication may find of interest. Gunderloy’s tenure at this post inspired him to start his own zine based entirely on reviewing his favorite publications in the style, format, and language more reminiscent of SF fanzines. The first issue of Factsheet 5 was printed in May 1982 as a modest two-page pamphlet adorned only with the Discordian slogan ‘Hail Eris’. In the editorial introduction to the issue, Gunderloy, then a university student in engineering, described that the intention behind FF was to ‘cross-pollinate’ the interest of his readers. Despite this explicit intention, the early issues of FF were generally limited to Discordian, SubGenius, and anarchist publications. In this manner, FF was more of a directory of Gunderloy’s personal affiliations and favorite publications than a cross-section of the various epistolary networks: for example, among the first issue’s eight listings, readers found glowing reviews and contact information for Kerry Thornley’s amalgamated Discordian/SubGenius project known as the Church of the Anarchist Avatar, Bob Black’s The Last International poster project, The Church of the SubGenius’ Dallas PO box, Wechsler’s Inside Joke, and a Discordian zine called Master Monograph for which Gunerloy was also a contributor. The following issues expanded this focus by including listings for publications produced by eccentric anarchist groups like The Surrealist Workers Party, The Political Bizarre Party, and the libertarian-futurist L-5 Society, as well as zines from teenage punks, most notably a zine entitled The Church of the Latter Day Punks. In addition to chaos religions, anarchists, and punks, Gunderloy also began to include listings for ‘kook’ groups like the Flat Earth Research Society, as well as ESP experimenters who, in lieu of producing zines, send out ‘psychic links’ at predetermined times. Readers who ‘tuned in’ and received messages were provided with an address in the pages of FF. Beginning with the first and continuing in each successive issue, Gunderloy devoted more space to anarchist discussion prompts, news concerning a Discordian computer networks, and trivia contests. While anecdotal, it is revealing that in the third issue, Arthur Hlavaty, the editor of the Golden APA, was announced as the first contest winner, and that Wechsler and then Black went on to win the next two contests respectively. From the start, Gunderloy’s zine was intimately connected to the creative juggernaut that the creative community associated with Church of the SubGenius in the early 1980s, and its spark illuminated the ten of thousands of zines would grace the pages of FF.
Within a year of its initial publication, FF had expanded exponentially. By applying the time-tested conventions of SF zine culture (‘the usual,’ egoboo, format, LOC, plus the audience was from SF zines) to a zine based on connecting the disparate zine micro-cultures, Gunderloy’s publication filled a niche; and all signs indicated that an uncharted continent of underground knowledge and activity awaited discovery. Published in Aug. 1983 (just a year after the first issue) in an edition of one hundred and fifty, FF no.7 offers a state of the art of the zine scene directly before the boom in 1984. Running thirty-seven pages, this issue marked a major development both in terms of size and content. Packed with more listings than any previous issue, FF had evolved the unrivaled directory for Discordians, SubGenii, anarchists, punks, as well as the ‘lunatic fringe’ of a handful of other subcultures. In addition to adding review columns for books, comix, film, and mail art, FF no. 7 also featured work by some of the most popular contributors to The Stark Fist and Inside Joke. To this end, issue no.7 treated readers to John Crawford’s Baboon Dooley comix, an essay by Discordian illustrator Roldo, and a bevy of SubGenius graphics, in addition to pages and pages of Discordian and SubGenius listings (Fig.4). While it would be easy to dismiss the proliferation of SubGenii and Discordians within FF as nothing more than evidence of the editor’s spiritual and political bias, the quality of their work was impeccable (in least in regards to being authentically weird), and acknowledged as such within the growing network of zine micro-communities. FF would continued to accrue preeminent Discordian and SubGenii writers in the issues that followed, with the regular contributions by Kerry Thornley and Gerry Reith standing out as especially notable.
While affiliated with the Church of the SubGenius, Gunderloy was a Discordian, and as such it seems inevitable that FF would betray that bias. To this end, the seventh issue also contained instructions regarding a means of escalating the on-going Discordian disinformation campaign known as Operation Mindfuck (cf.ch.5). The essay in question descried a plot in which U.S. currency would be defaced with the Discordian neologism ‘Fnord’. Gunderloy explained the number of ‘Fnord’-ed dollar bills would act as a measure for the potential strength of the Discordian movement, and that when a majority of the bills in circulation bore the Discordian mark, ‘a serious attempt at taking over the country’ could be attempted. Discordian material of this sort would be a hallmark for FF for years to come, and thus it should come to no surprise that the first wave of zines created with the distinct purpose of getting listed in FF all reflect a Discordian and/or SubGenius sensibility.
However, by issue no. 7, it became clear that FF was not only a Discordian/SubGenius publication. While a sizable portion of the one hundred and three listings in that issue had some connection to the wooly world of psychedelic/anarchist/chaos religions, there were also reviews of countless other aspects of underground culture, such as conspiracy theory, illicit sexuality, and survivalism to name only three. While it was common for publication circulated within the various zine micro-communities to featured reviews of other zines, they rarely listen more than ten, few of which concerned topics outside of their particular subcultural field. Aside from Inside Joke, which devoted roughly a page to reviewing an assortment of zines, there did not seem to be any other publication like FF. Certainly no zine could rival it, even at this time, in terms of scope. Though modest, Gunderloy underscored the novelty (and popularity) of his review zine by interspersing excerpts of letters which professed as much throughout FF. Again returning to issue 7 (which is by no means exceptional in this regard), the excerpts included in the marginalia repeated the same two ideas. The first idea concerned FF being ‘unique’ on account of being a zine based on reviewing other zines. This sentiment was encapsulated in a line that appears in the beginning of the issue: ‘We need a publication like this which pulls together and reviews all his anarcho-weird stuff.’ The second recurrent theme in the excerpted in the letters was applause for the range of zines Gunderloy included in his publication. Comments made to this effect included: ‘It’s very exciting to think of all those amateur publications running around loose (and very energetically) out there.’ Likewise: ‘It’s amazing how many people are putting out their own publications. I thought I was the only one.’ As these anonymous quotations attest, Gunderloy zine made otherwise hidden knowledge, and the subcultures based on its various forms, visible. In era defined by Conservative reaction, FF distinguished itself as the source of underground information, regardless of whether or not it was in ‘good taste’ or even legal. Another aspect of the text that many readers found laudable was Gunderloy’s sober appraisal of zines dedicated to outré topics, such as intergenerational sexuality (or ‘man-boy love’), Holocaust revisionism, or government mind-control experiments. Gunderloy’s Discordian sense of even-handedness was perhaps best exemplified in his review of Intergalactic Animal Husbandry. After explaining- to the best of his ability- the contents of the zine, Gunderloy concludes by recommending it, saying: ‘After all, it’s not every day you run across literate article by a libertarian anarchist Neopagan farm editor, is it?’
As will be illustrated in the next section, FF was first and foremost a purveyor of information, but, rather, a means of connection people. In the words of Gunderly: ‘the point of this publication is to tell people how to get in touch with wackos.’ Readers would reference FF in order for them to make contact with groups they are interested in, which, in turn, further facilitated underground activity. The nature of zines being participatory, the pages and pages of reviews in FF offered a myriad of avenues for discussion, polemics, and involvement. While FF could be enjoyed passively, for example by the dilettantish reader with a ken for White power UFO abductees and recipes for homemade psychedelics, it also functioned as a provocation to start producing zines oneself. Indeed, making a zine seemed to be the only way to go beyond mere spectatorship. This is why the boom in self-publishing that birthed the zine scene in 1984 was not only a matter of networking insular zine micro-communities, or bringing to light the works of eccentric virtuosi. Behind the self-publiching boom was a quantitative and qualitative wave of inspiration.
Gunderloy’s zine was the first to attempt to provide a map of the underground world of self-publishing. While this map was more comprehensive than anything that had come before it, it was not ‘objective’. The general orientation of the zine was an outgrowth of its initial bias towards the three-way intersection of SF, Discordianism, and anarchist/Libertarian publications.
there are Discordian zines dedicated to Erisianism, and then te diffuse influence of Discordianism in places like Inside Joke. FF is in the middle as its even-handed presentation of a myriad of realities (contained in the form of zines) could be interpreted as Discordian praxis, furthermore, the text hosted explicitly Discordian writings (concerning OM) and Discordian figureheads.
Add weirdo book publishers: AMOK, Illuminet Press (Jim Keith and Thornley), Loompanics, Neither/Nor, Last Gasp, AK PRESS, Feral House, New falcon…
(a good sign is if it published the Discordia)
‘beneath the underground’: amateur press/ American samizdat/ marginal milieu/ zine scene/ the underground a lot of names are possible.
Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation connected individuals and circles across the country through a mimeographed monthly discussion bulletin. Same with the Match. Fifth Estate, the oldest running anatich mag in the US (though it started as an underground paper)
free lance absurdists, p.Black under, p.182
This was a system in which Leary motto ‘find the others’ was brought to fruition.
Robert Anton Wilson's Trajectories Newsletter. The Journal of Futurism and Heresy.
Search & Destroy (V. Vale)
Minor Problems (London)