Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
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The Invention of Colour Printing?

letters to Leah & Dick Smith

9 November 1992

Dear Leah & Dick

Was amused at Shelby Wick's account [in STET #6] of the invention of Vicolor in 1951. It reminds me of my own venture into colour printing on a duplicator way back in 1941-2, thereby anticipating the development of Vicolor by a decade. I can't claim to have invented my process: it was, in effect, forced upon me by a defective inking mechanism. But years after the event I kept getting queries from other faneds as to how it was done.

I started cutting stencils for fanzine covers in 1937, all direct-on-to-stencil jobs. First, it was for the SFA monthly mag, Novae Terrae, produced by Maurice Hanson, Bill Temple and Arthur Clarke, Then I started to do regular covers for John Burke's Satellite, Sam Youd's Fantast, (later taken over by Doug Webster when Sam was dragged into the forces in 1940), Ted Carnell's New Worlds (not the prozine!) and Mike Rosenblum's FIDO (Futurian War Digest).

I contributed several pages titled Zenith to the FIDO litters that Mike circulated to help struggling faneds during wartime. Then after decorating everyone else's fanmags, I decided to do my own thing and launched Zenith as an independent mag.

Early in 1941 I had acquired a rusting relic of a duplicator that someone had thrown out for scrap. It was in a sorry state even after being cleaned up and restored with loving care. The drum inking mechanism was broken and had to be discarded; a replacement was unobtainable in wartime. The only way to ink the drum was to lift the stencil periodically and brush on ink. It required a certain amount of practice to judge the optimum ink coating - too much and the stencil was flooded, too little and the results were patchy. Experience eventually enabled me to assess all variables - size of paintbrush, viscosity of ink, room temperature, and the height of the Heaviside Layer - so that the inking routine became an automatic process.

On a good day, I reckoned to get some 25 perfect sheets through before having to lift the stencil and re-ink. The machine was not an automatic feeder: each sheet had to be positioned and hand-fed. And, being a perfectionist, I used to slip-sheet. Which may strike you as a somewhat tedious way to produce a fanzine. It was, but then my productions averaged 24 pages an issue and under a 100 copies, owing to the limiting factor of wartime paper shortages.

With the first issue out of the way, I looked round for ways to improve production, and it was then that I hit on the idea of painting different areas of the roller pad with separate patches of colour ink. This enabled me to print red illustrations with black print on several pages. It was easy - too easy - several colours printed simultaneously in perfect register. By the fourth issue I was using red, green and black on the same page, and experimenting with illustrations using deliberately merged colours, creating effects not obtainable by the conventional method of separate colour runs. Just when I'd really mastered the colour technique my fanpubbing came to an end in 1942, when I was called up into the RAF.

I didn't get around to pubbing another ish until the 1950s. I'd still got the duplicator (which my co-editor of the day, Eric Needham, a palaeotechnologist of repute, assured me was a vintage 1913 Model 2a Romeo) but by then I'd settled for the easy life. It was enough of a bind having to keep lifting the stencils to ink the drum without the added complications of colour patching. The stencil-lifting process was fraught on occasion, since in the interests of economy we replaced the unused portions of stencils by a piece of backing sheet, held on by Sellotape.

The reclaimed bits of stencil were typed/drawn on, and tacked on to a stencil head to provide extra free stencils. With repeated lifting, the vagaries of Sellotape adhesive added to the suspense. Further economies were effected by modifications to the drum which enabled us to use any known brand of stencils we could lay hands on instead of being limited to using the Roneo version.

But production was still very labour-intensive. Eric discreetly stayed away the weekends I announced that yet another Issue of NOW & THEN, organ of the Romiley Fan Veterans & Scottish Dancing Society, was to be produced. I was forced to enrol my three sons to help with the feeding, slip-sheeting, collating and stapling, while I concentrated on the urgent niceties of ink control. By the end of the 50s, however, the labourers had become organised and demanded pocket-money for their services. The wearisome production methods were getting me down. I gave the duplicator away to the Scouts and gafiated.

I was dragged back into fandom again in the 70s but by then was content to let others do the publishing and just provide the occasional memoir or artwork to keep them happy. So, there it is. Sorry to steal your fire, Shelby. I've written to the Guinness Book of Records staking my prior claim.

I'm still marvelling at the sheer size of your production achievement with STET, and wondering just how long it's going to take me to read thru its 90 pages. I guess I'd better wing this off to you now, in case another issue arrives before I've finished.

Will write again! ■

24 November 1992

Dear Leah,

Thanx for the card. Glad the antiquarian notes on duplicating were of interest. Will have to disappoint you over direct-to-stencil artwork for STET - I handed over my styli and wheel-pens to an ambitious fanzine editor in the 70s, thinking I'd never be asked to do any more stencil-cutting in the age of offset... So I was wrong!

I can offer you an example of early work, however. The enclosed was passed on to me by a relative who found it in some old files she was clearing out. This was obviously drawn for fans interested in archaeology, and appeared in Zenith 4 in February 1942. [page 70] Over fifty years ago, mighod. Done, as I recall, with a home-made stylus that was an all-purpose tool for line work and with lettering guides, a cogwheel pen, and a Gestetner 'dotted-rule' fine wheelpen.

This sheet must have been a reject because of the fading on the left side, (Very strict on quality control in those far off days!) and if you add it to your specimen file, you will no doubt note that. Must say that the paper has stood up to the ravages of time very well. I bought up all the stocks of green paper when I started on Zed; I must have struck lucky with some pre-war production, as there was considerably less show-through than with the 'white' paper available during the war.

I've just been looking thru the locs in Zed 5 - there were a few drools from fans in the forces! - and find an extract from a letter of Forrie Ackerman:

"The stencilovely - she not only is passable but well nigh unsurpassable! Just wait'll we get our ink on her. I scarcely can wait to roll her into the bed! (Hey, I'm talking about cranking copys into the mimeo container, of corse... don't get me rong!) Vomaiden Portfolios have been discontinued til the spirit inspires me again but your grand fantasyren will be featured in the next (#23) VOM... I have xrpted that reclining rarebit from the Feb ish [Zenith #4, page 67] and put her on the wall amongst originals and fotos. The only piece of fanmag art to be so honord..."

My curiosity is roused about this stencil I cut for VOM - I have absolutely no memory of what I did. I wonder if any of the greyheads in your readership know of this pic... I may be disappointed to see it again after all this time, but I'll take the risk. One of the disadvantages of drawing direct on to stencil was that you had no record of what you'd done until the printed result turned up.

In anticipation of your next question, yes I'll draw something for STET if inspiration strikes next time I'm hovering over the drawing board. ■

20 December 1992

Dear Leah

Harry Turner & family at the duplicator
l to r: Bill Turner, Harry Turner, Robert Turner

Thanx for another card. You're right, I do look somewhat formally dressed on that photo for a fanpubbing session - by today's standards. But this was the early 50s: a sports jacket and soft-collar shirt with tie was casual wear then (over here at any rate). It was a genuine working session - not just posed for the photographer - that patched up stencil being evidence enough of that! We were working in the living room and strictly under orders to not make a mess, though I recall that mysterious splashes of duplicator ink did appear on the wallpaper from time to time... Dedicated casualwear wasn't invented until the Rolling Stones and the 60s, no one wore T-shirts until then, not in public anyway.

I changed jobs at the end of the 50s and started working as art studio manager at the Manchester Guardian. When I abandoned collar & tie for polo necks, and turned up for work sporting the first safari suit (in an electric light-blue) in Manchester, there was quite a flutter along the office corridors. How times change.

I can think of a couple of older fans who might still be equipped to turn out hand-drawn stencils. However, I'm not sure that they would be very keen to oblige: it's so much easier to draw on paper and have it reproduced by photo-stencil or photo-litho with detail and solid blacks/tints preserved intact. It's different when you're forced to draw direct onto stencil because there's no other way of reproducing a drawing. In those circumstances, any artist will make a virtue of necessity and find ways of exploiting the limitations of the medium. Take away that challenge with easier alternatives, and the alternatives get the artist's attention: we're a lazy lot, us artists.

In the early days I did work direct on stencil because most non-artist editors couldn't be trusted to redraw my work on to stencil; indeed, few of 'em wanted to try. During the 50s I was in charge of a small ad department with an offset-printing section. There were a whole range of printing plates available, depending on the size of the print run, from cheap plastic-coated plates for short runs to aluminium or zinc plates for extended runs. The zinc plates were usually reserved for photo-litho jobs; all the other plates could be typed on direct with a special ribbon, or drawn on directly with a greasy crayon, or litho ink, applied by pen or brush, giving a variety of effects, from tone to solids, not possible with stencils.

I took advantage of the facilities to design and run off covers for several of the current fanzines, like Astroneer and Space-Times, and revived Zenith (with Derek Pickles as co-editor) for one issue in '53. Later, when I joined OMPA (Off-Trail Magazine Publishers Association) in 1954, I dragged out the old Roneo duplicator from retirement for the somewhat informal zine Now & Then. Most of the issues of N&T were produced in a rush over a mad weekend when deadline was imminent, and probably benefitted from the need for improvisation when emergencies occurred. Co-editor and writer on this one was Eric Needham, and we had fun trying to keep up with the demand as word of the mag spread outside OMPA circles.

Eventually we had to reprint some of the earlier material: I'll try and copy the combined 1 to 3 reprint issue to give you a taste. Let me know if you'd like to see the rest of the eight issues we put out. All artwork drawn on stencil, natch. ■


I gafiated during the 60s but was dragged back into fanpubbing and did a fair amount of work for Lisa Conesa's Zimri during the 70s. She used photostencils for most of the artwork, but several covers were done by offset, two were screenprinted in colour. Zimri 7 had half its pages printed offset: sample enclosed.

Also enclosed is a piece of artwork that might prove suitable for a future cover: if you want a title, how about "Alien Artefact" ? I have a couple of other items that may be of interest, but have no access to a copier until after the holidays - will send them on then...

Hope you find these bits&pieces of interest! ■


I was brooding, after sending the bits and pieces in that last letter, on the pages out of Zimri 7. I didn't get around to mentioning that their main attraction for me was that they merged words and graphics painlessly. Most fanzines seem to stick the graphics in to fill up holes in the text, or break up the uninviting prospect of masses of solid text, to give the reader's eye an occasional break. Few fanzine editors successfully mix the two... ■

one of a series of occasional pieces published by the Septua/Octagenarian Fans Association © Harry Turner, 1992.

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