Friday, December 3, 2010

The Perils of Geekdom: Summer 1978

In August of 1978, I spotted the third issue of Fantastic Films magazine at the local corner store. Fantastic Films (which eventually morphed into FilmFax, which is still around today) was a serious competitor to Starlog and Cinefantastique for about seven years. It was a bit more in-depth than Starlog, and a lot cheaper - and somewhat easier to find - than Cinefantastique. It still had spotty distribution here in Maine, but I bought it whenever I could.

This particular issue, though, nearly killed me.

I was at the store with my mom, and didn't have the money to buy it, so 14-year-old me sneakily tucked it behind something else on the newsstand, and made plans to come back and buy it later that day.

When I got home, I scrounged up the money from the various caches in my room and hopped on my bike. The store was about two miles from my house. It was an easy ride - I made the trip often.

But that was a very hot August afternoon. Sweating, I made it to the store, and bought the magazine. I rolled it up carefully and tucked it under the handlebars of my ten-speed, with the brake cables holding it firmly in place. I was hot and dehydrated, but I hadn't had enough money for both a drink and the magazine, and dammit - I had to have that magazine. Issue #3 of FF was full of behind-the scenes articles on special effects, with long interviews with Douglas Trumbull (2001, Silent Running) and John Dykstra (Star Wars). There was an article on the new Star Trek II TV show (sigh). Most importantly it had photos of the models from the upcoming television "event" Battlestar Galactica - the very first glimpses of the Viper and Cylon Raider - and I had to have those!

So, eager to get home and immerse myself in all that 70s sci-fi goodness, I pedaled furiously down the long, unshaded highway back toward my house. You could see the heat rising off the asphalt. Sweat was dripping in my eyes. Suddenly, one foot seemed to slide off its pedal, I felt myself falling - and then, blackness.

It is amazing how clearly I remember all this. I woke up on my back on the hot pavement, my head pounding. A man was standing over me, looking down at me, asking if I was all right in a voice I didn't know. The sun was so bright, I couldn't make out his face. I tried to stand up, and fell, dizzy. The guy lifted me up, and helped me to his car - a Volkswagen Beetle. His wife was in the passenger seat, and there was a girl about my age in the back. I think she was pretty, but I can't say for sure. She never spoke and I never really looked at her (clearly, I had brain damage!). He helped me into the car, all the while asking me if I knew where I lived. Woozy as I was, I remember still thinking that was a stupid question.

Anyway, this nice family - whose name I never learned - drove me home. My mother helped me in and onto the couch, whereupon she discovered that I had a bump on the side of my head about the size of a golf ball. After making me comfortable, she asked me what happened - and I remember anxiously asking her to send my dad to get my bike... and my magazine. I was very insistent on that point.

I had a mild concussion, but although I remember everything above very clearly, I don't recall if I was taken to the doctor or emergency room. I do remember lying on that couch on that hot August afternoon, my head throbbing, sipping cold Kool-Aid and pouring over my copy of Fantastic Films #3 - which survived the accident without so much as a crease - from cover to cover (including ads).

I still have that issue, no longer mint, but intact and in a box next to my desk.

21 comments:

  1. Great story. I really felt it, the passion, the landscape, even the bump..! Some near-universal experiences there.

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  2. As I was reading I was hoping the end of the story was NOT going to be "my bike and the magazine were stolen before my dad could get there to pick them up" after all of that a guy need his new issue! Those early issues of Fantastic Films had some great Galactica and Buck Rogers coverage!

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  3. Christopher, I can relate to the need for that magazine in 1978, excellent story.

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  4. This was great. I would love more posts along these lines.

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  5. Nice story, it sorta had a Twilight Zone feel to it ;) makes me want to read that magazine, but it's nice to know everything turned out fine.

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  6. That issue of FF remains a favorite of mine. I've thrown out many early issues of various film magazines but that issue was too chock full of cool information. I loved the fact that it had some great early views of the Enterprise bridge and engine room, plus the really wonderful interview with Douglas Trumbull.

    Those few years, from 1976 when Starlog first appeared up to 1982, when we were graced with Blade Runner, Conan, Tron, Star Trek:TROK, and ET were filled with all sorts of wonder and excitement. Thank God we had Starlog, Fantastic Films, Cinefantastique, Famous Monsters and a few others to keep us informed and stoked for the next sneak peak at the latest Sci-Fi film or TV show to arrive!

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  7. I really related to the story! I remember making similar trips to the local K&B drug store to buy comics (and hide them until I could buy them). Those Summer days were brutally hot and I can remember riding my bike until my tires were about to melt. It's funny how we all grew up doing the same type of stuff. The younger generation doesn't have a clue about the lengths we'd go through to buy comics, books, and toys.

    I suppose a lot of kids don't do that anymore, because it's not the safe world we grew up in.

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  8. Christopher, I think all us geeks who were alive during the big science-fiction boom of the late 70's/early 80's can relate to that story--or least to the love for genre publications like Fantastic Films. Those early issues in particular are wonderful artifacts from a much simpler time long gone. As for myself, I never had to risk heat exhaustion because my mom usually did not mind paying for magazines, comics or paperbacks--she was just happy to see me reading SOMETHING, and therefore often consented with only a mimimum of begging and/or whining on my part.

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  9. That post brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. I had forgotten FF even existed, but it was my favorite magazine. I feel myself longing for that era where media was scarce and entertainment was an event, not a commodity as it is today. Yet I love the bounty and interconnectedness we have today (just bought that issue of FF on eBay!). Thanks so much for the wonderful blog, it's one of my favorites. If you are still thinking of doing a podcast I would very much enjoy it.

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  10. Great story. I used to make some journies by foor in the ealry 80's to get the latest Starlog and various comic books.

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  11. Great story Chris! I too had that issue of Fantastic Films and had a subscription to it for a couple of years. I always preferred it to Starlog and one of the reasons I subscribed,was that it indeed hard to find about town.

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  12. I used to love Fantastic Films, always prefered it to Starlog when I was a kid !!

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  13. Great story Chris............Was it Fantastic Films that had a Stella Starcrash and Alien cover.....if so, that was a standout issue for me that I still have. Starlog, Cinefex and Cinefantastique were all staples of my childhood... A look back at some standout issues might be a fun subject some time............

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  14. Dusty - it was the issue pictured in the post. #3.

    I might write about some individual magazines at some point. It's amazing how clearly I can remember buying specific issues....

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  15. Dusty,
    The one you (and I) remember is issue #9, from mid 1979.

    Here's a link to a site with covers to all 46 issues (and a zoom feature)...

    http://www.moviemags.com/main.php?title=FANTASTIC%20FILMS

    Tex
    (who was there at the beginning)

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  16. At least the magazine was alright, thank God for that! :) I'm sure it made your recovery more enjoyable.

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  17. Small world. That issue was an accidental find for me while browsing a newsstand, too, and my introduction to the magazine. In the early 1990s (before the age of eBay made finding old magazines relatively easy and cheap), I spent $15 at a used bookstore to buy two issues of FF, including #3. It's still one of my favorites, along with back issue #2 (the Superman special) and April 1979. Steve and Scott above had it right. There was a special feeling back then, when we could feel good about finding any little nugget of information, unlike today, where there's a million times more stuff available on the Web.

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  18. My father, Terry Parker, was a regular contributor to FF. I grew up spending A LOT of time with him and the publisher, Mike Stein, watching thousands of hours of movies, going to conventions, and generally getting into imaginative mischief.

    Thank you so much for shining a light on them.

    F. Grey Parker

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    1. FF was a great mag. I need to showcase it more.

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  19. Thank you for sharing your story. I was too young to appreciate the magazine articles back in the summer of 78 (I had just turned six). Lucky for me my older brother bought it and hung the poster in his room. I remember staring at it for hours. I of course recognized R2D2 but the Silent Running Drone was a mystery to me.

    Thanks again.

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  20. I enjoyed reading this story. Are you also on Instagram?

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